Tongue In Cheek…
Barack Obama is the designated hip-hop candidate without being the race candidate.
The Senator from Illinois evokes Kennedy comparisons and Sir Common of the Chi appears in his videos. All the while, he totes the term "post-racial" politics as his placard. He has never explicitly identified the hip-hop ethos as his running partner but, clearly, it has mesmerized that community.
Kidz N The Hall were the first to do a song specific to his campaign. Then will.i.am composed "Yes, We Can", a propos accompaniment for a string of lopsided primary victories. Except Barack has yet to court hip-hop moguls for his vote (Russell Simmons expressed his displeasure), and Tavis Smiley seemed miffed when Mr. Obama declined an invitation to one of his forums. Meanwhile, Talib Kweli outs himself as a Barack supporter. Jin makes a video, which for all its policy rundown, is as genuine an endorsement as he has gotten. Jeff Chang comments frequently on this aspect of the miracle campaign: Obama has avoided race associations while challenging racial assumptions.
It's a feat of cunning but the logic is so obvious. Hip-hop and blackness are not one in the same, as we know. Blackness appropriates, refines, explains hip-hop but never restricts it to one niche. But there is no absence of race as far as hip-hop or Mr. Obama is concerned. It seems a lost issue, however, because of the speed with which his mania enraptured young voters.
That is to say, Obama is a metaphor for hip-hop; rappers relate to him as a symbol of national ascendance. Obama's refusal to be limited to The First So-And-So has made him momentarily more significant than the manifestation of his successes. When hip-hop swept the globe, it was the same tale: local musicians with ardor as their backbeat, and creativity as their passport claimed stake in the emotional lives of many people. "Can't We All Just Get Along?" is oversimplifying though. The same way "Yes, We Can" has served as a malapropism, a delusional slogan that loses punch with time. Obama's real test is to match the execution with the rhetoric. His opponents and pundits have mentioned that caveat of fame as the contest becomes more contentious. Rap music has not only thrived on its affinity for crossing boundaries but it has been evocative, spell-binding, capricious, irrational and torrential.
For Obama to be the hip-hop candidate in more than title, he must also take further leaps out of his universe of equanimity. When Chang offered that Obama's measured (muted?) stance on racial division had hampered him even among followers, I took note. By benefiting from the Civil Rights social policy, by paving his own way, Obama had become beholden to its leaders. His trajectory to the White House is a referendum on the equality chase more than theoretical reparations ever were. Still, you won't soon see Kanye shunning Herbie Hancock over a Grammy win.
Advice from the wise, slice the pies: as greatness is thrust upon him, he must return to the place from whence he came.
Either that or drop that coveted second single - Hope.