By Teresa Wiltz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 19, 2008
Perhaps this is what the Funkmeister -- that other Clinton -- meant when he sang about painting the White House black: There's Barack Obama, fresh from Wednesday's debate dust-up, beleaguered but still standing, acknowledging that he's taken some hits from his opponent, some mighty hits, but you know, it's okay, because that's politics. Ultimately, you've got to . . .
And then he -- pay attention now -- brushes the dirt off his shoulders. Repeatedly.
The crowd leaps to its feet, applauding and laughing.
Talk about a major Jay-Z move. People, we're talking about a seminal moment in the campaign, the merging of politics and pop culture: in which a presidential candidate -- a self-confessed hip-hop head and Jay-Z fan -- references a rap hit and a dance move.
Within hours, there were video mash-ups on the Web depicting Obama dusting himself off as Jay-Z urges, "If you feelin' like a pimp . . . go and brush your shoulders off. . . . Get that dirt off your shoulder." (In one mash-up, the heads of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Charlie Gibson and George Stephanopoulos roll off the Illinois senator's broad shoulders.)
The move illustrated both a generational and a cultural gap: On MSNBC host Joe Scarborough's show yesterday, The Washington Post's Richard Cohen said the shoulder shaking was "contemptuous and aloof" and "not smart." Scarborough on Obama's move: "We looked at each other and said, 'What's he doing ?' "
We can debate the merits of whether miming the move of a millionaire rapper who grew up in the projects is smart, or elitist, or what have you. (There are those who saw the candidate's scratching his face during the speech in Raleigh, N.C., as flipping the bird, but we're not going to go there.)
So for the initiated, a primer in dirt shakeology is in order here: To brush one's shoulders off, according to the Urban Dictionary, is to engage in the act of "shaking them haters off. In other words it means to brush off negative energy of statements made about you."
So was Obama's action a deliberate Jay-Z reference?
Yesterday, Obama's campaign spokesman, Tommy Vietor, would say only this: "He has some Jay-Z on his iPod."