Imagine if you’d only ever heard of Donald Trump in rap songs. You’d know him as a personification of wealth, an avatar of luxury, a role model, a villain, a hustler, a brand name, a punchline, a dark cloud, a bad haircut, a boss, a bigot, a king of his own reality, and fundamentally, a syllable that rhymes with “slump,” “pump” and “chump.” When Trump‘s name appears in a rap lyric — something that has occurred in more than 300 songs over the past 30 years — it can mean countless things. Rap music remains broad and flexible like that.
Still, many have accepted this idea that rappers loved Trump up until his 2016 presidential campaign — a shift marked by “FDT,” the paranoid protest anthem released that year by YG and Nipsey Hussle. Before “FDT,” rappers embraced Trump as a Machiavellian Monopoly Man who spelled his name in gold letters. After “FDT,” he was a racist, a cheat, a fraud.
The pivot was never that tidy. In fact, even during the ’90s, when Trump’s name kept jumping from the mouths of some of the greatest rappers alive — Scarface, E-40, Raekwon, Nas — he was only being used. These rappers weren’t praising Trump. They were using Trump’s image to praise themselves.
Strangely, the infamy of Trump and the emergence of rap music had already been flowing in parallel for more than 20 years. The world first met Donald Trump on the front page of the New York Times — October 16, 1973 — in a story about the government’s discrimination complaint against the Trump family real estate business, based on allegations of racist renting practices in Brooklyn and Queens. A couple months earlier, DJ Kool Herc had shown up at a party in the Bronx, plugged in two turntables and invented a new American art form.
Surfacing in the same city, in the same year, this man and this music began changing the rest of the world profoundly, intersecting in places no one could have foreseen.
1. Keeping it real?
Having made his name in Manhattan as a ruthless real estate developer and a shameless social striver, Trump began shoring up his national fame in 1987 with “The Art of the Deal,” a bestseller that introduced him to the rest of the country as a savvy capitalist, charming and self-made. Tony Schwartz, the book’s co-author, later said that “The Art of the Deal” was packed with enough bogus information for it to be reclassified as fiction — but by 1989 it was already too late. Trump’s tycoon image had spread across the land, and his name began to appear in songs that had sprung from rap’s foundational ethos of “keeping it real.” The irony wasn’t intentional.
On “Lie-Z” from 1989, Kool Rock-Ski of the Fat Boys was trying to deflate the braggarts in his midst, when his fellow Fat Boy, Buff Love, flung a random boast: “I got money like Donald Trump!” Kool Rock-Ski skeptically completed the rhyme, “Yeah, right, you’re batting 0 for 100. Homeboy, you’re in a slump.”
Ice-T released a similar song that same month, October 1989, titled “My Word is Bond.” The posse cut featured Donald D and Bronx Style Bob, and it found the trio slinging preposterous brags over icy electronic drums. As Ice-T rhymed about buying a Learjet, a submarine, even his own NFL franchise, “My Word is Bond” revealed a secret truth about rap braggadocio: It isn’t a lie if you can convince others that it’s true. Or maybe this song presaged the dynamic of a 21st-century Trump rally: People get a kick out of listening to their heroes flagrantly defile the truth, just so long as they’re in on the lie.
Near the end of the track, Ice-T’s associate Donald D shouted something freakishly prescient: “Yo Ice, I did a concert at the White House. And after that, me and Donald Trump hung out!”
2. ‘Stacking paper like Trump’
As rap saturated the public consciousness in the ’90s, its leading lyricists dropped Trump’s name in soon-to-be-iconic songs. In 1991, Scarface bragged on “Money and the Power” about “stacking paper like Trump.” A year later, Bun B of UGK claimed on “Pocket Full of Stones” that others “call me black Trump.” In 1995, Raekwon echoed that idea on “Incarcerated Scarfaces,” asking, “Guess who’s the black Trump?”
These songs told high-definition tales of criminal aspiration, and they seemed to align with Trump’s merciless quest for wealth. But when most rappers rhyme about acquisition, they’re envisioning social change. Trump inherited his fortune. His greed perpetuates the existing social order. So while these get-money-at-all-costs attitudes might feel parallel, they’re flowing in opposite directions. When a rapper says “I’m the black Donald Trump,” the most meaningful word is never “Trump.” It’s “black.”
That doesn’t mean Trump’s name wasn’t straight-up fun to say. In 1992, Bronx rapper Diamond D used the title track of his debut album, “Stunts, Blunts and Hip Hop,” to assert that Trump’s wealth wasn’t something to eclipse but to surpass. And fittingly, he made it sound like big fun: “So much money has been spunt — much, much more than Donald Trump’s.”
And few rappers have made the English language sound more elastic and alive than E-40, whose 1998 cut “Trump Change” addressed Trump from a few different angles. The song’s title appeared in a burst of beautiful cash-slang: “Trump change, lucrative loot, long money, big bread.” Trump’s name was being used to evoke more than just dollar signs, though. In the final verse, our narrator seemed to understand the dimensions of Trump’s hustle better than most. Rapping in his hyper-enunciated style, E-40 used the last verse of “Trump Change” to map out his ascent from street hustles to “white-collared crime.”
Trump himself probably wasn’t listening to rap albums in the ’90s, but before the decade was over, his voice actually appeared on one. “Hey, Method Man,” Trump said in a voice-mail skit on Method Man’s 1998 solo disc. “This is Donald Trump and I’m in Palm Beach, and we’re all waiting for your album. Let’s get going, man. Everybody’s waiting for this album.” Instead of fan-mail-as-voicemail, it sounds like a scolding from an irritated boss.
3. ‘Posse in the billions’
In 1993, Boots Riley of the Coup saw a different version of Trump than many of his peers, and he used his group’s eponymous anthem to rebuke the real estate mogul directly: “Break yourself Trump, it’s collection day. … You stole the s--- from my great-granddaddy anyway.” The Coup had just dropped its debut album, “Kill My Landlord,” with these lines at its molten center.
Riley hadn’t forgotten what happened back in 1973, when the Trump family was allegedly violating the 1968 Fair Housing Act by systematically denying black people access to the same housing as white tenants. “What we didn’t do was rent to welfare cases, white or black,” Trump wrote later, denying allegations of discrimination. And once the Trumps had slipped free from the charges, settling the case with no admission of guilt, Donald was off to seek a different kind of notoriety.
With “The Coup,” Riley was calling in the debt that he felt Trump had still owed so many, pledging himself to the underclass that the Trumps had allegedly deemed unfit to live in their buildings. To Riley, solidarity was more valuable than money. “We gives a f--- if you got money in the millions,” he rapped. “Mother f---er, we’ve got posse in the billions.”
4. Trump Tower becomes a rap landmark
“I need a suite with the flowers complimentary at Trump Towers.” That was Nas in 1996, rhyming alongside Mobb Deep on “Give It Up Fast,” a prosperity daydream steeped in street-crime drama. As rap music continued to grow into America’s dominant pop form, Trump Tower began to play a bigger role in the music’s psychic geography.
But these weren’t odes to Trump or his shiny buildings. They were songs about black access to luxury, about black people occupying physical spaces where they weren’t previously welcome. (Nas wanted to stay in Trump Tower, but he didn’t want to pay for it.)
On his 2000 debut album, Nelly reiterated this idea. His breakout single, “Country Grammar,” contained the indelible refrain, “Let me in now! Let me in now! Bill Gates, Donald Trump, let me in now!” A few clicks down the track list, on “E.I.,” he was boasting about his ability to “get a room in Trump Towers.”
By 2003, Jay-Z reigned as New York’s alpha rapper, but when he checked into a Trump property in the third verse of “What More Can I Say,” it didn’t mean he was staying in Manhattan. “I’m at the Trump International, ask for me,” he rhymed. “I ain’t never scared, I’m everywhere, you ain’t never there.”
So much had changed since 1973. Rap music had gone global. So had Trump.
5. Rap after ‘The Apprentice’
With the premiere of “The Apprentice” on NBC in 2004, Trump was suddenly more visible than ever before, beaming his business-genius cosplay directly in American living rooms.
Not long after that, Trump’s name was sprouting up anew in verses by Chingy, Lil Wayne, Mystikal, Lil’ Kim, Diddy, Rick Ross and others. A new wave of “black Trumps” arrived, too. On Young Jeezy’s 2005 cut “Thug Motivation 101,” he roared, “I’m Donald Trump in a white tee.” On his hallmark 2006 hit, “It’s Goin’ Down,” Yung Joc echoed that vintage Bun B line: “Boys from the hood call me black Donald Trump.”
“Black” was still the operative word here, but the meaning of “Trump” felt different. This was no longer Donald Trump, celebrity millionaire and low-hanging rich-guy metaphor. This was Donald Trump the reality television star, the ratings hound, the attention freak, the bully-boss.
That metamorphosis obviously captured Kanye West’s imagination. “You fired, mother f---er,” West shouted on an unofficial 2007 remix of “Flashing Lights,” his petulance cranked all the way up. Later, on his painstaking 2010 album, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” West compared himself to “Donald Trump, taking dollars from y’all.” Listen carefully. West didn’t want to make those dollars. He wanted to take them. From y’all. Trump’s intemperance was fascinating to him.
Since then, these two megalomaniacs have become chummy as they each desperately chase an unbankable currency that can only be generated through perpetual provocation: the attention of the entire world.
6. ‘We always thought he was straight’
Trump’s presidential campaign was well underway when “FDT” landed in March 2016. It began with a spoken preamble from YG, a studious rapper from Compton, Calif., who seemed to have just awoke from a bad dream.
“Me and all my peoples, we always thought he was straight,” YG said about Trump, then addressed him directly. “But now, since we know how you really feel, this how we feel.” At that point, the semi-titular refrain barged into the air: “F--- Donald Trump!”
This was the first full rap song about Trump — nearly four minutes of rage and anxiety during which YG almost seemed to be pleading with the future. “Don’t let Donald Trump win, that n---- cancer,” he implored in a quavering rasp. “He’s too rich, he ain’t got the answers/He can’t make decisions for this country, he gon’ crash us!” Then Nipsey Hussle sauntered in for the closing verse, serving as the skeptical voice of his disillusioned community. “I’m from a place where you prolly can’t go,” he rapped in Trump’s direction, “speaking for some people that you prolly ain’t know.”
That summer, “FDT” felt like the most powerful protest anthem since the heyday of Public Enemy. A few months later, Trump was elected president of the United States.
7. Life in ‘Trump Land’
“FDT” didn’t generate many copycat songs, but its chorus echoed widely throughout rap music. Smokepurpp began “Audi,” his bruising 2017 hit, by casually making his feelings about the president known: “F--- Donald Trump.” As dozens more garnished their rhymes with that three-word sequence, a 2018 cut from Florida’s Denzel Curry asked, “Too cliche if I said, ‘F--- Trump?’ ”
Other rappers saw a bigger picture. When the Detroit teenager Teejayx6 released “Silk Road” earlier this year, he compressed nearly three decades of Trump-rap into a few boisterous verses. “Silk Road” refers to the digital black market where our narrator purportedly stacks up dollars (like Scarface) by committing white-collar-ish crimes (like E-40), then uses social media to get Trump’s attention (like Buff Love from the Fat Boys and Ice-T’s foil Donald D) by telling the president what he thinks of him (like YG and Nipsey).
“I said, ‘F--- Donald Trump’ and he blocked me on Twitter,” Teejayx6 declares. Somehow, in Trump’s America, this might not be so implausible. When you insult this president to his digital face, he might actually be listening.
Last year, Earl Sweatshirt sounded far less invigorated about life in our brave new world. “I’ve been spending more money than I’m making,” he rapped on “Veins,” steering syllables around the lump in his throat. “Stuck in Trump Land watching subtlety decaying.”
These stand as the most poignant rap lyrics written about Trump. They account for the collective cost of living in a democracy led by a man who has made public life feel loud and hateful, a place where everyone’s attention has been frayed and dulled. If rap music serves as an ode to existence in all of its intricacy, Earl was living in a purgatory that had lost its detail.
Trump used to be a detail in most rap songs. Now his presence can feel as vast as reality itself. But on “Veins,” Earl doesn’t dwell on it. He lets the line float away like a passing thought. Everything decays, nothing is permanent. Rap music changes with a changing world. Trump expects the world to change for him. One will outlive the other.