Nicki Minaj specializes in rhymes that blow your hair back, but her latest verse delivers a fresh shock. “I’m a Republican voting for Mitt Romney,” she raps on “Mercy,” a Lil Wayne song that went online Monday.
Don’t update that iPod playlist just yet, Paul Ryan. Couched in hallucinogenic sex talk and rhymes about chilling on the beach with zombies, this doesn’t seem like a political endorsement so much as a game of “Look at me!” — a stunt that should smell funny and familiar to anyone who witnessed Minaj’s performance-slash-mock-exorcism at the Grammy Awards in February.
But Minaj’s words still underscore President Obama’s wobbly relationship with the greater world of hip-hop. In 2008, enthusiastic lyrical endorsements came spilling from Jay-Z, Nas, Common, Ludacris, Lupe Fiasco and other rappers cheering Obama’s run for the White House in song.
Four years later, the hip-hop community has its share of Obama supporters, Obama detractors, ambivalent shoulder-shruggers and, with Minaj, an emerging pro-zombie, pro-Romney bloc.
But we haven’t heard a hit. In 2008, Young Jeezy’s zeitgeisty single “My President” made an impressive dent on radio while other pro-Obama rap tunes proliferated online, nudging young voters to the polls. This year, those odes aren’t as plentiful.
The most intriguing lyric to cite Obama this election cycle comes from Atlanta’s Killer Mike, whose smoldering “Reagan” compares Obama to the Gipper: “Ronald Reagan was a actor, not at all a factor / Just an employee of the country’s real masters / Just like the Bushes, Clinton and Obama.” (“I didn’t tie Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama together,” Killer Mike told hiphopdx.com in May. “Barack Obama compares himself to Reagan.”)
But Obama still has an unflagging supporter in Jay-Z, arguably hip-hop’s most influential bazillionaire. He gave the Obama campaign an assist Saturday in Philadelphia at his Made in America music festival, airing a prerecorded video from the POTUS in the middle of his performance. In the clip, Obama encouraged the audience of 40,000 to cast a ballot Nov. 6. “Whatever your politics or your party, you should vote this fall,” he said.
Was Kendrick Lamar listening? Over the past year, the young California rapper has magnetized loyal fans with his cerebral lyricism, but he disappointed many of them last week when he expressed his ambivalence about the election. “I don’t do no voting,” Lamar said in an interview with truthisscary.com. “Do what you do. Do good with your people and live your life, because what’s going on is not really in our hands.”
That’s the type of apathy the Hip-Hop Action Summit Network tried to extinguish in the hip-hop community during the 2004 presidential race — remember those “VOTE OR DIE!” T-shirts? But in the social-media age, no argument is as binary as “vote” or “die,” so Lamar responded to his critics via Twitter. “And when you do VOTE. Just make sure it’s 4 the right reasons. This way you won’t point the finger at that black man like y’all did. Again,” he wrote.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Minaj hadn’t taken to the bandwidth to clarify her Romney endorsement, and her representatives had not returned requests for comment. For now, fans are parsing the tune — a remix of the Kanye West song — which appears on Lil Wayne’s new mix tape, “Dedication 4. Was she rapping from the perspective of a character? Was she trolling for Internet chatter? Both?
Either way, don’t take her endorsement too seriously. Voter rolls in New York, Georgia and California — Onika Tanya Maraj’s last three states of residence — show that she’s not registered.