Five years ago, a 23-year-old hip-hop artist with long hair and a chest full of tattoos, found himself at the center of a national controversy. Atlanta MC Waka Flocka Flame, the man born Juaquin James Malphurs known for his gritty track “Hard in the Paint,” found the song spoofed in a controversial parody video featuring a President Obama impressionist spouting the N-word.
“That they used it to be so sarcastic, it was almost a form of disrespect,” he said at the time. Flame’s mother had more choice words about the parody: “That’s not a positive image for us, period, as African-Americans, where we came from, where we’re going today.” The rapper shared the video on social media to “let other people see how ignorant other people can be,” he said — an explanation the New York Times deemed “not wholly convincing.”
Perhaps the Gray Lady was suspicious because Flame, a purveyor of gangsta rap who some have called a “neo-minstrel,” can seem more snake-oil salesman than showman. Now, as The Washington Post’s Hunter Schwarz reported, the 28-year-old rapper has announced he is running for president on a pro-marijuana platform — in a country where presidential candidates have to be at least 35.
“I’m very pleased to announce today — on 4/20, the best day of the year — I will be running for president,” an intoxicated-looking Flaka said to the strains of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in a video posted by Rolling Stone that could never appear on a family newspaper’s Web site. “The first thing I’m going to do when I get in office is legalize marijuana.”
Cut to: Flame rolling a huge bomber.
“The president gotta have a big fat old blunt,” Flame said. The candidate’s other initiatives: “I don’t wanna see no f—— animal in a restaurant”; “anybody who got feet over size 13 cannot walk in public no more”; “we gonna teach the kids more reality skills and they gotta learn my lyrics.”
From whence comes such sweeping authority? “I am Congress,” Flame said. “I’m president.”
Online consensus was that this was the height of hilarity — or that Flame’s run should be taken seriously.
“Waka Flocka Flame is running for president,” Funny or Die tweeted. “He’s the first candidate in history to promise he’s never exhaled.”
“No joke, I’d vote for Waka Flaka,” another user tweeted. “I wanna see how a normal dude does as a president.”
But as the age of Obama draws to an end, is it cool for an obviously intoxicated young black man with limited knowledge of our government’s separation of powers to get yuks for acting a fool and staging a faux presidential campaign?
Of course, America has been laughing at black men smoking marijuana for some time: Snoop Dogg, the “Friday” franchise, “Black Jesus.” And it’s not like Flame, who canceled a concert at the University of Oklahoma after a video of Sigma Alpha Epsilon racist chant made headlines around the world, does not have a social conscience.
“I know for a fact the whole school and SAE don’t agree with those kids actions so know that I’m not mad at the whole #SAE just those disgusting kids,” the rapper wrote on Instagram, as the Huffington Post reported. “We can’t change history but we damn sure can create our own future #DeathToRacism.”
But for some, Flame’s embodiment of some of the worst racial stereotypes about black men has been his greatest calling card.
“It’s in the words and the delivery of a man for whom rapping was initially a pretty tentative concern amid a backdrop of morbid mayhem, or ‘drug dealin’ music,'” NME wrote in a review of “Flockaveli,” his 2010 debut studio album. “… His lack of vocabulary and callous disregard for the parameters of traditional songwriting were instantly his greatest asset; he embodies gangsta rap’s distilled extremities.”
“‘When my little brother died, I said, ‘F— school,'” Pitchfork, quoting a lyric from “Flockaveli,” wrote in a glowing review. “This one lyric summarizes the attitude of a record utterly unconcerned with authority and anyone else who gets in the way. It points to the unspoken undercurrent in gangsta rap that’s usually mischaracterized as undirected underclass rage: Waka’s aggression is the survivalist reaction of the powerless, directed toward the threats of the immediate environment. He knows his strengths and he plays to them, exactingly.”
What’s high praise at one URL is damnable at another.
“What is most disturbing about Waka is that he plays into the hands of those who still believe that black folks are more ‘Straight Out the Jungle’ than ‘Straight Out of Compton,'” read a 2010 piece by Paul Scott posted at Beyond the Bricks, a New York City-based nonprofit initiative to improve the lives of black youth, called “Is Waka Flocka Flame A Media Creation to Further Dumb Down Black Boys?” “It must be remembered that barely a hundred years ago, African people were being locked up in monkey cages at zoos and forced to perform for white folks.”