Genius.com was born as a place to transcribe and annotate the lyrics to rap songs. (The site was originally called "Rap Genius.") Recognizing that its real innovation was in the annotations, the site expanded outward to include lyrics from other genres, essays and news articles. But maybe half the site is still rap lyrics, intermingled with random public domain essays and speeches. Do a search for, say, "Jeb Bush," and the results look like this:
That's a speech from President Obama, lyrics to a track by the hip-hop artist Diabolic, an excerpt from ABC News, a chapter from a book by liberal historian Howard Zinn and another hip-hop track.
Today, we're interested in the hip-hop tracks -- mostly because they're more interesting. So what exactly do America's rappers have to say about the 2016 candidates?
As we go into this, a few notes: First, certain candidates/maybe candidates have advantages when it comes to being included in hip-hop songs. Names that have a nice rhythm and that end in an easy rhyme are more common. "Joe Biden" is a better bet than "Lincoln Chafee." And, second, candidates who have been in prominent positions show up more regularly, too. There is a lot of "Mitt Romney" and lots of Biden; as in the non-hip-hop world, though, Martin O'Malley doesn't really register. Third, the politics of the artists range from libertarian to Democratic Party line. There don't seem to be many Republican hip-hop artists, although some parodies are on the site.
And, fourth, rappers sometimes swear or say crass things. We've applied a healthy bit of censoring and left out some of the more egregious examples. But: You are warned (and although the text below is censored, the videos are not).
Most of the lyrics mentioning Biden center on his being Obama's second in command.
Lyric: "Rockin' Louis and MCM, I guess I'm clothes-minded / I'm in the Obama suite, you one below in the Joe Biden"
Annotation: "He’s in the presidential (aka Obama) suite. You’re on the level below him like Joe Biden (the VP) is to Obama (the boss)."
Lyric: "Holding my triton, I’m feeling like Poseidon / I’m nearly to running this (cuss word), call me Joe Biden"
Lyric: "I be One-Up like that Green Mushroom in Mario / I'm just so presidential; you are just a Joe Biden"
But there's also Biden being Biden.
Lyric: "Bring it, they can throw violence / I'm in the back grinnin' like Joe Biden"
Every once in a while, an actual hip-hop star mentions one of our humble candidates. Big Sean, who called out Biden, is pretty well-known. But Jeb Bush -- whose mentions often center around his relationship to his brother, which he ought to be used to by now -- got a mention from rap royalty.
Lyric: "Dot World Wide Web, I'm a world wide celeb / [REDACTED] like George and Jeb"
What's the redacted part? Here's the video, created for a Nike campaign. It involves a pun -- of sorts.
Lyric: "What you heard before ain't as big of a lesson / As George and Jeb Bush rigging elections"
The annotation is not the sort of thing you should cite in an academic work. Suffice it to say it should make clear that it's an allusion to the 2000 presidential election.
Clinton has been mentioned in pop culture for decades, of course. She got a shout-out from Lil B The BasedGod (as he is known).
The song is described as "Lil B’s biographical salute to the pimpest president in U.S. history."
Lyric: "I need Bill Clinton to light up the weed / Shout-outs to Hillary Clinton / You gonna win that presidency / You gonna be president soon, baby"
The Washington Post cannot vouch for the accuracy of Lil B's polling. Or this:
Annotation: "Behind every great man is an even greater woman, and the political career of Bill Clinton got a huge boost by marrying Hillary Rodham, now Hillary Clinton. The two stayed together during the Lewinsky affair presumably to help both of their political careers, but … who knows?"
Carson's celebrity goes back decades as well, given his famous life story told in the book, "Gifted Hands."
Lyric: "That used to play basketball / I was point guarding / Had the gifted hands, and I'm still Ben Carson"
Carson's most famous medical procedure was when he separated conjoined twins joined at the skull. And so:
Lyric: "Like Ben Carson, I'll split ya head like they siamese!"
Let's hand this over to Awkwafina.
Lyric: "Chris Christie, you a man beast / I love it when you yelling at me on the TV"
From the video:
Yes, Bobby Jindal has been mentioned in a couple of hip-hop tracks. Now mind you, songs that appear on Genius are not necessarily top-10 tracks. But it counts.
Lyric: "They said 'Bobby Brown fault' / Who knows what Bobby Brown saw? / Bobby Brown Jindal never lobby brown cause"
The first reference is to the death of Whitney Houston, according to its annotation. The last bit, though?
Now we're starting to get a bit into the weeds.
Huckabee's name and the fact that there was a movie called "I Heart Huckabee" earned him a (tangential) mention in a song by Aesop Rock.
Lyric: "Flash that buttery gold, jittery zeitgeist / Wither by the watering hole, Border patrol / What are we to Heart Huckabee"
Annotation: "A reference to both the fictional anti-art corporation 'Huckabees' in the popular indie movie, and a nod to the flawed Presidential candidate. However, in this line Aes asking either one of two things. 1. What are we to love some corporation or politician? 2. What are we (artists) to those powers that be? Aesop is notorious for creating lines of duality & this line is no different when trying to nail down its exact meaning."
He also got a mention in a song about the late former senator Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.), so you can imagine its political bent.
Lyric: "Might find the door but never touch the key / They get tricked by slick Mike Huckabee"
We will simply show a screenshot of the family-friendly annotation.
Rubio, despite his avowed love of hip-hop, rarely gets mentioned by his full name. (Searching just "Rubio" offers too many unrelated results.) But he does get a mention in one song that includes a number of other Republicans.
Lyric: "Mitch McConnell, friends with The Donald / Scott Brown, Rubio, Ryan / Laura Ingraham, Fox News, they lying"
There is no annotation.
Also because the reference is to "filibust a cap," which is good. But the song overall is dumb and crass.
Then, there's this song about Infowars' Alex Jones.
Lyric: "You ain't a libertarian, you're Rand Paul with a tinfoil hat / I'm a libertarian socialist, Google that"
Santorum's come-from-behind 2012 Iowa win gives him life even in music!
Lyric: "My team is universal, you can't ignore 'em / You somehow came in first like Rick Santorum"
There is a song by Apollo Brown and Ras Kass called "PNT" that rhymes "Ted Cruz" with "Fox News" and refers to each unflatteringly.
We're saving this for last for a good reason.
Lyric: "The trend is boom bap, too bad I ain’t on that / And I’m about as well liked as Rick Perry’s 'Strong' ad"
Yes, that is a reference to a TV spot Rick Perry released in 2011. The annotation simply links to it.
That's how you know you've made it, I guess. When a sort-of rap song that's been viewed 320 times on YouTube refers to your campaign ad. You're deep in pop culture when that happens.
But it probably doesn't help your campaign.
Important update: We originally excluded Donald Trump (who has been in about 2.2 million songs given his rhymable name, exotic appearance, and association with wealth) since we remain skeptical about the seriousness of his "candidacy."
However. We were reminded by Stephen Jackson of his hilarious feud with the goof-rapper Mac Miller, who released a song called "Donald Trump."
Little Mac Miller’s next album may bomb. He can’t use my name again for sales.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 30, 2013