What’s Beef?: A Look at Rappers vs. Politicians

Everybody loves a good MC battle. What’s better than when two rappers have beef and decide to engage in a battle of intellect, lyricism, and wit with one another? Well, something that could be better (and sometimes more entertaining) is when a politician or political pundit tries to step into the ring and go a few rounds with a Hip-Hop artist.

This is what happened recently when Florida Congressman/Cuban-American/self-ascribed Hip-Hop head/Republican Party savior Marco Rubio called out Jay-Z and his wife Beyonce for visiting Cuba with permission from the Treasury Department, which is allowed if the visit is for person-to-person interaction with the purpose of humanitarian aid. Rubio insisted that the Carters’ visit was simply a “tourist trip” and “what they’re doing is providing hard currency and funding so that a tyrannical regime can maintain its grip on the island of Cuba.” Rubio added that “if Jay-Z was truly interested in the true state of affairs in Cuba, he would have met people that are being oppressed, including a hip-hop artist in Cuba who is right now being oppressed and persecuted and is undergoing a hunger strike because of his political lyrics,” referring to rapper Angel Yunier Remon Arzuaga aka El Critico de Arte who has been in prison since March.

Jay-Z’s response to Marco Rubio, featuring Common:

Rubio probably should have stopped there; after all, he did make a good point. Hip-Hop artists should mingle among the poor and oppressed people when they visit other countries. He could have at least gone to visit Black Panther, political exile, and aunt of 2Pac, Assata Shakur like Common did on his trip to Cuba. Unfortunately Rubio didn’t quit there and went on to say “Jay-Z needs to get informed. One of his heroes is Che Guevara. Che Guevara was a racist…that wrote extensively about the superiority of white Europeans over people of African descent.” While it’s true that a young Che, upon meeting African people for the first time, wrote some not so flattering observations about them in his private diary, but describing the writings as extensive is at least misleading and deceptive.

What Che wrote was “the black is indolent and a dreamer; spending his meager wage on frivolity or drink; the European has a tradition of work and saving, which has pursued him as far as this corner of America and drives him to advance himself, even independently of his own individual aspirations.” Hardly extensive. Also, what someone might find upon further research on Guevara is that he did eventually write extensively on the oppressive nature of capitalism, classism, and racism, including the racism being carried out at the time in the United States. Not only did Che write about fighting for liberation and self-determination among all people, he actually fought and died for those struggles, sometimes side-by-side with Afro-Latino comrades.

There are some basic points to be mentioned about this situation:

On the same team: Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney

On the same team: Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney

* Right wingers and others like to take the “enemy of my enemy is my friend” approach, meaning when they hate Dictators like Fidel Castro, anybody else who hates him gets propped up as a freedom–fighting hero for democracy (we’re talking about the government that trained and supplied Osama bin Laden to fight the Russians). There could be rappers imprisoned for their thoughts and lyrics in Saudi Arabia and China, but most right-wingers wouldn’t care to mention it if it doesn’t advance there cause of spreading capitalism all over the world. Just as Saddam became the most dangerous man in the world when the US decided it was time to take control of Iraq’s oil production.

* The argument about Cuba can go on forever. Some will say they are an oppressive violent regime, others say the only evidence of human rights violations in Cuba is perpetrated by the US military at Guantanamo Bay. Some will say they treat dissenters cruelly, don’t allow free speech or independent media, then others say that this is due to the US spending billions to embargo, spy-on, and otherwise attempt to disrupt ad overthrow the Castro government in every way.

Jay-Z performs with The Roots and Che Guevara

Jay-Z performs with The Roots and Che Guevara

* There is a long history of oppression and violence in Cuba, and most of it was carried out by the United States. The US supported Batista who killed and oppressed Cubans which lead to Castro’s revolution being a success. The US held and exploited much of the Cuba’s land for its own economic gain. The CIA attempted to invade Cuba, kill members of its military and government, and take it over for its own interests (much like what they did in Hawaii). The US has attempted to assassinate Fidel Castro at least a dozen times. The US gave safe-haven to an anti-Castro terrorist who bombed a Cuban airliner.

Talib Kweli summed it up pretty well in a recent interview: “One, we should always know which side of the fence the GOP, and anyone who claims to be Republican, is. Republicanism as an ideal is about conservative and small government, but in reality it’s a racist reaction to the Democratic policies of 1964. Once you identify yourself as a Republican, you identify yourself as an enemy of people. That’s not to say Democrats are the greatest. Democrats can be just as bad, but once you say you’re Republican I already know what you’re about. So anything that comes out a Republican’s mouth you gotta look at where the intention is. Corporate interests are against Cuba. Cuba was a government that stood up to the United States and decided they were gonna be masters of their own fate. All those people Marco Rubio’s talking about, how did they get so poor? From Batista and his government’s connection with governments like the United States. Say what you want about [Fidel] Castro and Che Guevara, they revolted and gave Cuba back to the people. Is it perfect? No, but does the United States’ embargo and sanctions against them help make it more perfect? No, it doesn’t. It helps to make it worse. As far as Jay-Z, he’s a grown ass man and he’s a free citizen and he can do whatever the hell he wants to do. I’ve been to Cuba with Black August. Our goal there was to connect with Cuban Hip-Hop artists, and that’s what we did. You can watch the documentary about it on YouTube. But, did I also go on the beach, have fun, and smoke in Havana? Hell yeah, I did. Why wouldn’t I? Now maybe Jay-Z is playing up that image too much, but that’s what he do. He invented “swag.” He said it on the song.” Full interview at: http://allhiphop.com/2013/04/19/exclusive-talib-kweli-talks-jay-z-rick-ross-controversies-brooklyns-hip-hop-renaissance-and-new-music/

Although the Jay-Rubio beef led to some good debate, it is not a new phenomenon by far, for rapper and politicians to go at each other directly. During Jesse Jackson’s 1984 run for President, Melle Mel from the Furious Five, called out Reagan: “See Ronald Reagan speaking on TV, smiling like everything’s fine and dandy/Sounded real good when he tried to give a pep talk to over 30 million poor people like me/How can we say we got to stick it out when his belly is full and his future is sunny?/I don’t need his jive advice but I sure do need his jive time money/The dream is a nightmare in disguise.”

In 1988 2 Live Crew’s Luke released a song on his record label by artist Anquette called “Janet Reno” that dissed Miami-area Republican District Attorney Jack Thompson, resulting in Thompson making it his personal mission to prosecute the group for obscenity and, in Thompson’s words “put 2 Live Crew’s career back into the toilet where it began.”

It’s not just Republicans either, in 1992 Democrat poster-boy Bill Clinton chided female-MC Sister Souljah, calling her racist and comparing her to white-supremacist David Duke for her comments on black-on-white violence during the ’92 LA Rebellion, basically saying it was smarter than black-on-black violence which occurs everyday.

More recent and memorable moments include the controversies over songs like “Cop Killer” by Ice-T’s rock group Body Count and N.W.A.’s “Fuck the Police” where everybody from the local cops, the FBI, all the way up to VP Dan Quayle and President George H.W. Bush had something to say about the scourge of “gangsta rap.” Who can forget 2Pac’s war of words with C. Delores Tucker and others (“you a mothafucka, instead of help a nigga you destroy your brothers, worse than the others, Bill Clinton, Mr. Bob Dole, you’re too old to understand the way the game go, you lame so…”). Not to mention that dozens of rappers from Chuck-D to Kendrick Lamar have taken lyrical shots at Hip-Hop’s favorite ex-Pres, Ronald Reagan.

In fact, since Reagan, no one politician has been a bigger target for rappers than George W. Bush was during his time in office. Countless rappers have made hundreds if not thousands of references to Bush, Cheney, and the rest of their “neo-con” crew. Of course everybody remembers the infamous “George Bush doesn’t care bout Black people” remark by Kanye West on national TV.

There was Ludacris vs. Bill O’Reilly then Common vs. Bill O’Reilly, then Nas vs. Bill O’Reilly and all of Fox News (the song “Sly Fox” is dope!) Not as much venom has been spit at Obama, some might say he’s been talked about the most positively out any other head of state. KRS-One once stated the line “I want all my daughters to be like Maxine Waters” and both Biz Markie and Wu-Tang have shown love for underdog Presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm. Chicago native Common mentioned Obama in the song “Why?” while Obama was still a State Senator. Other rappers like Nas, Young Jeezy, Questlove of The Roots,  and Bossman have made pro-Obama references in their music (Bossman’s song is called “Fuck McCain”).

On the other had Hip-Hop has remained true to the streets and have called out Obama for his continued support of Israel while they carpet bomb Palestine, not closing the illegal prison in Guantanamo Bay and his ongoing missions of drone-strikes that have killed hundreds of civilians, including many children in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Libya, and other countries. These include Lupa Fiasco’s line “Gaza Strip was getting bombed, Obama didn’t say shit, that’s why I ain’t vote for him, next one either” which was soon after sampled for the hook of a new song by M1  (dead prez) and the Iraqi/British-MC Lowkey called ObamaNation with lines like “I don’t believe a word that you say, cuz my mind stays open like Guantanamo Bay.”

Hopefully Hip-Hop continues its tradition of calling out politicians and others who make it their daily occupation to continue the oppression of the rest of us. It makes for more interesting debate than, say, 50 vs. Ja.


Categories: Chicano/Latino, Hip-Hop History, International Hip-Hop, International News, National Hip-Hop, National News, Obama, Political History

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