Andscape's Hip-Hop in the White House is executive produced by Jay "Jeezy" Jenkins
Illustration collage: Ryan Olbrysh

Jeezy Asks That You Do This One Critical Thing Before Voting

With “My President,” Jeezy helped galvanize young, Black voters when Barack Obama first ran for office. But has American politics ever had true respect for hip-hop? Andscape’s documentary, 'Hip-Hop and the White House,' explores how we engaged in the 80s and how it’s going

The year was 2008, and Barack Hussein Obama was on the campaign trail in the closing months of a nail-biter presidential election. The hip-hop community galvanized behind the man poised to be the first Black president. “Yes we can,” they repeated, an acknowledgement to Obama’s inspiring campaign slogan . But could we? Deep down, no one was sure. Doubt was a constant companion to the promise of the Obama moment. This is still Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa, after all. Public Enemy, by all metrics, had long lost its fight against the power. And despite Intelligent Hoodlum’s convincing case against previous corrupt white male presidents, none had been arrested (…yet).

It was in this environment that Jeezy decided to power up the Black vote. He dropped his seismic-anthem, “My President,” prior to the election. The lyrics rang out on urban blocks, swelling hope in the hood. “My president is black, My Lambo’s blue / And I’ll be goddamned if my rims ain’t too.” When Obama won the election, hip-hop envisioned a White House takeover, with Jeezy’s song playing behind a montage of rappers visiting the Oval Office, dapping up the president and making demands for us all. 

That was then. Today, after two tumultuous terms (Donald Trump and Joe Biden, respectively) since Obama left office, we find a community disillusioned and looking for answers. In pursuit of a leader who can bring lasting results and make enduring change. All the while, searching for voices from hip-hop that can still speak truth to power. For his part, Jeezy has changed mediums by executive producing and narrating a new documentary titled Hip-Hop and the White House. Directed by veteran journalist Jesse Washington, the film tracks the growing influence of rap artists and the hip-hop community’s relationship to presidential politics. 

A range of perspectives are shared, including commentary from Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, and artists from Common to KRS-One. The film showcases the tenuous alliances between hip-hop and political powers, with a growing set of divergent voices on both sides of the political aisle. Waka Flocka Flame, who endorsed Trump for president, represents this growing faction within the hip-hop community. “People want a Tupac kind of real n****,” he says in the doc. “Like a Donald Trump. He’s a real n***** because he’s unapologetic.” 

Hip-Hop and the White House raises questions about the genre’s ability to transform cultural influence into political power. Jeezy is hoping the doc inspires others to look beyond the candidates and focus on the issues. It’s the latest in a long line of his Thug Motivation lectures—only now, he’s moved from the streets of Atlanta to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

LEVEL: Why was it important for you to do this documentary about hip-hop and presidential politics now?

Jeezy: It should have been done before, but timing is everything. With the last couple of elections, the importance of hip-hop was overlooked, how hip-hop was able to mobilize people and get people together on one accord. And the influence of the art of hip-hop was overlooked because of its direct correlation with violence and negativity instead of what the artform is used for. We can still help win elections, we can give people awareness, we can make songs that [put] people in the state of mind of revolutions.

Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power” was released in 1989, when rap was known for its political messages. But today, as we witness another Biden-Trump showdown, is there any music being made that is giving insight into this election

I haven’t heard anything just yet. And most music is made after the fact. Unless you’re talking about “My President,” which was made before [President Obama] was in office. Most things are made after the fact when people are already disappointed, already discouraged, people feeling like they want to rebel. Now, everybody is just watching. And they just seeing. Honestly, right now it looks like white folks business. [Laughs]

Hip-Hop and the White House is available now on Hulu.

How does hip-hop change the narrative from what seems like white folks’ business to how it affects us and your world

I think hip-hop changes that when we are able to tell about the disruptive behavior and the misleading narratives. About the unfair decisions that are made. Hip-hop affects it when we get close and you need to mobilize Black and brown people. When you want to talk to Black and brown people, you have to talk through Black and brown people.

There are many polls that show there are more Black folks—African-American men in particular—supporting Trump this time around. Why is that? 

I can’t confirm or deny that. The only thing I can say—and I’m not endorsing anybody—is from the outside looking in, from my observation, at least you know what you’re getting. You know how they say the devil you know is sometimes better than the devil you don’t know. Well that guy, he is who he say he is. He’s not saying one thing and doing the other. Again, I’m not endorsing anybody. But even in Trump’s world, his supporters, a lot of those guys are looking for a father figure and looking for someone that’s a strong leader and the sense of his rebellion and how he rebels against the system and he stands on that, might make them feel like he someone they can follow. 

"In Trump’s world, his supporters, a lot of those guys are looking for a father figure and looking for someone that’s a strong leader."

We see Waka Flocka Flame in Hip Hop and the White House: He’s totally on Team MAGA. Says Trump won that last election and all. What pushes folks like Waka towards the MAGA platform?

I don’t know Waka personally, so I really can’t speak on his perspective. But I can tell you he probably has some information that he feels can make his point valid. He does sound sure. When I see him, I want to ask because I want to understand. Also, it depends on where you get your information from. If you get it from somebody who has a thorough stance on the Republican side, you might think like that. If you get it from somebody who has a thorough stance on the Democratic side, you might think like that. It may be somebody you look up to. And you in turn might align with how they live their lives and say I feel the exact same way. That’s how you’re able to be one or the other or be in the middle, right. 

You said you don’t endorse anyone at this time. What are you waiting for? 

Well, I want to see what’s going on. I want to understand. I want a leader that’s going to bring us all together. 

Does that person exist? How do you bring a country like this together? 

I mean, you gotta figure it out. I would try if I was in that position. I would at least give it a shot. We gotta see. I think there is somebody out there like that. Somebody that can get the majority of us on the same page. 

But this election for better or worse, comes down to two people: Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Even if you pick third party candidate Robert Kennedy or pick no one, that in some way helps to elect Biden or Trump. So given that these two are our only real options, why not endorse one of them? 

I wanna hear the policy. I think you take the names out of it and you rock with the person [whose] policies align with your beliefs and values and morals. In your community. Your city. Your state. When you start putting a name to it, that becomes more like hip-hop. Like, I like this person because he got better bars. [Laughs] If you start putting names to it, you’re not looking at the message. I think you gotta look at what they are standing on and what they stand for. Not because it’s this person or that person. 

Can you draw a connection between street politics—whether you’re in the trap or on the block—and presidential politics?

In the streets, it's totally driven by violence and manipulation. And in politics, they got a cleaner way of doing it. If you really think about it, it all seems corrupt. When you’re watching the news, it’s like, Damn really? Even me, when I saw them take Capitol Hill, I was like, Wow. This is like taking somebody’s hood. It’s wild. And this is the country we live in. But I think we haven’t seen the worst. I can tell you that.

“When I saw them take Capitol Hill, I was like, ‘Wow. This is like taking somebody’s hood.’ It’s wild. And this is the country we live in. But I think we haven’t seen the worst. I can tell you that.”

So you think we are on the verge of seeing another Jan. 6 replay, but this time with more coordination? 

I wouldn’t be surprised. If it didn’t go how a particular group didn’t want it to go, I wouldn’t be surprised. And I wasn’t surprised when it happened. You could feel it heating up. You could feel the tension. You also understand how much power and influence one has when you are able to create that type of energy by basically doing nothing and saying something. 

Living in Atlanta, you’ve had the ability to see different sides of the divide. The city is mostly Democrat-leaning and the outskirts are largely Republican and these days MAGA proud. How has that influenced how you see the world? 

Once you get to the outskirts of Georgia, all you see is Trump banners and flags. You can tell what’s going on. They are really not shy about how much support they have for him in the rural areas and back roads. They’re really proud Trump supporters. I can’t explain it, I’m just telling you what I see. But it lets you know there are supporters and people who see things the way he sees it. It makes you wonder, not in a good way or bad. Me being an artist, I also look at it as great marketing. 

Related: When Your Neighbor Turns Out to Be Full-On MAGA

The MAGA marketing has moved beyond politics. It does feel like a marketing campaign we’ve seen in hip-hop. 

At the end of the day, he’s not giving those hats away for free. He’s a businessman. He’s selling things: Mugs, shirts, flags, sneakers. What I noticed about presidential campaigns and what I love, they were really grassroots. They got out there to where the people are. Where we from, we call that guerilla marketing. Everywhere you go, you see this. I thought, This is how I need to promote my projects. Because you’re going to the people and you're creating these movements. If you think about it [Obama’s] Yes We Can and Make America Great Again, those are two movements. I hate to say it but [Tupac’s] Thug Life was a movement. We all align with this and this is how we feel and this is how we moving. I wanted that with Trap or Die; I wanted a movement, something people could get behind. I knew people in the streets felt like that. I’m gonna get this money or die trying. 

In making this documentary, what were some of the things you learned? What surprised you? 

Eazy-E was the first thing that surprised me. This is somebody that was basically labeled as a drug dealer in the group. And here he is going to a Republican meeting and getting up close and personal with politics and he probably is one of the most dangerous people in the room. And he’s taking his time to learn. I’m like, Eazy-E? And you never heard that. 

Aside from highlighting Eazy-E’s connection to George H.W. Bush, the doc connects the dots between policies created in the ’80s and the messages we heard in hip-hop. What do you take away from the context this story provides? 

I always loved KRS-One and thought he was smart. But he is profound. The way he explains it all in this documentary is enlightening. I’m a Georgia guy and we think about trapping like, Let’s go get this money. And the way he explained it was that hip-hop came from poverty and they put these drugs in our neighborhoods to fund a guerilla war in another country. The CIA was involved. It’s damaging and destroying our communities and getting most of us incarcerated, which would take black men away from their kids and wives and now you got these kids growing up by themselves. But when broken down, the fact is that this is where hip-hop came from, that struggle that pain. It was a light bulb. 

 “If you think about it, [Obama’s] Yes We Can and Make America Great Again—those are two movements. I hate to say it but [Tupac’s] Thug Life was a movement. We all align with this and this is how we feel and this is how we moving. I wanted that with Trap or Die, I wanted a movement.”

What does that light bulb going off mean for you? 

Even when I was hustling, I didn’t know why I was hustling. I didn’t understand that. I was just taught, you gotta get money to take care of people. I didn’t know this came from a presidential run where they were trying to fight a war in another country and they put this product here and they demonize my people and now my people make this music that is art about the pain. Now we got this whole artform that’s beyond all of us. And this was designed to put us on the bottom of the bottom. And when I heard that, it opened my eyes. It educated me to say nothing I did coming up was that special. But what I do with the influence and the power that I have is all that matters. And that’s why standing behind this doc is so important.

I once interviewed Pimp C and he said he told his kids they ain’t never going to be president. I teach them how to set up a business but never tell them they can be president because they would not put a Black man in that seat. Unfortunately, he passed before Obama got elected. I bring that up to ask what you tell your kids today about presidential politics and involvement? 

I talk to my daughters—both of them—and my son. I tell my daughter all the time, take care of your people because they will take care of you. And I tell her, “When you do become president, make sure you remember your morals and values.” I tell her that every day and she’s like, “Dad, I don’t want to be president.” And I’m just like, “But when you do, when you do…” Give it to them young and let them know it is a possibility. Don’t ever just X it out. You don’t have to do that, because somebody has broken that barrier for you. It’s an option. If you want it, it is achievable. I never was told that. I would advise anyone to help your kids set goals that are huge. And I tell anybody, if your dreams don’t scare you, you’re not dreaming big enough.

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