In the Era of Trump, the Bar for “Political” is Awfully Low
If you know me, you’d probably feel safe assuming I didn’t watch the Grammy awards. I’ve made it very clear I’m not of fan of them and explained why. What I am a fan of however is A Tribe Called Quest. During and post the airing of the Grammys it was nearly impossible for me to avoid people ranting and raving about Tribe’s “political” performance. The thought of watching the performance left me conflicted. Watching a video of a Grammy performance wouldn’t kill me, but seeing the group that played a large role in my introduction to Hip-Hop perform at an award ceremony where they’ve never been properly honored, and only been invited to perform post the passing of one of the group’s founding members felt a lot like too little, far too late. Still, despite my reluctance, I watched Tribe’s performance. They started by performing the hook to “Award Tour,” a track that probably should been performed at the awards a long time ago, before allowing Anderson Paak to shine. Paak, an artist who got nowhere near the attention he deserved at this year’s awards, and will probably have a future filled with similar results. Then they went into their “political” song. Now, I in no way intend to disrespect A Tribe Called Quest, but it’s very clear their presence at the 2017 Grammy Awards was merely a soft (read:safe) jab from the left LEANING entertainment industry, aimed at Donald Trump and his alt-right goons. It didn’t make up for the praise ATCQ was owed in year’s past, or make a strong political statement, it was simply more of the same; name calling and we are (all) the world. If we are to believe the current political climate is as heated as most would claim, and Trump is who people claim he is, more of the same simply won’t do.
It would appear that in the Trump era, any shot taken at President Twitter fingers will land you a “politcal” tag. In the case of Tribe’s performance, while Busta’s “Agent Orange” namedrop and mention of the “failed Muslim ban” may have been enough, the marching of people of varying backgrounds from the crowd to the stage, and the screams to “resist” thrilled the audience at home on social media, and many in attendance who by their puzzled looks and lack of movement during the performance clearly didn’t know the songs being performed. Who cares about the music, this is political! This couldn’t be more evident then two weeks earlier when Big Sean released his latest project, I Decided. While the discussions should have all revolved around whether or not I Decided cemented the Detroit native’s top 5 status among the games brightest stars, a lot of discussion was being had about Eminem’s “political” verse on Sean’s track “No Favors.” Somewhere among Eminem’s no hoe saving, women beating, rape rhymes were references to Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, and disses to Ann Coulter and Trump…that and another OJ reference. It’s not like Eminem hasn’t made REAL political songs before. While I’m probably one of the last ones to tell you what Eminem has been up to lately, I can tell you that the last time it was cool to be conscious, the Bush era, Em made several political songs, including “Mosh.” Still, as we stare down a potential four to eight years under a president many have compared to Hitler, Eminem was praised. “Eminem is truly not afraid to take a stand.” opined a CNN article about Eminem “unleashing on Trump.” They didn’t mention the rape…or Sandra Bland, Philando Castile references. “Eminem isn’t stepping away from politics under President Donald Trump” remarks Business Insider in an article about the verse. This I found particularly hilarious because like a lot of rappers who were extremely vocal against Bush, I don’t recall Eminem being vocal about politics for say, the past eight years. Eight years which saw Obama deport more immigrants than any President in US history. Eight years filled with unpunished police brutality, so much so, movements like Black Lives Matter were born. Eight years in which we were still very involved over seas in the Middle East.
If the Academy wanted to make a real political statement, it’s obvious who should have been invited to perform. Still, while metaphorically flipping the bird to our current POTUS has become cool, the one artist to make a song not so metaphorical, but literally about it, found himself snubbed by the prestigious award show, again. YG’s “FDT” became a political anthem when President Trump was merely candidate Trump. While the simplistic hook (chants of “Fuck Donald Trump”) caught people’s attention, there were other parts of the song far more political than the stuff that has been getting artists praised as of late. For one, the guest artist Nipsey Hussle has a whole verse filled with gems. He references Reagan’s ties to cocaine, attacks Trump’s rep as self-made business man by pointing out his wealth was inherited (Reagan sold coke/Obama sold hope/Donald Trump spent his trust fund money on a vote), but most importantly, he points out how in a lot of cases, people who have been convicted of crimes can still vote (If you like me, then you probably ain’t know/that if you been to jail you can probably still vote). Procon.org (a site that points out the pros and cons of controversial issues, not a website that’s pro convicts) shows that only 10 states may permanently remove your voting rights after being convicted of a felony; Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, Tennessee, and Wyoming. In California, where both Nipsey Hussle and YG hail from, felons were originally allowed to vote after serving their time of incarceration and parole. On September 28, 2016 California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 2466, a bill that allows convicted felons who are serving time in county jails the ability to vote from within jail. Putting that in a song is probably even bigger than the time Jay-Z told people in “99 Problems” that if everything is closed and locked cops can’t search your car without a warrant (or probable cause). Imagine the Grammy Awards allowing the performance of a song that told felon’s they could vote.
While YG opens “FDT” speaking on how he “loves white people” the song has a much stronger emphasis on a love of Brown people. Latinos, a group instrumental in Hip-Hop since it’s origins, are often overlooked, especially those of Mexican descent. “FDT” stresses the importance of Latinos in America, and it’s done by two artists from a place where relations between Black and Brown people are often strained at best. On YG’s album Still Brazy he takes it even further sharing his platform with Latino artist Sad Boy. On “Blacks and Browns” Sad Boy speaks on how inability to acquire citizenship forces Latinos into exploitative jobs with low pay that lack benefits, while YG talks about how social services have become a crutch in the black community. These are conversations that needed to happen before Trump, and I can almost guarantee will still need to be had after him as well.
If we are to believe Trump is who he is made out to be, the bar for taking a stand has to be raised higher than simple name calling. If we are to deal with the reality that OUR problems with the government didn’t start when Trump was elected into office and won’t go away when he exits it, we can’t lose sight of the real issues. I can’t celebrate Tribe’s performance as some grand political stand when it’s so clearly a ploy by the Academy to attempt to paint a picture that we’re all united in progressiveness. The same Academy that limits black artists to winning categories created in large part for black artists. Best Urban Contemporary Album is the Grammy award equivalent of the blacks only water fountain. It’s hard for me to take anything promoted by the Grammys as political.
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