Hogging multiple lanes on the road to the 2016 election is a big dump truck filled with the foul smell of politics as usual — especially musically. White, rich, geezer rockers and their political counterparts always seem to find each other for a double dose of out-of-touch rhetoric.
Aging hair metal star Bon Jovi just linked up with New Jersey’s Chris Christie. Aging Canadian Neil Young nabbed headlines for dissing Donald Trump’s presidential bid, and rallying for Bernie Sanders. Aging millionaire voices for the working man Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp can’t be far behind. Aside from Taylor Swift, who can beat the Apples of the world in arm-wrestling, the most important musician of the 2016 election could be a young, outspoken rapper.
Politicians are actually a lot like rappers. Both love to talk about themselves, especially when it comes to boasting about how much better they are than their competition. They love comparing themselves to historical figures in their respective fields and beyond. The best in both camps are riveting orators who can move you to tears with just a couple of lines. The worst of them are parasites.
Both symbolize a hunger for power: The last word, mic control, worldwide domination, etc. The main difference is that the moral ambiguity and coarse language of a rapper’s public persona is reserved for behind closed doors for a politician. (You just know they’re cussing the second the cameras aren’t rolling, though.)
You know what’s coming because there are a lot of long, excellent thinkpiece essays about the weight of Kendrick Lamar’s words already. The role once reserved for Kanye “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” West is now his.
With his art, Lamar has created a portal into urban unrest without any resolution in sight beyond music itself. His Rolling Stone cover story depicts him still close to the poor, gang-ridden streets in Los Angeles where violence can erupt on any given day.
On his latest album, To Pimp a Butterfly, he raps about survivor’s guilt he’s experienced following success — the stuff that politicians lack after getting caught up in fundraising, dry-cleaning, and mud-slinging. To set the tone of our nation’s cultural divide, the album cover features shirtless black men gathered in front of the White House with malt liquor and cash, and Lamar argues that the political game is basically gang warfare on “Hood Politics.” “From Compton to Congress, set trippin’ all around / Ain’t nothin’ new, but a flu of new Demo-Crips and Re-Blood-licans / Red state versus a blue state, which one you governin’?”
Take the conversation piece of his just-released “Alright” video, showing how floating along in a self-centered, dream-like world can all come to an abrupt end with one gunshot. The stimuli around any one person can hold them up in that airspace for only so long. We can either check out completely or get wise.
t’s yet another reminder that we’re way too deep in this mess now for leadership to avoid polarizing issues like gun control, youth violence, and racial profiling. Some voices are heard louder than others, and Kendrick knows his will be one of the few that can break through. “I’m the closest thing to a preacher that have,” he told the Mundo Electoral earlier this year.
We’ll see if any presidential candidate can break from the pack with a message that resonates with potential young voters as much as Kendrick Lamar. It’s a group that leans towards ambivalence, or they are already too bitter to participate. Therein lies the real challenge. Which candidate gets Kendrick Lamar’s endorsement? Most likely, none of them.