- The rapper Common. (Photo: AP/Peter Kramer)
Conservatives--including Sarah Palin--are pretty pissed that first lady Michelle Obama invited rapper Common to participate in a White House poetry night event, citing the Chicago native's "violent" lyrics about former president George W. Bush.
Commongate is just the latest incident in the long, bizarre relationship between the White House and the hip-hop community. A look back at some of the biggest controversies involving rap music and the occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW:
c. 1981: Ronald Reagan becomes the first president to be name-checked by rappers. Writer Jimi Izrael makes this observation in an excellent 2004 piece on how Reagan played a part in the birth of both political and so-called 'gangsta' rap, through policies that cut social programs, widened the income gap, and otherwise left young people angry and in need of a creative outlet.
1992: While speaking to a Rainbow Coalition group, then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton compares rapper/author Sister Souljah to David Duke, in response to her comment that "If Black people kill Black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?" Souljah made the remark as part of a lengthy, nuanced interview about Rodney King and the L.A. riots, but that soundbite, taken out of context, was widely circulated. Jesse Jackson attacked Clinton for attacking Souljah, and it became a whole big thing. Now, whenever a political candidate is caught up in some sort of controversy involving inflammatory remarks about race, it is called a "Sister Souljah moment."
1992: Tipper Gore resigns from the Parents Music Resource Center after Bill Clinton is elected president and her husband, Al Gore, becomes VP. Still, hip-hop fans never forget Tipper and the PMRC's role in getting Luther Campbell and 2 Live Crew's 1989 album As Nasty As They Wanna Be declared legally obscene by a Florida court in a landmark obscenity/censorship case. (The court's ruling was eventually tossed out. But Uncle Luke, currently running for mayor of Miami, got his revenge last year, after the Gores announced their divorce, by penning a Miami New Times opinion piece entitled: "Al Gore Can Get Freaky Now That Tipper's Gone."
1993: N.W.A founder/rapper Eazy-E donates $2500 to the Republican party; nabs invite to lunch hosted by President George H.W. Bush. Details of the lunch are quickly exaggerated by rap. fans; some people still think Eazy left a jheri-curl stain in the Oval Office.
2000-2008: Hip-hop artists (with assists from the Dixie Chicks, Pearl Jam, and, shit, pretty much EVERYONE in the music industry, use President George W. Bush's two terms in office to perfect their battle rap skills, and hit No. 43 with verbal shot after verbal shot.
2005: Kanye West says that "George Bush doesn't care about black people" on live television during a telethon for Hurricane Katrina relief. Last year, Bush said that the moment was one of the lowest of his presidency.
2007: Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King pens a column calling presidential hopeful Sen. Hilary Clinton a hypocrite for accepting funds raised by Timbaland, arguing that his lyrics are as offensive as radio host Don Imus' "nappy-headed hoes" remark--which Clinton was outraged by.
2008: Hip-hop artists take a break from beating up on Bush to extol the virtues of presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama. When Obama is elected in November, some label him the first hip-hop president.
March 2010: Young Jeezy, who penned "My President," a track that many feel played a very small but significant role in rallying the hip-hop generation and getting them to turn out to the polls for Obama, doesn't visit the White House before a scheduled performance at the Verizon Center. However, his tour mates, Jay-Z and Trey Songz (along with Beyoncé, Kevin Liles, and Jay-Z's assistant/BFF Ta-Ta) do show up at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW. Reportedly, Jeezy didn't come with because of the difficulty (but not impossibility) or visiting the WH with prior felonies on one's record.
June 2010: Hey, was that Barack Obama in the video for the early-'90s Tag Team hit “Whoomp (There It Is)?” The White House says, no--no it is not. And stop calling us to ask about it, OK?
August 2010: Hip-hop community says, "Hey Barack Obama, we helped you get elected! Invite us over to hang out and participate in the White House Music Series, already!!!"
November, 2010: Bill Clinton says he's a fan of Lil' Wayne; joins the "Free Weezy" movement.