Politics and Hip Hop: An Amerikkkan Horror Story
Go listen to Ras Kass’s song Amerikkkan Horror Story Parts 1 & 2. It should wake you up and make you mad for better and for worse. Of course I love the lyrics and beat, but it’s the image that gets me most. It’s just so thuggish. It’s a drawing of our President Donald Trump, larger than life, standing behind the Statue of Liberty. “Lady Liberty” is a symbol of America’s great tradition of welcoming strangers and promising freedom, and there Trump stands, grabbing her tit.
Yes. Her tit. Not her “breast,” “chest,” “bosom” or any other euphemism. Her tit. And I’m not calling it that because I’m some Hip Hop scholar writing an edgy review of some crass rap song. I am not ignorantly permissive of Hip Hop’s long history of objectification and gross chauvinism. Despite feeling icky for it, knowing the cringe it will likely cause upon my reader’s face, I will type it here because it’s obviously the language our president would use. I mean, if he says he grabs women by their p***y (which is one I won’t type even to make a point) you can be sure he knows words a lot more offensive than what I’ve written here.
Let me remind you though, his offensive language has nothing to do with Hip Hop. It has nothing to do with what you think about rap music, but has everything to do with him as a wealthy, white American man, and how he will not be held accountable for his language; but some scary, black rap artist will be berated for the blunt vulgarity of his poetry.
This article isn’t about the president. And Kass’s song isn’t either. Writing a diss track would be too easy– something you could piece together by finding rhyming CNN headlines. So even though Ras calls Trump a sociopathic, racist, sexist, tax-dodging liar, it isn’t just pointing a finger at him. Because it’s really pointing a finger at us, shaming us for our hypocrisy, our complacency, our defeatism. The song is a reminder that America is once again on the wrong side of history– failing on our supposed path from Lincoln to MLK, failing to make the world a better place, failing to be the “Beacon of the World.”
There is no doubt that Ras Kass focuses on race– as does each of the mainstream commentators sampled throughout– but listen close and you’ll notice he’s just as concerned about economic class, prison reform, immigration rights, misogyny and reproductive rights, healthcare, rampant homophobia and Islamophobia, colonization, the curtailment of freedoms and a crumbling democracy. All those things that so many American’s were able to ignore and abandon because they wanted to return to some privileged place they felt entitled to, some greatness they thought they were owed.
So the track is ugly, critical and vulgar, but that’s Hip Hop, right? Who said the revolution has to be respectable? Why should we let social etiquette silence us as if our anger over injustice and our refusal to ignore it is the problem? Listen to the song as a catalog of all the shit that’s wrong in our nation, and ask yourself whether you will you be able to continue sleeping, enjoying your American Dream, or will you wake the fuck up and recognize this Amerikkkan Horror Story?
Ruben Enrique Campos is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and works in the Department of Ethnic Studies. He studies culture and society, usually with a focus on issues of race, ethnicity, gender and class inequalities. He’s currently writing his dissertation on the Hip Hop scene in Mexico City, where he lived and conducted intensive fieldwork for just over a year. Aside from constantly struggling to write, read and be a serious academic, he listens to music, reads comic books and exhibits a serious waste of potential.