A small black child holds a “Fuck Donald Trump!” poster as sirens ring out and a police helicopter patrols overhead. The rapper YG appears, both middle fingers raised, and emphatically raps“Fuck Donald Trump / Fuck Donald Trump”over and over again.
The imagery in the video for this year’s “FDT (Fuck Donald Trump)” by YG and Nipsey Hussle was striking, and the explicitly anti-Trump lyrics in a hip-hop song were even more so. After decades of rap songs extolling Trump’s name — praising his wealth, his TV show and his luxury hotel chain — “FDT” felt like the first of its kind.
Except that it wasn’t. In a 1993 song, The Coup, a group from Oakland, California, rapped, “Break yourself Trump, it's collection day / Break yourself DuPont, it's collection day / You stole the shit from my great granddaddy anyway.”Although not as explicit as YG’s lyric, The Coup’s message for Trump was clearly negative — they and their fellow revolutionaries were coming for Trump’s money, and it was rightfully theirs.
Hip-hop has long been a political genre; artists often draw from and critique those in power. “Hip-hop has earned a creative license to offer a critical narrative of celebrity and political figures, and unlike other genres of popular music, hip-hop has always made it a priority,” said S. Craig Watkins, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of “Hip Hop Matters: Politics, Pop Culture, and the Struggle for the Soul of a Movement.” Now that Trump's public persona has shifted from business mogul to politician, and includes controversial statements on race, immigration and Muslims, I wondered whether the hip-hop discourse surrounding him was changing too.
So I asked the lyrics annotation site Genius to send me every reference to Trump that appears in its database of songs. To put his cultural position in context, I also requested the data on all the 2016 candidates — Democratic and Republican — who made it to the Iowa caucuses.The data set was rife with Trump, whose prominence and longevity as a figure in hip-hop is staggering: He and his brand have been referenced in 266 songs dating back to 1989; in one year alone (2013), there were 33 references.
But perhaps even more surprising is that Hillary Clinton and the Clinton familyhave their own long, voluminous history of hip-hop references. They’ve been mentioned in 92 songs since 1993. And the other candidates? Seventeen songs, combined.
It is unheard of for two presidential nominees to have been part of hip-hop’s conversation for so long — artists have dutifully chronicled their lives for decades.“Hillary's still with Bill Clinton, how do they do it? / He got his dick sucked and the whole damn world knew it,”Ludacris rapped on “Let’s Stay Together.” Trump’s personal life hasn’t gone unnoticed, either.“They high drama like Trump and Ivana,”Souls of Mischief rhymed on “Soundscience.”
To see whether the narratives around Trump and Clinton were changing in the run-up to the 2016 election, I and a group of FiveThirtyEight staffers classified every reference as positive, negative or neutral. (At least as well as we could!)Lyrics that praised the person or were aspirational (for example, “I’m rich just like Donald Trump”) received a classification of “positive.” “Negative” classifications went to those that were explicitly derogatory (for example, “Never put your trust in Hillary Rodham”) or misogynistic/sexist. Everything else we left as “neutral,” including references that didn’t express an opinion (for example, “Donald Trump said buy an apartment wit her”), that involved sex acts which could be interpreted differently based on who was assuming sexual agency, and whose meaning we could not decipher.
Because Clinton has been a politicized figure since the 1990s and is a woman, she unsurprisingly has fared much worse than Trump in hip-hop. About a third of all references to her were negative (17 percent were positive), and many of those occurred during her first run for the Democratic nomination. “You more like Hillary / Only in it cuz you used to fuck the ex leader,”Charles Hamilton said on “Unapologetic” in 2008. Trump, on the other hand, coasted from 1989 to 2014, with fewer negative references during that span than Clinton had in her worst single year. Overall, only 13 percent of all Trump references were negative, while 60 percent have been positive.
Things started to look a little different for Trump in 2015. Before that year, Trump had received only eight negative references in total; over the last year and a half, however, that number has quadrupled, to 34. (He still received 17 neutral and 16 positive references during that time.) Rick Ross has referenced Trump more than any other artist in our data set. Before 2015, he mentioned Trump seven times, none of which were negative. But something changed for Ross in 2015. In September, on his “Black Dollar” mixtape, Ross boasted,“Bel Air bottles like a boss, penthouse at the Trump.”But just three months later, on “Free Enterprise,” he rapped, “Assassinate Trump like I'm Zimmerman.”
Of the 262 artists in our data set, only Ross and Nas have referenced Trump more than the Atlanta trio Migos — and none of the group’s six mentions were negative. In their 2016 song “Bars,” Migos rapped: “Billionaire looking my way I’m on pace / Feeling like Donald Trump back in the day.” When I asked Migos about what Trump represented in their music, they said he was a useful shorthand. “We was talking about being rich and being worthy, that we feel like we the Donald Trumps of the hood, of the trap, of the street,” said Quavo of Migos. But Offset, his groupmate, said the group’s, and hip-hop’s, attitude toward Trump is changing. “Now, instead of people saying they got money like him, it’s fuck him, because of him showing who he is as a person,” he said. Quavo said that in an upcoming song, he will reference Trump politically for the first time — that is to say, negatively.
This shift in sentiment against Trump is marked by a clear increase in references to his politics, but his political references still haven’t surpassed the number of references to his wealth (102) or to the Trump Tower (68).As for Clinton, many of her references have been political (21), but a few, like one in Big Sean’s “Whatever You Want,” nod to her wealth, too: “Leading lady like Hillary grabbing big Bills.”
As hip-hop artists grapple with Trump’s new political persona, there will almost certainly be an increase in the number of references to his politics — but will that also mean fewer references to his wealth? There are aspects of Trump that will always be hip-hop: how boastful he is, how brazen he is about his money. And some artists are already trying to reconcile these two Trump narratives: “Listen I ain't from the slums, I fought my way up out the slum / Arrogant rich n----, we might vote for Trump,” Cam’ron rapped on “Dope Spot” last year.
Should Clinton win the election, the misogyny that typically dominates hip-hop will have to reckon with a female president. Lil B The BasedGod, for one, is ready: “Shouts-out to Hillary Clinton / You ’bout to win that president shit.”
Statistically speaking, hip-hop lyrics have no bearing on who will win this year’s election. But hip-hop will continue to provoke and challenge our opinions of those in power. Trump’s shifting hip-hop narrative makes this clear: No pop art more swiftly reflects the sentiments of progressive culture than rap music. “Hip-hop expands in ways no one can anticipate,” Watkins said. Regardless of who wins in November, hip-hop is sure to respond.