10 of President Obama and First Lady Michelle’s Best Hip-Hop Moments
Over the past eight years President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama have given more love to hip-hop than any other White House administration has done in the past. This was important as it showed hip-hop a type of respect it never got before. In honor of this rarity, here are 10 of the best moments where hip-hop and the Obamas collided. We’re all going to miss the love.
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
On April 17, 2008, while running for office against Hillary Clinton, Obama brushed the dirt off his shoulder in response to questions about Clinton’s personal attacks on him. The future president later explained that he had “some Jay Z on his iPod.” But hip-hop heads knew that reference meant more than just a nod to a playlist.
Despite conservatives losing their mind over his past lyrics, Common became the first rapper to perform at the White House on May 11, 2011, when he was invited to recite poetry at “An Evening of Poetry,” an event hosted by Michelle Obama. Despite the backlash to Common’s visit, the Obamas defended their guest’s visit, with the WH press secretary Jay Carney saying, “While the president doesn’t support the kind of lyrics that have been raised here, some of these reports distort what Mr. Lynn [Common] stands for more broadly. One of the things the president appreciates is the work Mr. Lynn has done with children, especially trying to get them to focus on poetry as opposed to some of the negative influences of life on the streets.” Pow.
On April 21, 2014, Big Sean became the first rapper to actually rap at the White House when he joined girlfriend Ariana Grande on stage at the WH’s annual Easter Egg Hunt for a performance of their song “Right There.” Even though the couple broke up, the moment still remains and Big Sean made history for hip-hop.
In September 2015, Kanye West announced that he would be running for president in 2020. One month later at a fundraiser, attended by both Obama and ’Ye, the president offered some advice to Kanye for his campaign: 1. “First of all, you’ve got to spend a lot of time dealing with some strange characters who behave like they’re on a reality TV show.” 2. “Saying that you have a ‘beautiful dark twisted fantasy,’ that’s what’s known as ‘off-message’ in politics... You can’t say something like that. There are a lot of people who have lost their congressional seats saying things like that.” 3. “Do you really think that this country is going to elect a Black guy from South Side Chicago with a funny name to be president of the United States? That is crazy. That’s cray!”
Most heads were proud of hip-hop when they saw the president and Kendrick Lamar link forces for Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper mentoring program in early 2016. Kendrick’s PSA “Pay It Forward” featured photos of the Compton rapper and the pres talking in the Oval Office and encourages viewers to support My Brother’s Keeper and become mentors themselves. The collabo was one of the early moments in the growing relationship between K.Dot and O.Dot.
While continuing to show his love and support for Kendrick Lamar, President Obama controversially stated he “Gotta go with Kendrick,” when asked whose music he liked more—Dot’s or Drake’s—in a YouTube interview back in early January 2016. “I think Drake is an outstanding entertainer, but Kendrick, his lyrics, his last album was outstanding,” Obama defended. “Best album, I think, of last year.” Drake later responded to the slight on his song “Summer Sixteen” rapping: “Looking for revenge/To do what you couldn’t do/Tell Obama that my verses are just like the whips that he in/They bulletproof.”
In the big picture, who Obama picked wasn’t important; it was that he was familiar enough with the music to pick and that made all the difference for hip-hop.
While at a fundraiser in Austin, Texas for the Democratic National Committee on March 13, 2016, Obama professed his love for J. Cole after the North Carolina rapper performed at the event.“I love J.Cole,”Obama said to the audience. “You know, this is the benefit of having teenage daughters: I actually keep up. I got a chance to see J. Cole’s mom and grandma.”
On April 15, 2016, the Commander-in-Chief invited Pusha T, Chance The Rapper, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross, Busta Rhymes, Timbaland, Wale, J. Cole, Ludacris and more to a private event at the White House to talk about criminal justice reform and Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative. If photos didn’t circulate on social network of all those rappers at the WH, hip-hop probably wouldn’t have believed it happened.
It wasn’t a historical presidential moment but it was still pretty amazing to see a clip of Obama getting pumped to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” on July 27, 2016, before his Democratic National Convention speech. That said a lot.
Don’t forget the mic drop after the president said “Obama out” at his last White House Correspondents Dinner on April 30, 2016. Classic.