Rap is an inherently political genre. So it’s to be expected that rappers have vocalized political opinions both in and outside of their music, rallying fans into engaging with politics and enacting change. Although it has been refreshing to see Cardi B authentically, curiously, and enthusiastically engage with politics in a way only she can, or see Noname promote radical ideas and perspectives through her book club while constantly being vulnerable about her own constant political evolution, this space is often dominated by men — from adjacent hip-hop figures like Charlamagne Tha God to Diddy. And although they’re advocating for the same issue — the betterment of Black people living in America — the results often vary and are flawed, their male-centered view of Black betterment disregarding the needs of other Black people in this country.
This year alone, we’ve seen three notable examples of wealthy male hip-hop pundits speaking on behalf of Black America: Diddy, Ice Cube, and Killer Mike. Against the backdrop of the most important presidential election in recent history and a deadly pandemic that has greatly impacted Black people, all three’s actions and declarations have varied, with some being more concerning and detrimental than others.
Earlier this year, Diddy faced backlash after he urged fans to hold the “Black vote hostage” from Joe Biden and the Democratic Party until Biden adopted an agenda that addressed issues in the Black community.
“The Black vote is not going to be for free. Nothing has changed for Black America. In order for us to vote for Biden, we can’t be taken for granted like we always are because we’re supposed to be Democrats or because people are afraid of Trump,” Diddy said during an interview with Naomi Campbell back in April. “It’s business at this point. You know, we can’t trust politicians.”
The divisive sentiment, which Diddy shared on his Instagram account, received opposing responses from numerous people, including Kenny Burns, ex-President of Brand Development for Combs Enterprises.
“Puff this statement is very Irresponsible at this Point. The only option is to get Trump out of office. Come on Champ!!! Encouraging People to Stand by is not an option. #VoteOrDie,” Burns commented. (Burns would later claim Diddy blocked him and deleted the comment.)
It was a sentiment that disregarded the reality that most Black people can’t — and shouldn’t — forego their vote this year, and it showed a lack of awareness on his part. Recently, he addressed the statement while announcing the launch of a “New Black” political party — and his endorsement of Biden — where he stood by his stance while also acknowledging the importance of voting in the upcoming election.
“It would be irresponsible of me to have us hold our vote hostage, but it would also be irresponsible of me to just let this moment go by — the world is watching — and not do everything I can to make sure that, going forth, we are part of the narrative, that we own our politics,” he said.
Like his initial statement, the launch of the political party, named Our Black Party, is well-intentioned. The party states that it’s “committed to creating an agenda and elevating policies and people focused on Black liberation,” and lists issues like defunding the police, guaranteed income for all, decriminalizing poverty, and building intergenerational wealth as some of the concerns it’s supporting. But the timing of the announcement, as well as confusion surrounding the wording of the organization — although Our Black Party is an FEC-registered political committee, it’s not a third party — led to Diddy facing criticism once again. Also, there’s the fact that Diddy seemingly took credit for launching the party, despite reports about the organization first coming about in July 2020, with none of them reference Diddy but instead crediting the party’s creation to Hyattsville Mayor Candace Hollingsworth and Dr. Wes Bellamy, former Vice Mayor of Charlottesville.
When Diddy first suggested that Black people hold their vote hostage, Ice Cube was among one of his supporters. Recently, he faced criticism of his own when it was revealed that he worked with President Donald Trump’s campaign on the administration’s Platinum Plan. The rapper has since addressed the controversy surrounding the incident, saying that he spoke with both Trump and Biden’s campaigns to get support for his Contract with Black America.
“We went to Washington. I didn’t go to the White House and I didn’t meet Trump. I never met Trump in my life. We met and talked [with the campaign] at a hotel, and when they brought out their plan, they implemented some of the things that they had got out of the Contract with Black America,” Cube said in an interview with Rolling Stone.
Cube’s Contract with Black America is something that he has been promoting since July 2020, as is evidenced by an op-ed he wrote for The Hill centered around the plan. Like Our Black Party, Contract with Black America is well-intentioned but flawed. Both the full and summarized versions of the plan clearly state the issues faced by Black people in the United States and offer solutions to those problems which range from racial inequity to prison reform. However, the plan fails to address specific issues related to Black women and the Black LGBTQ community. Historically, movements centered around the advancement of Black people prioritized straight Black men over others. There are parts of the plan that more overtly speak to that: toward the end is an addendum listed as “Focus on the Black Family,” which states:
Any agenda that sincerely seeks to promote the best interests of the African American community must strive to restore the Black family unit of man, woman and child/children. Whether in the nuclear family or the extended family version that has also been prominent throughout history, the father-mother-child paradigm has always been the hub of any strong people, society and civilization.
But most people’s gripes with Cube is that he reached out to Trump’s campaign and, ultimately, worked with the administration on their plan, which pales in comparison to Cube’s plan. The Platinum Plan’s vague commitments to promises, like increasing access to capital by $500 billion or prosecuting the KKK as a terrorist group, reads well until one considers the likelihood of each. (For the former, it’s unclear where the funding for that will come from, while the FBI doesn’t even have the power to do the latter.) Since then, Cube has attempted to justify his reasoning for meeting with the Trump campaign, saying that “Black progress is a bipartisan issue,” as well as viewing both parties as the same in taking advantage of Black people.
“Us, as Black people, really need to be independent,” he said. “And as independents, not to be independent to raise a candidate to be the president. But to say, ‘Look, whichever party does the most to help our community get off our backs will get our vote.'”
He doubled down on his viewpoint in a recent interview with Hot 97, where he argued against making a false equivalency between the two parties, as well as admitted that, although he voted in this year’s election, he disclose who.
Cube’s cynicism toward both parties is valid, and it’s understandable for him to think that, regardless of party, both would’ve used his name to their political advantage. But his responses not only lack the nuance of the “lesser evil” framing of this particular election but show an unwillingness to acknowledge that his good faith was taken advantage of by a party that is clearly more overt about maintaining white supremacy. To think that a party that’s being led by a president who takes full credit for low Black unemployment — Barack Obama laid the groundwork for low unemployment rates among Black people — and who has reportedly expressed regret in reducing prison sentences after it didn’t result in increased Black votes would do right by Black people shows a cluelessness that many of Cube’s fans weren’t expecting from him. Even comparing Cube’s plan with that of Trump and Biden’s campaigns shows a drastic difference between the two. Trump’s is a three-page plan that has promises but little to no details on how they’ll be fulfilled; Biden’s is an extensive agenda that includes details on how these issues will be addressed, and even makes note of issues specifically concerning Black women and Black LGBTQ people.
Similar to Cube, Killer Mike faced criticism earlier this year for meeting with Republican Georgia Governor Brian Kemp to talk about issues small businesses and the music industry are facing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as initiating programs to get young Black men into trades. Considering Kemp isn’t only a strong Trump supporter but was also accused of voter suppression during the 2018 governor’s election between him and Stacey Abrams, it’s unsurprising that a number of people questioned the rapper’s reasons for agreeing to meet with the governor. Like Cube, Mike is seen as politically aware. His solo work, as well as his work alongside El-P in Run The Jewels, is an extension of his activism, which has been on display throughout this year. He endorsed Bernie Sanders again in the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries, gave an impassioned — but divisive — speech to Atlanta protestors, and helped launch a digital bank aimed at Black and Latinx people called Greenwood.
As someone who has been an organizer since his teenage years, there’s a track record that Mike has that his counterparts don’t. But it’s also this track record that led people to wonder why he met with Kemp.
“…when you talk about meeting with the governor, people see me as singing a dance, and that I sing and dance. But I won’t allow myself to be belittled as simply that,” Mike said about the meeting during an appearance on the New York Times podcast Sway. “I’m a 30-year advocate and activist in my community… I’d be damned if I’m not gonna sit with the governor of my state and give my perspective from a regular citizen and voter, from a small business owner. I’d be crazy not to. You’d be insane not to.”
There’s a nuance and self-awareness to Mike that makes him one of the more credible male hip-hop pundits. As an activist and capitalist, Mike has openly talked about the intersection between both. But it’s also this intersection that informs his political perspective, with the idea of Black capitalism presented as the solution to Black people’s problems. This is even reflected in that same Sway interview when he talks about the appeal of Trump’s Platinum Plan over Biden’s plan for Black people, referencing promises like 500,000 new Black-owned businesses and increasing access to capital by $500 billion from the former.
“Trump understands that if the Black American economy somehow grows stronger, I get to keep political power, my party gets to get political power, this community gets an injection of funds, and they’re gonna spend those funds not only within their community and the greater community,” he said.
People are starting to examine their relationship with celebrities and public figures. Do we really need celebrity pundits, when the activists leading these movements — which celebrities are co-opting — could be propped up instead? Black people are also at a point where we can’t — and shouldn’t — be fully addressed broadly; where the concerns and perspectives of the straight Black man can’t take precedence over the concerns and perspectives of Black women and Black LGBTQ people.