Using Music to Brand a Presidential Candidate

Or: '99 Problems and a Bitch Ain't One'

By Published on .

Carol Watson Carol Watson
The presidential campaign has finally gotten interesting with Obama's recent win in Iowa. The historic moment that we are witnessing has raised the level of controversy and debate on race to a new level, pushing us all to face some hard questions that we were previously able to ignore. Insights regarding not only race but also pop culture and the politics of hip hop and its significance in positioning Obama as a brand will significantly add to the debate for some voters.

Obama has taken the bold step of jumping into the hip-hop music controversy. Keep in mind that this is an area that has blacks and women split (particularly Oprah). On one side is the love and respect for the music, culture and industry. On the other is portrayal of the black community -- particularly, its denigration of women.

According to Page Six of The New York Post, Obama strolled triumphantly into his victory party in Des Moines, Iowa on Jan 3 with Jay-Z's 99 Problems blaring in the background. Considering the song's line "99 problems and a bitch ain't one," and the fact that Obama is running against a woman, he may be lucky the media decided not to make an issue of it. (Editor's note: The Post item appears to be untrue. See note below.)

A week later, though, he appeared on BET's "What's In it For Us." According to the Guardian:
Obama said he felt that the music could be used as tool to engage young people on issues like education and crime. "I've met with Jay-Z. I've met with Kanye. And I've talked to other artists about how potentially to bridge that [communication] gap."

But Obama also admitted there are some aspects of hip-hop he's not quite so down with. "The thing about hip-hop today is it's smart, it's insightful, and the way that they can communicate a complex message in a very short space is remarkable. I understand people want to be rooted in the community, they want to be down, but what I always say is that hip-hop is not just a mirror of what is. It should also be a reflection of what can be."

"There are times, even on the artists I've named, and the artists that I love, that there is a message that's sometimes degrading to women, and uses the N-word a little too frequently."

"But also something that I'm really concerned about is [they're] always talking about material things about how I can get something; more money, more cars."
Unlike any presidential election before, the power and influence of music -- and hip-hop music in particular -- may prove to play an interesting role in a presidential election. Whether you like it or not, the hip-hop culture could possibly create a sea change in perception in how we see the presidential candidate in a way that no stump speech can do. The choice of music is significant to those who are passionate about change -- as well as to those who don't like being called a bitch.

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Chris Bodenner writes in the comment section: "The media never picked up on the "99 Problems" incident b/c it never happened. I'm a reporter who was at that rally, in the very front row, and I never heard anything of the sort.

The Page Six item didn't provide any sources, not even unnamed ones. Even the "shocked Clinton spokesperson" was unsourced. And the item was posted a full 11 days after the rally, right in the middle of the whole row involving Clinton's MLK/LBJ comment. And we're talking about Page Six here, not exactly the paragon of credibility."
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