Hip-Hop’s Artistic Holy War Against Ronald Reagan

Hip-Hop’s Artistic Holy War Against Ronald Reagan

By Autumn Keiko

Hip-Hop’s never been a fan of late president Ronald Reagan, and there are plenty of reasons why going back to the 1980s. While conservatives tend to praise the Reagan era, Black communities didn’t thrive, they imploded. And Hip-Hop artists used their music to speak out about conditions and oppression. Reagan used his term to cut a significant amount of social programs.

Remember, it was 1982 two years into Reagan’s administration when “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash’s new record was released. The lyrics expressed the tension and hopelessness of the time, especially in Black communities: “Don’t push me, cause I’m close to the edge/I’m trying not to loose my head/It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder/How I keep from going under…?”

“The desperation Reagan brought on made the America’s inner cities very dangerous places to live and that is reflected in the art and music that came out of them,” The Free Press reported.

Reagan has been mentioned in a number of rap tracks. And, it seems he was most likely the first president mentioned by name in Hip-Hop rhymes, making him the first Hip=Hop President. Although, Melle Mel didn’t mention him by name in “The Message,” most people knew what he was talking about and whose politics had pushed him to the “edge.”

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Even Hip-Hop films rallied again the 40th president. In Mario Van Peebles’ “New Jack City” took on the birth of the crack trade in which drug kingpin Nino Brown said: “You gotta rob to get rich in the Reagan Era.”

Even years after Reagan left office and even after his death, the ramifications of his policies are still affecting the Black community and rappers are still rapping about him. Take Mike “Killer Mike” Render who rapped on the song “Reagan,” from the 2012 CD “R.A.P. Music.,” rapped: “I leave you with four words: I’m glad Reagan dead.” 

Why is there lingering hatred for Reagan by rap artists?

According to Dr. Joycelyn A. Wilson, an educational anthropologist, it’s because rappers are batting through their words against the campaign to lionize Reagan. When Wilson interviewed Killer Mike for Big Think, she asked him about why people credit Reagan with winning the Cold War. Killer Mike countered, “Yeah, but the cold war didn’t end against poor people. The cold war didn’t end for policemen being able to brutalize children. I was beaten during the ‘war on drugs.’ And my dad was a cop…Thank God for the books that were written that connected the CIA and Oliver North with basically a triangle trade of death where arms had to get to the Middle East, drugs had to come out of Central America and up into California to be disseminated throughout the nation. It destroyed my community.” 

On Kendrick Lamar’s album “Section 80” he talks about the generation born in the 1980s, calling them the “children of Ronald Reagan.” Juelz Santana dropped a mixtape called “The Road To The Reagan Era.” 

“Wale has mentioned Reagan multiple times in songs. Das Racist’s Kool AD returns to Reagan (and wife Nancy) even more often. Brother Ali and Jake One are currently prepping the release of ‘Mourning in America,’ the title of which is an ironic play on Reagan’s ‘Morning in America’ campaign slogan,” Genius reported.

And the list of Reagan mentions in rap go on: Jay-Z, “I blame Reagan for making me into a monster”;  Wale, “Shit ain’t been the same since Ronald Reagan”; Scarface: “Reagan never planned for us to rise”;  Kanye West, “How we stop the Black Panthers?/Ronald Reagan cooked up an answer”;  Public Enemy’s Chuck D, “Reagan is bullshit”; Pusha T, “The Ronald Reagan era was a tough time and a detrimental time to the Black community,” especially due to the “Cocaine Ronald gave us.”

The rap world, as well as many in the Black community, blame Reagan for putting drugs — crack– into the Black community and helping destroy the community.

Kanye said, “Reagan cooked up an answer,” Jay-Z said “Ronald Reagan got Manhattan the blow,” and Brother Ali said, “I never sold base, motherfuck Reagan,” and they were all talking about  Reagan’s movement of cocaine into inner cities.

Further supporting the Hip-Hop community’s feelings about Reagan were recently released audio of recording of Reagan, then governor of California talking to then-president Richard Nicox, who was later impeached, in which Reagan called African UN delegates “monkeys.”

Reagan, an actor turned politician, “made racist remarks about African delegates to the United Nations, calling them ‘monkeys’ and saying they were still ‘uncomfortable wearing shoes’, newly released audio recordings have revealed,” The Guardian reported.

Reagan made the comments in a phone call Nixon as the pair discussed a 1971 vote by the UN to recognize China and not US ally Taiwan. The two discussed the Tanzanian delegation’s reaction to the vote when the delegates danced in the chamber.

“To watch that thing on television, as I did, to see those, those monkeys from those African countries – damn them, they’re still uncomfortable wearing shoes!” Reagan told Nixon, who laughed.