It’s no secret that former President Barack Obama is a big fan of hip-hop and vice versa, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have some critiques for rappers and the examples they set for their audience of young, Black men. During a My Brother’s Keeper town hall in My Brother’s Keeper in Oakland, California with Steph Curry, he expressed just what those are as he joked that rappers “look stressed” in their music videos showing off their symbols of wealth and sexual virility. The full talk is posted above, but the quotes in question begin right around the 55:00 minute mark.
He says that it’s hard for society to present images of healthy, positive masculinity when much of pop culture is dominated by hip-hop’s stereotypical focus on toughness and cold-hearted, capitalistic motivation. “Let’s face it, a lot of hip-hop and rap music is based around me showing I have more money than you, I can disrespect you and you can’t do nothing about it, I’m gonna talk about you and punk you,” he says. “Ironically that actually shows the vulnerability that you feel.”
He continues to point out the discrepancy between the imagery and the messaging, noting: “If you were really confident about your financial situation, you’re probably not gonna be wearing an eight-pound chain around your neck.” He similarly points out the dissonance in how rappers present their relationships to women. “If you are very confident about your sexuality, you don’t have to have eight women around you twerkin’,” he quips. “You seem stressed that you’ve gotta be acting that way. I’ve got one woman that I’m very happy with.”
However, rather than simply putting down rappers for the images they present, he empathetically tries to explain their reasoning, reminding the audience, “Historically, in this society, (racism) sends a message that you are less than and weak, we feel like we’ve got to compensate by exaggerating certain stereotypical ways that men are supposed to act. That’s a trap.”
It’s an interesting message for him to espouse at a time when rappers themselves seem pretty split over how best to represent the culture, with some, like 21 Savage, Chance The Rapper, T.I., and Vic Mensa, working to challenge those stereotypes, while others seem to embody them.