Straight Outta Wharton – Trump and Hip Hop Values

November 5, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

Jay Z and Beyoncé joined Hillary at a campaign rally, and Donald Trump attacked. (So what else is new?) Criticizing the language in Jay Z’s lyrics, he said. “My lewd language. I tell you what, I've never said what he said in my life.”

It’s the same argument that Trump’s surrogates have been making ever since the Access Hollywood tape became public. Instead of defending Trump, they criticized the critics, accusing them of hypocrisy. Here is Betsy McCaughey on CNN reading some lyrics from Beyoncé’s “Formation.”

McCaughey’s point is that it is hypocritcal for Hillary Clinton to pretend to be offended by Trump’s remarks while at the same time claiming to admire Beyoncé. This same argument echoed rapidly around the right wing media sites, which all, by strange coincidence, used the same Beyoncé lyric. It’s a silly argument. As the others on the panel point out, Beyoncé is not running for president. Do we really want to apply the same criteria for choosing a president that we use for judging the persona of an entertainer? The comparison is ridiculous. Or is it?

In fact, Trump embodies many of the same values as rappers. Most obvious is the narcissism – the constant need for attention, the desire to be above others, to be the biggest, greatest, most successful, wealthiest. If others seem a threat to that status, attack them without regard for the usual norms of the situation. Modesty and non-violence, are decidedly not virtues – not for Trump, not for the rappers.

The corollary of this narcissism is conspicuous consumption. How do you make sure that everyone is aware of your greatness? For both Trump and the rappers, there’s a clear answer – bling. Lamborghinis, gold chains and grilles, Kristal champagne for the rappers. For Trump, a gold-plated motorcycle and helicopter. The National Review (here) describes his NYC home.

A Louis XIV-style Manhattan apartment features marble floors, walls, and columns; ceiling frescos; winged cherubs; and diamond chandeliers. Gold platters, lamps, vases, crown molding, and other 24-karat fittings decorate this ostentatious King Midas’s abode.

Trump owns a yacht and a jet and fancy cars. So does Jay Z. The parallels go further. Jay Z, in “99 Problems,” brags about exploiting legal technicalities for his personal advantage. His first album was “Reasonable Doubt.” Trump brags about his ability to use the law to avoid paying taxes (“That means I’m smart”). He’s got 99 problems, but the tax code ain’t one.

Does the rapper-Trump parallel extend to ideas about women? Yes, but I think there are important differences (I am necessarily oversimplifying here). Neither offers a very evolved attitude, but Trump has at least a fantasy of himself as a romantic. His discourse about women lacks the strand of pure exploitation and violence that runs through some rap lyrics. Rappers distinguish between bitches and hos – a distinction that seems based on the ways that a man can exploit them.  Trump’s view is more unidimensional – a scale of one to ten.

I am not all that familiar with rap lyrics, but this excerpt from Sheek Sheek on Puff Daddy’s “All About the Benjamins” seems to capture the similarities. With only a little rewriting, they might be something Trump could easily have said – except for the line about exploiting the woman financially (she pays for the skiing at Aspen).

But don't knock me for trying to bury
Seven zeros over in Rio Di Janeiry [offshoring income for tax purposes]
Stash in the buildin’ wit this chick named Alona (uh-huh) /
from Daytona, when I was young I wants to bone her (uh-huh) /
But now I only hit chicks that win beauty pageants (ahahaha) /
Tricking and taking me skiing, at the Aspens

With all these – language, attitudes towards women, narcissism, conspicuous consumption, attitudes towards the law – there are differences between Trump and the median rapper. The question is whether they are differences of kind (as Trump says about language) or differences of degree.

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