1980’s: Ebonics Vs. Reaganomics

Carter smiles goodbye, Reagan’s in office, Jesse runs, Kurtis Blow rules the world, Public Enemy revives the spirit of the Black Panthers. It’s the first encounters of hip-hop and the presidents:

1976: Democrat James Earl (Jimmy) Carter narrowly defeats Gerald Ford to become president with Walter F Mondale as VP. Known for his big smile, Christian faith and friendship with country music great Willie Nelson, there’s no indication that the southern president had any knowledge of hip-hop whatsoever.

1979: Sugar Hill Gang releases the seminal rap record “Rappers Delight” which boasts “Guess what, America we love you,” a claim few rap records will later mirror.

1980: Republican Ronald Wilson Regan beats Jimmy Carter by a landslide and takes office the year after with VP George H W Bush Sr. Ronald Regan himself new very little popular culture and once called Bruce Springsteen a true patriot for his scorching critique of the Vietnam War on “Born in the USA”, but he was in office during the years where rap rose to the top of the charts.

1981: An assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan’s life, shortly after he took office, is unsuccessful.

1982: Harlem-rap group Treacherous Three led by Kool Moe Dee releases “Yes We Can Can” a positive record, that calls for self-help in times when “Eve of destruction, tax deduction, price inflation, rock’s the nation.” While not naming him, the trio still has choice words for Reagan’s role in the recession: “The president, see, has a lot to do with our country’s wealth / It’s nothing new it’s history’s way of repeating itself.”

1984: Veteran of the civil rights movement Jesse Jackson runs for president as a Democrat. He is defeated in the primaries by Walter Mondale, who turns out to be no match for Ronald Reagan. Jesse’s campaign is supported by former Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five member Melle Mel who records the track “Jesse” as an anthem, with lines like “Hypocrites and Uncle Tom’s are talking trash – let’s talk about Jesse” and “See Ronald Reagan speakin on TV, Smilin like everything’s fine and dandy, Sounded real good when he tried to give a pep talk, To over 30 million poor people like me”


Later in the year, Perhaps as a result of the failure of Jesse Jackson’s campaign, Grandmaster Melle Mel & The Furious Five record “World War III” – a dystopic sci-fi track about the end of the world citing “Reaganomics”, Reagan’s equivalent to Margaret Thatcher’s “Thatcherism” as a core reason for the world’s downfall.

1985: Kurtis Blow releases “If I Ruled The World” penned by DJ AJ with the lines: “If I ruled the world was king on the throne, I’d make peace in every culture build the homeless a home,
I’m not running for Congress or the President, I’m just here to tell the world how my story went”.

Tipper Gore is the co-founder of the PMRC, Parents’ Music Resource Center. While mainly targeting funk and rock records at first, PMRC will later be responsible for putting the sticker “parental advisory – explicit lyrics” on many a rap-album.

1986: Nancy Reagan heads the “Just Say No” foundation, encouraging the youth to stay off drugs. LL Cool J plays a “Just Say No” concert at Radio City Music hall, but later admits to doing drugs during that period.

Eric B. & Rakim issue the single “Eric B. is President” where Rakim hails his DJ’s abilities by likening him to the status of the president. In years to come, hip-hoppers will jokingly claim to support Eric B. in presidential elections.

1987: Conscious rap group Public Enemy release “Rebel without a Pause” as a warm-up for their album “It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back” which came out a year later. On it lead-rapper Chuck D rhymes: “And then you’ll come – you’ll know what time it is, Impeach the president – pullin’ out the ray-gun, Zap the next one – I could be your Sho-gun” Referencing the classic “Impeach the president” by Honey Drippers he alludes to Ronald Reagan’s ill-fated Star Wars-program by renaming him “Ray-Gun”.

“Paid In Full” by Eric B & Rakim is released. On the title-track the cunning MC Rakim popularises the term “dead presidents” as slang for money with the line: “I start my mission, leave my residence, thinkin how can I get some dead presidents, I need money, I used to see a stick-up kid, so I think of all the devious things I did…”

Rapper, human beat boxer and comedic talent Biz Markie sends out his single “Nobody Beats The Biz” with the line “Reagan is the pres, but I voted for Shirley Chisholm”. In fact African-American activist and later Congresswoman, Shirley Chisholm had announced her candidacy for president in 1972, so how she showed up on Biz Markie’s ballot in the 1980’s is slightly puzzling.

1988: Former VP George Bush Sr runs for president with Dan Quayle as his running mate. He beats out the Democrat candidate Michael Dukakis to take office the following year. Jesse Jackson had again unsuccessfully campaigned to become the Democrat candidate.

Following the death of group-member Scott La Rock, Boogie Down Productions lead by KRS-One release the song “Stop The Violence”, a plea for America to cease its violent ways. However, it doesn’t look to the president for help at all: “What’s the solution, to stop all this confusion? Rewrite the constitution, change the drug which you’re using, Rewrite the constitution or the emancipation proclamation, we fight inflation, yet the president’s still on vacation”.

1989: Ice-T releases the album “Iceberg / Freedom of Speech… Just Watch What You Say”. Upon meeting huge amounts of censorship on the Dope Jam Tour dedicated almost the entire album that issue. Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedy’s introduces the album with a public service warning about a censored America where everything is outlawed. On the title-track Ice-T attacks Tipper Gore with lines such as: “What’s the matter Tip? You ain’t getting no dick? You’re bitching ‘bout rock’n’roll that’s censorship dumb bitch… Hey PMRC, you stupid fuckin’ assholes,the sticker on the record is what makes ’em sell gold, can’t you see, you alcoholic idiots, the more you try to suppress us, the larger we get.”

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