As Democratic Presidential hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders scramble to woo the black vote, hip-hop’s politically minded luminaries will inevitably play an increasingly vital role leading into November. But only one of them is actively seeing their message make its way through the ranks of rap’s most influential. (Hint: It ain’t Hillary.)
“You know, before I knew that Killer Mike was involved with Bernie, I liked what I was hearing about him,” NYC legend Nas told The Daily Beast this week in Los Angeles, where he was recording his latest campaign for Hennessy. “I liked the people that were supporting him. And Killer Mike, once I saw that he was with him…”
Sanders, of course, has a very vocal celebrity supporter in Killer Mike, who introduced Bernie at an Atlanta rally last November by comparing him to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“I have to tell you that in my heart of hearts, in my heart of hearts, I fully believe that Sen. Bernie Sanders is the right man to lead this country,” the Run the Jewels MC told the crowd. “I believe it because he, unlike any other candidate, said, ‘I would like to restore the Voting Rights Act.’ He, unlike any other candidate, said, ‘I wish to end this illegal war on drugs.’ Unlike any other candidate in my life, he said that education should be free.”
Months later, the rap game’s biggest Bernie bro is still spreading the gospel to his pals—and Nas says he’s listening.
“We talked on the phone a couple of days ago. He was enlightening me about Bernie and we plan to have more conversations about him,” Nas said. “I actually like what Bernie’s talking about!”
That’s not to say that Nas is ready to fully pledge his support to Sanders as he did with Barack Obama in 2008, when everyone from Jay Z to Diddy to Young Jeezy backed the first black president either publicly or in rhyme.
“Listen, I’m not a man that is into politics,” he said. “Let’s just say I didn’t trust politicians. Maybe I still don’t. So I don’t know how much I could endorse a politician.”
He smiled. “But Killer Mike is very persuasive. So who knows?”
Meanwhile over in the Republican race, Donald Trump’s explosive rallies are drawing the support of white separatists and supremacists. Last week, video of a young African-American woman being shoved and verbally abused while exiting one such Trump event went viral.
“There are race problems that have been going on since the beginning of America, and I don’t see how politicians really can help that,” said Nas, echoing the feeling of disillusionment he expressed last summer in the wake of the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting. “I hope some of them have some of the answers for it.”
“I believe in people,” he continued, choosing his words carefully. “I believe in human beings. I believe that we need to believe in ourselves. Before there’s politics, before all of that stuff, there are people. I believe we have it in us to make ourselves better. It’s up to us.
“We can’t rely on a politician,” he offered. “Hopefully they can help make changes, but we as a people—the racists have to change their ways, and that’s it. I’m hoping for a better tomorrow for everybody.”
Meanwhile, on Twitter…
In his latest humbletweet, Kanye West slyly hinted at sharing a tête-à-tête with President Obama in which he “promised” to work again with Nas.
Yes, we can believe that given the chance, Obama would make such an entreaty of two of rap’s biggest living icons. Because there’s so much work left to do before he leaves office; why not mastermind the next great hip-hop collab while he’s at it? (Did he sign up for a throwaway Tidal account just to stream The Life Of Pablo, too?)
Obama has already been doing his part to bridge the gap. Last year, he hosted Grammy-nominated Kendrick Lamar, the latest guest in a new American tradition of a sitting president inviting rappers to the White House.
“Can you believe that we’re both sitting in this Oval Office?” Obama asked to break the ice with a nervous Kendrick, according to senior advisor Valerie Jarrett.
More recently, the only POTUS with Jay-Z, Esco, and Lil Wayne on his iPod recruited J. Cole to play the March 11 DNC fundraiser concert he’s throwing next week in Austin to coincide with his SXSW keynote speech. Tickets are going for $250-$33K, with the Black Eyed Peas’ will.i.am set as co-host.
Eight years ago, Nas commemorated Obama’s presidency in verse. “I think Obama provides hope, and challenges minds / or all races and colors to erase the hate / and try to love one another,” he said on “Black President,” from his untitled album. “So many political snakes / We in need of a break, I’m thinking I can trust this brotha / but will he keep it way real? / ... When he wins, will he really care still?”