“And they wanna pop bottles, like winners Check my pedigree I always been a money fiend All these fuckin' rings I'm shinin' like a fuckin' king Breakin' down the kush, don't it look so plush? Take a couple puffs, I'm like Donald Trump!” – Rae Sremmurd (“Up Like Trump”)
Donald Trump references have peppered hip-hop tracks for decades. Everybody from Ice Cube to A Tribe Called Quest to Lil Wayne have name-dropped the famously-coiffed billionaire in their rhymes—usually as an acknowledgement of great wealth or a lavish lifestyle. His presence has been so pervasive in rap music that emcees like Gucci Mane, Jeezy, E-40, and Mac Miller have released songs literally bearing his name, and The Huffington Post recently created a mash-up of 67 acclaimed hip-hop artists who’ve paid reverence to The Donald on the mic, including Kendrick Lamar (“Homies on the block say whatever they want / I don’t want to be a dealer, I wanna be a Trump!”) and potential political rival Kanye West (“I’m so appalled, Spalding ball / Balding, Donald Trump taking dollars from y’all”).
And Trump himself has cavorted with rap superstars like Snoop Dogg and Diddy, basking in the glow of mutual celebrity. But the rap game’s love of Trump doesn’t seem to take into account how little Trump cares for the communities that most rappers come from; on the contrary, the 2016 presidential hopeful seems to flat-out despise black people unless he’s able to promote himself via their fame or exploit their political influence—as evidenced by his history.
In the early 1970s, Trump Management Corporation owned 16,000 rental units throughout New York City in the boroughs of Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Queens, but only 700 were rented to African-American families. TMC was forced to settle with the Department of Justice in 1975 and set aside a certain number of units for black families. Nevertheless, black renters claimed that they’d been falsely told there were no vacancies three years later and another investigation was launched by the DOJ.
Former Trump associate John O’Donnell was the president of Trump Plaza for three years and wrote the book Trumped! The Inside Story of the Real Donald Trump in 1991. O’Donnell alleged that his interactions with his former associate revealed a man who was deeply and unapologetically racist. According to the book, Trump allegedly described black people as uniformly lazy and said that he hates “black guys counting my money!” The book claims that Trump also said “the only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.” Trump told Playboy in 2011, “The stuff O’Donnell wrote about me is probably true.”
Trump has also been the cheerleader for privileged white people’s “fear of a black planet” for decades. In the infamous case of the “Central Park Five” back in 1989, in which five teenagers were falsely accused of raping a white woman in Central Park, Trump took out full-page ads in the major New York newspapers demanding that the state of New York reinstate the death penalty. The case drew national attention and sparked racial animosity throughout New York City. Even in 2003, after the five young men’s convictions were vacated due to DNA evidence proving they hadn’t raped the woman, Trump wrote an op-ed in the New York Daily News dismissing the city’s $40 million settlement as a “disgrace,” quoting an anonymous detective who described it as the “heist of the century.” In 2013, he asked a Twitter follower: “Tell me, what were they doing in the Park, playing checkers?”
In the last several years, Trump has aligned himself with the far-right in an attempt to gain political favor, and in doing so, became one of the loudest “birthers” in American popular culture, constantly demanding that President Barack Obama “prove” he’s an actual U.S. citizen by providing his birth certificate—a racist movement if there ever was one. And this July, during an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, Trump echoed his stance that Obama may be hiding something. “I don’t know. I really don’t know,” Trump stated when asked whether or not he believes Obama was born in the U.S. “I don’t know why he wouldn’t release his records.”
Trump shared his belief that Hillary Clinton failed to win the black vote in 2008 because “the blacks” simply wanted a black president. “You’ll hear a political reporter go on and say it had nothing to do with race. But how come she had such a tiny piece of the vote? And you know, it’s a very sad thing,” Trump said during a radio interview with Fred Dicker on New York’s Talk 1300. “I have a great relationship with the blacks. I’ve always had a great relationship with the blacks. But unfortunately, it seems that, you know, the numbers you cite are very, very frightening numbers.”
In the wake of the unrest in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray this past spring, Trump again took the opportunity to blame Obama. “Our great African American president hasn’t exactly had a positive impact on the thugs who are happily and openly destroying Baltimore,” he tweeted. Does Donald Trump think that the President of the United States is somehow responsible for all black behavior in America? It certainly appears so.
A lot of rappers love to rhyme about wealth and status. This shouldn’t be news to anyone. In endorsing wealth and status, hip-hop artists often use easy frames of reference—hip-hop lyrics can be a veritable encyclopedia of pop culture, in many respects—so the referencing of Donald Trump isn’t all that unique. But there has always been an interesting dilemma as it pertains to who and what rappers celebrate. In the 1990s, it became fashionable for many rappers, who were mostly black and Latino, to gravitate to Mafioso culture—rechristening themselves with names like “Gotti” and “Capone” and “Escobar.” The idea was to celebrate the outlaw and the “self-made” man, but it was also a celebration of cultures that had little to no interest in reciprocating the respect and admiration. In this era of high-profile black wealth, maybe young emcees would do better to give props to the Michael Jordans and Oprah Winfreys of the world. Maybe these artists should find wealthy and accomplished individuals who at least come from where they came from and turn them into cool catchphrases and song hooks. They can do better by recognizing those people, first and foremost.
And at the very least, they can do a whole lot better than Donald Trump.