She’s Hip (Hop)
Kamala Harris’ Playlist: Yes, It’s Political, But It’s Smart
The newbie Golden State solon does the history of black music in 45 songs. And it’s a pretty good list! Think she’s got something on her mind?
Most Democrats will remember this Tuesday for Jon Ossoff’s disappointing loss to Karen Handel, but concerning the future of the Democratic Party, Kamala Harris’ 45-song Spotify playlist, released on the same day for African American Music Appreciation Month, may end up being far more influential.
Yes, it would have been great for Ossoff to have won. But trust me, I’m from that district and my family still lives there. The fact that a Democrat had a sliver of a chance of winning that seat was already a miracle, and bodes well for 2018.
But Georgia’s 6th is the least of the Democrats’ worries. The Democrats remain a party in need of direction. They are still the squabbling party consumed by insignificant battles between progressives and moderates that found a way to lose to Trump in 2016. The Democrats need a politician willing to fill the massive political void left by President Barack Obama because engaging the “Obama electorate,” instead of its fractured replacement, holds their best path to electoral success. Harris’ playlist represents a subtle and shrewd attempt to fill this void that demonstrates not just her ambition, but also a high political IQ.
Democratic voters have incredibly high expectations of their national candidates. A successful Democratic candidate needs to not only have a nearly blemish-free legislative record, but also has to relate to a diverse electorate that includes Latinos, African Americans, the LGBTQ community, Asian Americans, Muslim Americans, and a large segment of the white American population. And since Democratic voters skew younger than Republican voters, a viable candidate also needs to find ways to relate to this valuable demographic, too.
President Obama related to this diverse and increasingly young electorate like no other presidential candidate. His soaring rhetoric inspired a generation of Americans, but he also found time to “Slow Jam the News” with Jimmy Fallon, demonstrated expert comedic timing, and frequently dropped playlists to remind Americans that he also enjoyed listening to Kendrick Lamar while being the most powerful person in the world.
Harris’ playlist shows that she understands the full scope of the game that national candidates need to play if they want to have any chance of winning the White House.
The playlist opens with A Tribe Called Quest’s “Check the Rhime,” Notorious B.I.G.’s “Juicy,” and Lauren Hill’s “Everything is Everything,” and over the next three hours delves into a rich catalogue of African-American music that spans generations. There is no overt political message from her song selections, just a celebration of black music. “Super Bass” by Nicki Minaj is next to “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye, and Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road” is followed by “Think” by Aretha Franklin. Classics like The Jackson 5’s “ABC,” “Have a Talk with God” by Stevie Wonder, Billie Holiday’s “Body and Soul,” and “Sinnerman” by Nina Simone are included amongst the 45-song playlist.
She even found the time to include the 1990s R&B classic “If I Ever Fall In Love” by Shai. (This song was the group’s only big hit, and unfortunately gets frequently overlooked as one of the best R&B songs of that decade.) And following Obama’s lead, Harris included Kendrick Lamar, too. In fact, I only skipped one song on the playlist, but the fault lies with Spotify (or TIDAL) and not Harris. (JAY-Z’s music catalogue is exclusive to TIDAL, so Harris could only select the version of “Dirt Off Your Shoulder” featuring Linkin Park, and not the original.)
All of these tracks present Harris as a mature African-American woman who knows her music history, but the inclusion of Migos, Childish Gambino, and SZA demonstrate a willingness to connect with younger voters, too. Few voters would have imagined Harris listening to “T-Shirt” or “Bad and Boujee” by Migos, or SZA’s latest album Ctrl on her way to the Senate, but now we can. And sure, a young staffer may have thrown these songs into the mix, but at least Harris is trying, and it didn’t come off as too pandering.
In only five months, the junior senator from California has already made a significant name for herself. As a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence she’s found herself at the heart of one of the most important investigations into Trump and potential connections to Russia. Harris’ experience as California’s attorney general has shown through in these tense hearings. Her tough exchanges with Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and her Republican colleagues’ insistence on interrupting her, has only increased her popularity among liberals and especially women and minorities. She has even turned these moments into a rallying cry, championing “Courage Not Courtesy” and declaring that women won’t be silenced. Her website is even giving away free “Courage Not Courtesy” stickers when you sign up to her email list.
Clearly, it is too early to declare who the viable Democratic presidential candidates for 2020 are. But Harris right now is positioning herself as the next best thing to Obama coming back or Michelle Obama running for the presidency. And that’s going to be appealing to a lot of people.