The Rap on the White House

An invite to the rapper Common blows up into a political controversy

A week after the White House faced constant questioning in the wake of Osama bin Laden’s killing, the pendulum has swung to an entirely different topic: pop culture.The rapper Common, who's real name is Lonnie Rashid Lynn, was invited to appear at an even celebrating poetry Wednesday night with President Obama and the first lady. But the problem has been Commons lyrical background, rapping about hurting women, killing cops and disparaging Obama’s predecessor."Burn a Bush cos' for peace he no push no button," he said during an HBO Def Poetry appearance in 2007. Before that, back in 2000, he released a song called “A Song for Assata” that offered considerable support to activist Assata Shakur after a 1973 shootout that killed New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster.The New Jersey state police expressed outrage at the invitation extended through the East Wing. Sarah Palin and Fox News' Sean Hannity wondered over Twitter and on TV why a man of such language was invited to the people's house.The White House had been silent all week amid mounting critiques and cable news segments. But Press Secretary Jay Carney faced a line of questioning on Wednesday. “While the president doesn’t support the kind of lyrics that have been raised here, we do think that some of these reports distort what Mr. Lynn stands for in order to stoke the controversy,” he said, pointing out that a report from Fox News six months ago called Common a “rap legend” and referred to him as “very positive” and a “conscious rapper.”He noted that putting a rapper on the White House stage could help bring poetry to people not usually exposed to it. And plus, he said, this isn’t the first time Common has appeared with the president. Common hosted an Obama rally in Chicago last year, and attended the White House Christmas tree lighting ceremony in December.But did the White House underestimate how radioactive Common could be? The administration wouldn’t comment on how closely staffers were vetting the event, but poet Jill Scott, who also will appear onstage with Common, told the American Urban Radio Network’s April Ryan that the administration had taken control of the content. “I haven’t gotten the word back of what’s ok [to perform].”