In the wake of both the most recent Republican presidential debate and my criticism of hip-hop artists who celebrate wealthy celebrities like Donald Trump with no regard for their personal politics, I had the chance to speak with hip-hop star Jeezy about the sociopolitical slant in his music and his own perspective on Trump.
Four years ago, Jeezy dropped his The Real Is Back 2 mixtape, which featured the track “Trump,” but this past summer the Atlanta rapper blasted Trump for his comments regarding Latino immigrants. In our conversation, Jeezy echoed his earlier criticisms but also acknowledged that rappers’ Trump references are a celebration of hustle and power—not an endorsement of all that the man is.
“He’s a great businessman,” Jeezy says. “He does some great things and I’m quite sure he’s done things that are not so great. The thing I don’t like about Trump possibly being president is, even looking at the [debate] panel, you can tell the businessmen from the politicians. Whether he wins or loses, I think his business is going to increase significantly because he got the exposure. Anyone with a show like he had understands publicity. It’s good for him, because it increases his business.”
“I don’t think he’s capable of being the commander-in-chief. He has the ego, but he doesn’t have the charisma,” continues Jeezy. “Sometimes other things outweigh money…I don’t think he’s a leader. I think he’s a great businessman, but I don’t think he’s a leader. If he’s elected president, what does that mean for the middle class? What does that mean for America? He’s doing multimillion-dollar deals overseas—what does that mean for the people of America? Is he going to be able to help us?”
Jeezy believes that American leadership has to be able to connect with the American people, and he doesn’t think Trump—or any of the other frontrunners for the Republican nomination, for that matter—really understands the plight of the people.
“When Barack Obama was put in office, we viewed him as a man of the people. When I say ‘people,’ I don’t just mean minorities; I mean middle-class and lower-class people, in general,” he says. “He was the closest thing in a while to people like Reagan and Clinton. With him about to leave office, America is going to be a different place, no matter who is commander-in-chief. It’s not like we’re doing the best. You’re leaving one situation and going to another one. It’s not just about me and my taxes, it’s about the kids’ opportunities and what the next generation is going to be like. Everybody’s focusing on business and not the American people. If you look at everybody on the panel, it was mostly, ‘What can I do for me?’ They make more money, so you tax them less? I don’t understand it.”
I brought up my own misgivings about whether rappers should be so quick to endorse a figure like Trump—even as a symbol of wealth—given all that he’s done and said regarding black and brown people in the past. But when I asked Jeezy if rappers should shun “The Donald,” his reply was succinct: “Absolutely not.”
“When it comes to America and our culture—especially hip-hop—we glorify anybody who’s made a way for himself,” Jeezy explained. “We love gangsters from El Chapo to people like Trump. They’re no different; they’re tycoons of what they do. You can’t take that out of it. He’s a smart businessman, and anything he does is going to be great for his business. Even getting that far into the debate and actually being the lead shows that his money, his connections, his ego and his charisma got him that far. He’s a rock star—you can’t take that away from him. But we don’t need a rock star running the country. When it’s time to make a decision, do you trust Donald Trump with the button?”
His latest single is “God” and Jeezy also released a letter addressing the social unrest currently dominating headlines in America. His music has always reflected a connection to community, from tracks like his 2005 hit “My Hood” to his 2008 album The Recession, and in the wake of the killing of Michael Brown, with the 2016 presidential election on the horizon, the 37-year-old believes it’s time for artists to make their voices heard and their presence felt.
“I think that’s where the music and the culture come in,” says Jeezy. “It’s so important for us to inform our people of what’s going on. Music is the best platform for that. You want to make music, but you also have to use your music to educate people. People will watch the movie before they read the book; the same thing with music. People will listen to the music before they check out the newspaper or look it up online.”