Come back, Barack — but you’ve gotta ease off hip-hop

John Kennedy
Published in
7 min readNov 17, 2020


Welcome to Minority Report, a weekly newsletter from the LEVEL team that packs an entire week into a single email. From our president’s continued brushes with respectability politics to the week in racism, from pop-culture picks to a must-read LEVEL story, it’s everything you need and nothing you don’t. If you’re loving what you’re reading, tell a friend to tell a friend.

President Obama — our president — is back on the scene. And it sure does feel good. After stumping for his former vice president (and now president-elect) in the fourth quarter of Joe Biden’s campaign, Barack began making media rounds for his new memoir, A Promised Land (out now!). And after nearly four full years of Trump in office, it can’t be overstated how refreshing it is to hear a leader speak coherently about everything from the coronavirus to George Floyd to marital issues with truth, wisdom, and emotion.

But that doesn’t mean we cosign everything Obama said on this press run.

In an extensive interview with The Atlantic, Barack shared a well worn take about why the percentage of Black men who voted for The Donald has risen this year in comparison to 2016. By his assessment, gangsta rap made them do it — and the materialism of the culture is to blame for guys like Lil Wayne and 50 Cent joining cult 45.

“If you listen to rap music, it’s all about the bling, the women, the money,” Obama said, sounding less like Jeezy’s Black-ass president than a cane-shaking conservative from the ’90s. “A lot of rap videos are using the same measures of what it means to be successful as Donald Trump is. Everything is gold-plated. That insinuates itself and seeps into the culture.”

Sadly, we’re not all that shocked that Barack threw hip-hop under the bus. In the past, he and Michelle have condescended to young voters while trying to court them in a weirdly roundabout manner. What’s more surprising is that Barack would indict the same music and culture that was pivotal in his own election more than a decade ago. He wasn’t so tough on rap music when Nas and Common and Jay-Z were doling out lyrical endorsements and the hip-hop generation was contributing to an unprecedented voter turnout.

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What’s more, hip-hop has grown and evolved in a way that Obama’s blanket generalization completely ignores. One look at any of his annual playlists suggests he’s aware of some of this generation’s biggest rappers packing their music with substance that goes beyond materialism — Kendrick Lamar, Wale, J. Cole, and others. Cardi B has become a whole political pundit, putting the weight of her influence behind the Democratic party. Dozens of today’s artists have railed against Trump’s problematic politics and the fires of racism that he’s continued to stoke, and done so urgently and cogently — so while there are plenty of theories to spin about why the exit polls delivered unexpected statistics, hip-hop makes for a curious scapegoat.

You already know we’re here for Obama helping to reestablish hope and serenity following these turbulent Trump years. We’ll just have to fast-forward past his hot takes. AOC knows what’s up.

— John Kennedy, senior editor


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This Week in Racism

🗑 In stunning development, police department plans to fire racist officer

Earlier this month, Daniel Haupt, a police officer in Albany, NY, got into a chat with a sheriff’s deputy at a gas station. The deputy’s body camera turned on accidentally — but the timing couldn’t have been better, as the camera captured Haupt casually dropping a selection of bangers from Racism’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 1. “My buddies listen to the scanner and they send me texts all the time,” Haupt said, “and they go, ‘Is the suspect ever a White male?’ and I go ‘No.’ I know it sounds terrible to say, but I don’t give a f*** what anybody says, I sincerely don’t. Because bro, they are the worst f***ing race and I don’t — you can’t deny, like, over the last X amount of months, they are — you know because we work together — they are getting worse and worse, and people are defending that. Are you f__ing kidding me?” In response, Albany PD chief Eric Hawkins announced that he’d be firing Haupt. Wait. Not suspended? Or “placed on leave pending investigation”? Like, actually fired? The way it’s supposed to happen? Take note, every police department ever. Just kidding, we know you won’t. (Albany Times-Union)

🗑 Congrats to Pittsburgh, our newest White-supremacist hot spot!

When you think of Pittsburgh, you think Steelers and Pirates. You think Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller. Maybe you think french fries on sandwiches. You probably don’t think hub for White supremacism. Yet, that’s exactly how one FBI analyst has described the area. During a recent symposium hosted by Duquesne University, the Bureau’s John Pulcastro called the extremist movement in Pittsburgh the most active he’d seen in 20 years of studying such activity — including the Pacific Northwest, where militias have exploded over the last decade. Pulcastro and his colleague ticked off groups like the Patriot Front, Proud Boys, National Alliance, and others who are actively recruiting in and around the city. Guess there’s a reason the western part of the state is known as Pennsyltucky! (Morning Call)

🗑 Speaking of the Proud Boys, so much for that whole “we’re not racist” thing

Before this weekend’s so-called “Million MAGA March” — in which some tiny fraction of a million Trump supporters descended on Washington DC to whine that their preferred candidate had lost by literal millions of votes while suffering an electoral defeat equal to what he had called a “massive landslide” just four years earlier — a Proud Boy decided to become a Proud Man. Okay, let’s back up. The Proud Boys is an organization you can describe as “a far-right group with a history of violent confrontations,” or perhaps more accurately as “a far-right group of racists in black polo shirts who try to incite violence during protests but also get their ass beat a fair amount.” Despite the group’s behavior (much of which you can read about here), the current leader of the Proud Boys has maintained that he denounces racism and anti-Semitism. All sorted? Okay, back to the story. A longtime Proud Boy named Kyle Chapman announced that he had deposed said leader in a “coup” and was making the group’s White supremacy explicit. (“We recognize that the West was built by the White Race alone and we owe nothing to any other race,” he said in a series of encrypted chat messages.”) While other members have downplayed that any such “coup” happened, you gotta at least appreciate dude’s willingness to broadcast what the rest of the world already knew anyway. Love those snug polos, fellas. (South Florida Sun-Sentinel)

The LEVEL Up: Culture Picks From the Editors

🎥 SMOKE: Marijuana + Black America

America is on some bullshit. While that sentence could apply pretty universally, it’s especially apparent with regard to the once-criminalized marijuana industry. This new two-hour documentary — executive produced and narrated by Nas and directed by LEVEL contributor Erik Parker — takes a hard look at how the war on drugs has adversely impacted the Black community, and the ways we’re now being shut out of the cannabis entrepreneur boom. (11/18 at 10 p.m. EST, BET)

📺 The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Reunion

Throwback Thursday is going way up this week. Thirty years after the debut of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, hip-hop’s bougie first family on TV is getting back together to reminisce on the memories and magic of one of the greatest sitcoms of its generation. Will, Carlton, Ashley, Hillary, Jazz, Jeffrey, and not one but two Aunt Vivs. Be there or be square. (11/19, HBO Max)

🎶 DJ Kay Slay, “Rolling 50 Deep”

Carve out 18 minutes for the longest, most geriatric posse cut you’ve ever heard, starring [deep breath] 3D Na’Tee, AZ, Benny The Butcher, Billy Danze, Bun B, Bynoe, Cassidy, Chris Rivers, Cory Gunz, DJ Paul, Dave East, E-40, E-A-Ski, E.D.I. Mean, Fred The Godson, Ghostface Killah, Grandmaster Caz, Grandmaster Melle Mel, Hocus45th, Ice-T, Joell Ortiz, Jon Connor, Lil’ Fame, Loaded Lux, Locksmith, Maino, McGruff, Memphis Bleek, Mistah F.A.B., Mysonne, Nino Man, Papoose, RJ Payne, Raekwon, Ransom, Rockness, Royce Da 5'9", Saigon, Sauce Money, Sheek Louch, Shoota, Stan Spit, Styles P, Termanology, Trae tha Truth, Trick Trick, Twista, Uncle Murda, Vado, and Young Noble. The 40 Over 40 crew is showing out. Love to see it. (YouTube)

LEVEL Read of the Week

The Life-or-Death Dilemma of Thanksgiving 2020

After a year that for many has been characterized by solitary quarantine, Thanksgiving holds a special significance. Yet, as we ride out an increasingly precarious second (or third) wave of Covid-19 like inexperienced surfers, we’re stuck with the conundrum of whether to hang tight or hang loose. Are you willing to risk it all for some family time? Should you? Writer Michael Arceneaux grapples with his personal situation. Read the story.

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John Kennedy
Writer for

Editor-in-Chief, LEVEL