Hip-hop and the government have often been at odds, dating back to the earliest days of the culture. Challenging authority and bucking the status quo has long been one of the more endearing and powerful qualities of the genre. This culture of ours is about making brutally honest statements and standing for something especially when it comes to the commander-in-chief, past and present.
It was President Ronald Reagan who was one of the first big-name politicians to catch the gas face from the hip-hop community, most notably from Chuck D on Public Enemy's "Rebel Without a Pause" and most recently Killer Mike on the rapper's 2012 song "Reagan" centered around the former president's nefarious ways.
The '80s would be the beginning of rap's love affair with shouting out the H.N.I.C.'s in the Oval Office, but the trend would continue throughout the '90s and beyond, with seemingly every president seemingly getting a mention, whether it be favorable like Bill Clinton, whose gotten props from the hip-hop generation for his swagger and luck with the ladies, or negative like much of George W. Bush's mentions have been.
But the presidents most likely to get immortalized in a rap verse on any given day are the ones featured on U.S. currency -- George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson and Ulysses Grant. Heck, even Grover Cleveland, who appears on the ever-rare $1,000 bill, has been acknowledged over the years. In celebration of Presidents Day (Feb. 15) -- and since XXL has plenty of love for those dead presidents (word to Jay Z) -- we’ve selected 10 lyrics from hip-hop songs that name-drop the former and current leaders of the U.S. in one way or another.
"Crack Music" Kanye West Featuring The Game
President: Ronald Reagan
"How we stop the Black Panthers? / Ronald Reagan cooked up an answer / You hear that? What Gil Scott was hearing / When our heroes or heroines got hooked on heroin / Crack raised the murder rate in D.C. and Maryland."
Kanye West has never been shy about speaking his mind, infamously taking George W. Bush to task in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. After making the bold statement, "George Bush doesn't care about black people" on national TV, Kanye delivered his sophomore album, Late Registration, which affirmed his position as rap's new big man on campus. But the album would feature even more poignant takes on the government and social injustices, particularly, on the song "Crack Music" featuring The Game.
After throwing President Bush under the bus, Kanye takes aim at former President Ronald Reagan, who served two terms in office, escalated the war on drugs and was proven to be complicit in the government's partnership with drug cartels. Infamous for his brand of economics, dubbed "Reaganomics," Reagan has been a punching bag for many in the hip-hop community and his presidency will forever be associated with the crack cocaine trade.
"Smoking Weed With the President"Prince EA
President: Herbert Hoover
"But after the 1930's, things changed up / Cause that's man President Hoover commissioned a man named Harry J. Anslinger / As head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics / His middle name's ironic / 'Cause he was the main guy attempting to demonize marijuana."
St. Louis rapper Prince EA is known for his politically-tinged commentary in his songs and is one of the more respected MCs that also happens to be an activist. In 2012, Prince EA released a song called "Smoking Weed With the President," which was an open letter to President Barack Obama arguing the benefits of legalizing marijuana in an epic eight-minute track. Even using a faux-Obama on the track, Prince EA gives an extensive oral history of marijuana use in America in beyond and the many great people that have used it or advocated for it. While Prince EA directed this track at Obama, he also name-drops Herbert Hoover, the 31st President of the United States, whose enlistment of Harry J. Anslinger as the head of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics would serve as the catalyst for marijuana becoming taboo. President Hoover would only serve one term in office and is known for being chief in command during the stock market crash and the subsequent onset of The Great Depression.
President: Harry S. Truman
"I've got money like Charles Dickens / Got the girlies in the Coupe like the Colonel's got the chickens / And I'm always going out dapper like Harry S. Truman / I'm madder than Mad's Alfred E. Newman."
The Beastie Boys may be known to casual fans as a party-hearty trio of misfits, but contrary to what "Fight for Your Right" would lead you to believe, Mike D, MCA and Ad-Rock's tracks had an ample amount of depth. One such example of this is "Shadrach," an irresistible ditty from Paul's Boutique, the group's heralded sophomore album that is considered their magnum opus. The second and final single released from the album, "Shadrach," finds the Beasties running roughshod over a sample-driven beat. The three MC's intertwine rhymes, keeping listeners on their toes. While it's easy to lose count of the random references dropped on the record, one that stands out is their shout out of President Harry S. Truman's dapper sense of style. President Truman is noted for taking over office in the wake of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's untimely death, making the decision to drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and helping to found the United Nations.
"I Do This (Remix)"Kendrick Lamar Featuring U-N-I, Skeme, & Brown (of Sore Losers)
President: Abraham Lincoln
"Seem like everybody love the role of assholes / But I'm feeling better being crowned with some bad hoes / Mr. Michael of Amish yo speaking / Fedora on the top, the black Abraham Lincoln / I hear they fell in love with my penis / Only concerned with my balls like Venus."
Before Kendrick Lamar was deemed the savior of the West Coast rap scene, he was a rising rapper happy to be in the company of some of the hottest MCs in his hometown. The Cali native enlists a few homies from the Golden State to flex alongside him on the Overly Dedicated track, "I Do This (Remix)." One of them is Y-O, formerly of U-N-I, who opens the song with a verse that finds him mentioning his foot fetish and his preference for being in the company of the opposite sex. In terms of wardrobe, Y-O seems to be inspired by Abraham Lincoln according to his rap. The guy is regarded as one of the most important presidents in history. The 16th president to serve in office, Lincoln is most known for abolishing slavery and being on the $5 bill.
"Who Shot Ya (Freestyle)Jay Z
President: Dwight Eisenhower
"Niggas tryin' to break my will / You know that ain't my steel / I'm Destiny's Child, my fate's been sealed / You're dealin' with a higher power / I'm like Dwight Eisenhower / My life can move a thousand miles and hour."
Jay Z's swagger has always been presidential, dating back to his Reasonable Doubt days. While he often chooses to hold court over his own production while addressing the American people, Hov took a stab at the Notorious B.I.G.'s "Who Shot Ya" beat with DJ Clue in the wings, on the adlibs like the Vice President, making this decree an official one. Sneering with every couplet delivered, Jay does his verbal gymnastics with the grace of a trained orator and comes up clean after demolishing the classic loop. Dwight Eisenhower gets love as Hov compares his power with that of the 34th president famous for his battle against communism and authorizing the establishment of NASA. Whether Jay Z name-dropped Eisenhower for any particular reason other than it making for a dope rhyme is unknown, but what we do know is that President Eisenhower would probably be a fan of Jigga.
"Agent Orange"Pharoahe Monch
President: John F Kennedy
"Where you discuss who's style is greater / In this killing pool you playing it cool like Cal Tjader / When y'all ready to rock like Led Zep and Al Qaeda / With weapons of mass destruction an hour later / What's your identity today? / You on some John F. Kennedy or Timothy McVeigh? / This Hennessy done left me with a remedy to spray /For my identity your life is the penalty to pay."
Pharoahe Monch is among the most respected wordsmiths in the history of hip-hop with a gift for stringing together some of the most factual commentary that the game has ever seen. After releasing his solo debut, Internal Affairs, in 1999, Monch took nearly a decade off before recording his next full-length album, but stayed busy cooking up tracks inspired by his views of the government and wellness. Before severing ties with Rawkus Records, Pharoahe released "Agent Orange," his final single on the label, in 2003. Picking up where the 1991 Organized Konfusion track, "Releasing Hypnotical Gases," left off, Monch spews vitriol about the powers that be and their hidden agendas. President John F. Kennedy gets mentioned as a man of honor, as opposed to the Oklahoma bomber Tim McVeigh. Prior to his death in 1963, Kennedy was a proponent for peace and integration and is usually name-dropped in reference to his assassination, but Monch flips the script and gives a slight nod to the former prez.
"History"Yassin Bey Featuring Talib Kweli
President: Gerald Ford
"I was born in the decade of decadence where they worship what they have / Ford was president, do the math / The war was ended when the Vietnamese stormed the city of Saigon / We was like, bye; we was gone, let bygones be bygones."
Few rappers today are as aware of sociopolitical issues as Talib Kweli, who has always been known to touch on various topics involving the government and America's lesser moments as a whole. But aside from his knack for kicking knowledge outside of the booth, he's also known for being as adept at conveying in the booth, which he has done over the better part of the past two decades. Invoking the names of presidents may not be in the average rapper's jurisdiction past references to currency, but Kweli paints as many pictures of politics as he does the streets and social issues, one of those occasions being his guest appearance on former partner-in-rhyme Yassin Bey's 2009 single, "History." Rhyming, "I'm gone, spread love, it's the Brooklyn way /Where the hug you with the firearm, try it on," Kweli waxes poetic about the rough and tumble days of growing up in Brooklyn during President Gerald Ford's term. Known as the only person to have served as both Vice President and President of the United States without being elected to either office, President Ford presided over one of the worst economy's in U.S. history.
President: Franklin Delano Roosevelt
"Jetting, checking my message on the speaker / Bopping to Mona Lisa brown reefer, ten G's, gun and my Visa / CD cranking, doing ninety on the Franklin-D-Roosevelt / No seat belt, drinking and thinking / My man caught a bad one son, niggas is frightened / Secret indictments, as on to one seeking enlightenment."
When Nas said he wanted to be represented by dead presidents in 1994, the line -- from the track "Who's World Is This" on his debut album, Illmatic -- was instantly immortalized in history. While Nas has always been considered more militant than political, he's not above mentioning them in rhyme, as he's thrown shots, as well as nods, to various presidents, in the past. One of the more memorable instances in which Nas gave airtime to a commander-in-chief was on his sophomore release, It Was Written, but the inclusion was inspired by his commutes over the Franklin D. Roosevelt East River Drive -- also known as the FDR Drive -- which was named after the 32nd president of the United States and New York native Franklin D. Roosevelt. The longest tenured president in U.S. history, in addition to being one of the most popular, Roosevelt is adored by Americans young and old and key character in the shaping of this country.
"Georgia... Bush"Lil Wayne
President: George W. Bush
"But they don't let you know what's really going on / Make it look like a lotta stealing going on / Boy them cops is killas in my home / Nigga shot dead in the middle of the street / I ain't no thief, I'm just trying to eat / Man fuck the police and President (Georgia) Bush."
Instead of paying homage to George W. Bush, Lil Wayne throws shots at the former President on his Dedication 2 track, "Georgia... Bush." A native of New Orleans, Lil Wayne was deeply affected by Hurricane Katrina and what many deemed as President Bush's negligence towards the predominately black city. Using his platform as arguably the hottest rapper in the game at that time, Tunechi got critical of President Bush and the government's actions and recorded this classic offering in the mixtape catalog of Weezy. Hurricane Katrina, 9/11 and the subsequent war in Afghanistan would define President Bush's two terms in the White House and make him the most reviled president since his father was in office.
President: Richard Nixon
"It's funny how time flies, well, I'm as fly as time / I don't believe in role models, but if I do, then I'm mine / I make brothers say, 'True,' they see you and be like "Fiction" / I want 'spect and dead presidents, like Richard Nixon."
Common is regarded as one of the most lyrically sound rappers in the history of hip-hop and known for infusing intelligence and factual takes on the past and present into his rhymes. Before breaking out on the mainstream, Common was a deity in the underground and emerging as the preeminent lyricist out of Chicago at the time. Going under the moniker Common Sense, the Chi-Town rhymer released his sophomore album, Resurrection, in 1994, which served as the Midwest's answer to Nas' Illmatic. "Watermelon," one of the standout tracks on Ressurrection, finds Common running roughshod over the percussion-heavy beat and giving a nod to Richard Nixon, who passed away during the recording of the album. The 37th president of the United States, Nixon is infamous for his involvement in the Watergate scandal that has gone done as one of the most iconic stories in American history.