Obama's Jay-Z brush off: The Swamp
The Swamp
Posted April 21, 2008 12:19 PM

The Swamp

by Frank James

Has everything been said already about Sen. Barack Obama's visual reference to rap star and pop icon Jay-Z's hit from a few years back, "Dirt Off Your Shoulder?" That's never stopped us before.

A lot of people on the Internet believe the gesture Obama used last week in a campaign appearance the day after the Philadelphia debate (no, not the middle-finger thing) when he literally and dramatically brushed the metaphorical dirt in the form of Sen. Hillary Clinton's many charges against him, from his shoulder was a straight out of Jay Z's video for the rap song from the rapper's "Black Album." (Warning: Language many will find objectionable.)

On the one hand, it's somewhat mind-blowing that the man who could be the Democratic presidential nominee and perhaps president is so up on pop culture that he would "quote" a Jay-Z video like that.

Could you imagine President Bush holding a mike in one hand and waving his free hand in the air back and forth like Kanye West? Didn't think so, especially not after what Kanye said about him post Hurricane Katrina.

If nothing else, it shows that Obama has his antenna up, that he's attuned to the culture around him, especially the youth culture. He's in touch. That counts for a lot of his appeal and it counts for a lot, period.

But then there's this question: Is it hypocritical for Obama to use a gesture from a rap star whose lyrics are so "street" they can't be reproduced in a blog meant for a general audience, whose lyrics amount to the type Obama has criticized in the past as demeaning to African Americans and women? Indeed, the "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" lyrics repeatedly include the N- word

If Obama was indeed referencing Jay-Z, and it sure looks that way to many people, was he perhaps endorsing a street ethic he, among other social critics, has said contributes to black America's woes. Is that something a presidential candidate should do? (He and Clinton already seem to be reliving the Jay-Z versus Nas feud.)

Maybe most voters are waving their hands in the air like they just don't care on this one. But it seems like a question worth asking.

Jay-Z, like many in hip hop, became famous rapping about the world he knew before he went legit--slinging drugs, chasing women (who are often referred to with the B-word,) and generally living the ghetto high life. It's a way of life unfortunately known to far too many American young people. And it's a lifestyle Jay-Z has helped glamorize whether that was intention.

All this said, I personally love Jay-Z. He's an incredibly gifted talent, clearly a quick and sharp entrepreneur who rose from Brooklyn's streets to create an entertainment and clothing empire. All the while, he has "kept it real," staying true to his roots. The word is he has helped a lot of people along the way.

What's more, the New York Times and other corporations use him in their web ads. Plus he's got Beyonce. Hard to find a better stamp of approval than that.

Still, is there something somewhat hypocritical about Obama criticizing rap for its frequently demeaning language and portrayals of African Amerians and women, then turning around and borrowing Jay-Z's gesture of defiance? Holler back! as Jay Z would say.

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So the media is trying to make us believe that Jay Z invented this gestur??. And you wonder why people hate the MSM so much.

Barack, Michelle, Jeremiah, Louis, Move On, the New Black Panthers Party, the Weather Underground, Larry Lessig and on and on.

Obama is very clearly the trojan horse for hard-left hate in America. Nothing more. He will be defeated by intelligent, decent Americans everywhere.

People have been using the terms "brush your shoulders off" and "dirt off your shoulders" long before Jay-Z rapped about it.

The gesture should not be seen as an automatic reference to this artist.

In the black culture, people have been told not to worry about the small stuff, to let the water roll of their backs. Or as Jay-Z most recently re-coined the term, "brush your shoulders off."

Jay-Z's lyrics are a re-make of what generation after generation has preached to troubled children and adults alike.

Did you try reaching Obama for his comment before you subjected readers to your questions of "hypocrisy?" Or better yet, did you even consider that this phrase and gesture were used long before this artist or candidate were born?

My guess is probably not.

Uh, Frank, just to add on to 12:30's comment above. Brushing "dirt off your shoulder" predates Jay-Z by many years. Jay just took a phrase in the public and put it in a song. Nonetheless, it still was one of those funny moments that let you know "who's the square" or who's shouting "get those darn kids off my lawn!"

The media are always flipping the script turning words arounds that can have an affect on the small minded people who believe and listens to the media. Brushing dirt of your shoulders is a term or phrase used by many and will continue to be used. That is not a phrase that Jay Z started. No way, after listening and watching Obama's speech did I suggest or even thought of Jay Z. I have used that phrase before. Sometimes you just have to shake negative people from your surroundings. That just like me saying "kicking someone to the curve" or "giving someone the boot". You have haters, jealous people who don't want to see you succeed in your circle, so what do you do? Kick that dirt off your shoulders or kick they asses to the curve. I feel what Obama's has said and if you are a person on a positive perspective than would understand as well. Don't let the media coeherced you to believe anything. That's how they make money..

Yeah, real presidential. It becomes more obvious by the minute: this guy unelectable.


I'm 57 years old, and I've been using that jester long before Jay-z was even born. Where are you going with this Frank?

JAY- Z did not invent the brush off sign, he merely perfected it - just like THE CLINTONS DID NOT INVENT LYING BUT SIMPLY TRANSFORMED LYING INTO AN ART FORM

My 83-year old mother would like to remind everyone that "everything new is old again" because Fred Astaire had a hit song (and dance with similar gestures) about this: "Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again." Obama is reaching both ends of the generational spectrum with this one.

More garbage dished up for our discriminating pallets by the media.

Hey, how's about you writing an article on our economy?

Nothing wrong there, eh? Jay-Z's just more important? Jay-Z will sell more papers?

This is just another example how Clinton, McCain backers and the media continue to twist his words to something negative. They raise questions or imply that something he said, something he did with his hand or someone he happens to know or ran into in his lifetime makes him a bad person or illegitiment contender to be president. I find all of this to ridiculous and that is shows that these other canidates and their backers are threatened by Barack Obama. They see his intellegence, integrity and the fact that he has raised so much money in small donations is a testament to how many Americans want this man to be president. He has run the best campaign so far and will continue to do so.

Barack Obama is a good man and deserves a fair shake.

People who put him in the same light as Farakahn, The Black Panthers, The Weather Underground and Jay Z (who I happen to like musically) are threatened by his legitimacy and will do or say anything to make him seem illegitimate.

Get Real!! How can you possibly want less from the POTUS? This is a REAL connection with people where they live. Senator Obama has publicly acknowledged that JayZ is one of his favorite Hip-Hop artists, while at the same time acknowledging that JayZ and others could and should use their popularity and talents to help lift our community rather than the degrading messages common to Hip-Hop. (YouTube link?).

I want a president who knows how to connect with me on THIS kind of emotinal (real) level. I WANT a president how has arranged the chairs in a basement hall for a local organizing event! I WANT a president who has TAUGHT constitutional law.

Gravitas and human-ness. We actually can have both, in Senator Obama yes we can!!!

Like OMG!!1!1

The reporting on the campaign has become utterly inane. Nothing about the big questions, like health care, taxes and immigration, but we just have to know about a (possibly maybe, don't know for sure but we'll run with it anyway) questionable gesture and now the media is trying to claim Obama catered to the rappers by making a gesture that's older than the hills? But, hey, a rapper used it in the video, so that makes them the same, right?

Better hang on, it's a race to the bottom and we're in for a bumpy ride.

Here we go again! The media is always trying to make hay out of nothing. If you don't know the history of this gesture, talk to someone who does before making negative statements.

Finally the media is starting to pay attention to the things that matter in this election.

We all know that brushing yourself off has been a term/gesture used for many years. Jay-Z had the sense to capitalize on it and suddenly he invented it? Only an idiot makes the interpretation that using the term or gesture means you stand for what Jay-Z stands for. This is why people don't respect writers anymore, because all they do is twist stories for their benefit. Bring the news the way it happens and stop taking it out of context.

Reality check, nobody but people in the hip hop craze use this gesture nowadays. I doubt B.O. made this gesture due to Fred Astaire.

Actually Frank you have it wrong. Jay-Z may have made a popular song about it, but African Americans in the deep south have been doing that gesture in dance routines probably since the early 20th century.

Dusting off the shoulders or the shoe tops has a dual meaning of being boastful about a new, clean set of clothes or that you are disposing of your adversary in a mocking way (esentially calling them dirt, and brushing them off).

He was doing it because he was in the deep south in a state that he has a double digit lead in, using a form of vernacular on the stump. It is not something that he would do in a northern state, probably because people would think he was paying homage to Jay-Z.

I can just see it now - it's the World Summit and Pres. Obama is responding to a world leader with that gesture of rudeness and disrespect Way to go Pres.! Show those stuffed shirt world leaders how truly classless Americans can be. After GWB's appearance on the world stage, a little gesture like Obama "brushing off his shoulder" will be no surprise. He'll only be perpetuating the arrogance.

How about noting that this was a churlish, infantile gesture that insulted Clinton and angered her supporters ? So he performs poorly in a debate, and then he flips off Clinton and wipes her off his shoes like dog crap ? How is that going to win over the supporter of those that admire Clinton, should he need their votes in November ? I'm gonna remember those gestures for a long time. I prefer a leader who is gracious and able to restrain him- or herself from childish and pedantic antics.

Who is Frank James? How can he read such meaning into a universal gesture? Why would a publisher even consider printing such trash for us to read? Granted every fool can have their day, but this goes beyond foolishness. Why is Frank James not talking about President George W. Bush giving the middle finger on camera? Remember that Obama is still human, maybe an elitist, but human nevertheless. And I believe he displays that quality better than Frank James could ever hope to portray. The public will be less baffled about our politics if we focus our dialogue on more relevant issues.

This post is historically, politically, and culturally ABSURD. Obama made a generic American gesture that existed long before Barack Obama or Jay-Z were born. Jay-Z wrote a song about it. So what? If a Hip Hop artists writes a song about love, does love become black and offensive?

This is just another attempt to over-racialize and demean Obama and all Black people. Shame on you.

This article proves that Obama was referencing Jay-Z http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/27/us/politics/27reggie.html?pagewanted=1&ei=5087&em&en=bffe5833f91edc72&ex=1212033600&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1211947620-NvLy6OAWc5erkw3TrBD4cA

That's amazing. On top of his many great qualities, Obama might also be the coolest presidential candidate ever! That's probably why he easily connects and inspires young voters like no other!

And Jay-Z is arguably the greatest rapper of all time. On top of great lyrical skills though, he has embodied the American Dream. He went from a poor street hustler to a multi-million dollar hip-hop mogul in front of all his fans' eyes!! And, along the way, he narrated it all through his raps!! People should really listen to his raps and follow his story before they judge him!!!

This is OUTRAGEOUSLY ABSURD!! If his message was a direct reference to Jay-Z how would the older generation have understood? And let along the older generation, what about the Caucasians in the audience as well would don't listen to Jay-Z? The term he used has been used long BEFORE Jay-Z! Please get your facts straight before you begin sending messages based on NONSENSE!!

I am a 41 yr old Black woman who has never heard any of Jay-Z's songs or raps or whatever the hell you call them. I just took Sen. Obama's jesture to imply that he was brushing the negativity of Sen. Clinton's statements off his shoulder's. WHERE THE HELL DID YOU COME UP WITH JAY-Z FROM?? ARE YOU KIDDING?? Sometimes I just can't believe the ignorance festering in America!

For the Love of God! Marva is exactly right. How in the world would this gesture been all inclusive if it was referring to jay-z's song? This is a gesture in exsistence before either of them. Brush your self, shoulders off and move on with your life. Man, the Media is always looking for an opportunity to twist something. This man is charismatic, cool and hip. He has broad base appeal. He is real and down to earth. That is why people love him. He may do real good for this county. Naysayers get over yourselves.

Yall some people in America will use ANYTHING to discredit a young, black, educated, upstanding individual. Why? Because it's threatening. White people like to believe that are the world's last best hope. (and they think we want revenge for slavery and the civil rights movement) Something as wrong as the afor mentioned periods is not corrected by revenge dumbies but by forgiveness. K? Now can we move on and help the rest of world be a better place now that we got that out the way?

Clip too long. Time's a wastin'. Life is passing by.

Better editing please.

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