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.