A Brief History of Artists Rapping About Presidential Assassinations
We dive into the historical vault of hip-hop songs where rappers have gone so far as to call for the commander-in-chief's head.
By Phillip Mlynar, Noisey/Vice
Right now, a lot of people are protesting against the 45th President of the United States of America—and that discontented group of citizens includes some of your favorite rappers. A Tribe Called Quest used a Grammy spot to slam the other Donald's travel ban and perceived discrimination against Muslims (while Busta Rhymes cast Trump as President Agent Orange). T.I.and Meek Mill have taken to the streets in outrage at Trump's election as President. And Eminem has vowed to his followers that he'll make Trump's brand "go under." This is just a small sampling of the criticism rappers have levied against the president within the first 100 days of his tenure.
But it's all relatively tame stuff compared to the historical vault of rap songs where hip-hop artists have gone as far as suggesting the Commander in Chief should be assassinated.
Yep, while hip-hop is often characterized by its detractors as vacuous music concerned only with chasing the trilogy of money, cars and promiscuous members of the opposite sex, when rappers get political they like to do so in fiery and uncompromising terms. So strap yourselves in for a chronological primer on those musical moments when hip-hop aimed its steely sights on the Leader of the Free World.
(Disclaimer: Neither Noisey nor the author endorse the assassination of Presidents, people in politics, or even the sub-human scum who don't pick up their dog's crap from the sidewalk. Increase the peace!)
1986: Double Dee and Steinski vs. John F. Kennedy
An exemplary lesson in the art of cut-and-paste sampling, Double Dee and Steinski's astute sonic collage tells the story of the JFK assassination and aftermath through radio and TV new snippets. The way the various media sources are shrewdly stitched together turns the listening session into a cowbell-spiked history lesson. You've never heard Walter Cronkite sound this funky.
1990: Tragedy Khadafi vs. Presidents
Okay, it's not a full-blooded assassination attempt, but back when he was calling himself the Intelligent Hoodlum, Queensbridge's original poetical prophet went right to the top while dropping this rallying call against corrupt officials. Over a furious Clyde Stubblefield breakbeat, Trag commands, "Arrest the President—he's the criminal." It's a cry that many think applies throughout the ages.
1992: Paris vs. George H. W. Bush
Bay Area activist Paris's ode to the first Bush in Presidential office was so incendiary it resulted in what was slated to be his second album (Sleeping With The Enemy) being shelved by the shook suits up at Warner Bros. Never flinching, "Bush Killa" opens with the rapper aiming shots at the Pres, before dropping a rhyme that fantasizes about finding a rooftop spot "where the view's hot" that will enable him to witness Bush's "motherfucking brains hanging." Keeping it topical, Paris's third verse includes salient sentiments about the Gulf War: "Tolerance is getting thinner/ 'Cause Iraq never called me nigga/ So what I wanna go off and fight a war for?"
Sealing the album's controversial status, part of the intended Sleeping With The Enemy artwork featured a mockup of Paris waiting behind a tree clutching a firearm as Bush addresses a crowd. He's not there to skip the line and request an autograph.
1995: KRS-One vs. Richard Nixon
A metaphysical roll call through the ages, the Blastmaster variously channels himself as Moses, Jesus, Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey, and Malcolm X, while also finding time to express the jolly sentiment, "Every President we ever had lied." Then comes the KRS kicker: "You know, I'm kinda glad Nixon died!"
1998: Non Phixion vs. Ronald Reagan
From the outset, Brooklyn's self-dubbed "terrorist proletariats" were all about illuminating conspiracy theories, inciting revolution, and taking out high-placed devils. Aiming their sights on the Teflon President, "I Shot Reagan" has the crew burning a flag before Sabac Red takes Nancy hostage, throws her body parts in a grab bag, and explains, "Now watch the gun blast, holding your chest marked for death/ The President's been shot, somebody notify the press/ It's all Reaganomics—welfare, weapons and drugs/ The government is thugs, that's why the leader caught a slug."
This bloody coup goes down over an eerie, flute-infused beat hooked up by Necro (the "hip-hop psychic"). The track closes out with Ill Bill escaping from a titanium-walled cell in Area 51 and revealing himself to be a shapeshifting being from the future who's capable of ripping the fabric of space while transmitting "a message backwards through the phone lines." This was long before the Illuminati got hip to the smartphone era.
Updating the anti-Presidential sentiments, on 2002's boom-bap adrenaline blast "Rock Stars," Ill Bill also speculates how by 2007 he'll either be "chilling on the beach in the south of Venice/ Or murking the President live on Channel 7."
2001: Vanilla Ice vs. John F. Kennedy
In which the "Ice Ice Baby" man posits a titular theory about the JFK assassination that never quite caught on, while over an angsty beat Public Enemy's Chuck D somehow stumbles into the clandestine meeting to vent, "I voted! Hope my ass wasn't railroaded…"
2001: Nas vs. George W. Bush
By 2001, Nas had come a long way from breaking the locks on candy factories for his rebellious kicks. On the Stillmatic cut "What Goes Around," he harnesses a melancholy Salaam Remi beat to drop science on what he perceives as the poisonous ills of the world around him before bringing things to an overtly political climax. "What is destined shall be/ George Bush killer 'til George Bush kills me," he vows, before signing off with a cheery, "Much blessings, be healthy…" Toodle-pip, Nasir!
2004: Eminem vs. George W. Bush
Encore-era Em was definitely in an angry and political mindset when it came to recording "We As Americans." Over one of those moody, clipped beats he favored back then, our bleached blonde anti-hero puckers up and targets Dubya. "Fuck money! I don't rap for dead presidents," Slim Shady seethes before coldly declaring, "I'd rather see the president dead."
2006: Immortal Technique (and friends) vs. George W. Bush
Rounding up a motley bunch of allies like Saigon, Dead Prez and super producer Just Blaze, Tech's lyrical blast at Dubya takes place over a loop of the classic Honey Drippers break "Impeach The President" (which was originally cut as a protest against Nixon). Detailing an all-out character attack on Bush, Tech's allegations include claims the Pres sniffed coke, has been involved in corporate larceny, and is effectively "the puppet king of the planet." As a remedy, Tech advises listeners to "either stand him, wear the rifle or reach him/ Or some bitch give him a blow job so we can impeach him." (Assist watch: Just Blaze makes a rare appearance on the mic and offers to "push Bush off the White House roof.")
2015: Rick Ross vs. Donald Trump
The opening cut to the Bawse's Black Market project includes the rapper throwing up an early anti-Trump dis that also attempts commentary on the tragic Trayvon Martin murder. After setting up a scene where he's stewing away in prison without even such basic human rights as a mid-afternoon bottle of Belaire sparkling wine paired with a Danish pastry, Rozay threatens, "Assassinate Trump like I'm Zimmerman."
As you'd expect from a man who pretty much invented the idea of fake news before it became a buzz term, soon after the song's release the contrarian Ross would tell Rolling Stone that his personal cameraman used to caddy for Trump and that's he's apparently "cool as fuck." Glad we cleared that one up.
2016: YG vs. Donald Trump
Originally included as an album track on YG's excellent Brazy, "F.D.T." (Noisey's pick for 2016's number one song of the year) took on a controversial life of its own after the Secret Service placed a call to the Compton rapper's record label—presumably over a couple of the song's lyrics. First up, YG himself ponders Trump's status in the game and says he's "Surprised El Chapo ain't tried to snipe you/ Surprised the Nation of Islam ain't tried to find you." He's presumably not alluding to a friendly offer to try out the back nine at Mar-a-Lago.
But it's left to guest spitter Nipsey Hussle to commandeer the death blow, as he ends his verse by stating, "I thought all that Donald Trump bullshit was a joke," and then menaces, "And if your ass do win, you gon' prolly get smoked, nigga/ Fuck you!"