By Natalie Weiner, Billboard
"We were walking through the streets, and people just joined."
Billboard is celebrating the 2010s with essays on the 100 songs that we feel most define the decade that was -- the songs that both shaped and reflected the music and culture of the period -- with help telling their stories from some of the artists, behind-the-scenes collaborators, and industry insiders involved.
“F--k Donald Trump,” the people chanted, smiling wide from atop a car on Crenshaw Boulevard as they bobbed along to the beat. Among them was the late rapper Nipsey Hussle, nothing separating him from the happy crowd. A policeman approached, yelling incoherently with a taser raised; “This is my car,” one of the men said, but his logic was futile. Nipsey ran to the front, hands raised, trying to shield the others as more police drew more weapons, pressuring the crowd to the side of the street.
"We were walking through the streets, and people just joined," director Austin Simkins says now. "Random bystanders who didn't even know what was going on were super excited about it, just because of the energy that everybody brought. It was really true and honest."
It only made sense that a song built around a rallying cry would have a video that was actually a short documentary of an impromptu protest. A few days after YG and Nipsey Hussle released the uncensored version of “FDT,” the two West Coast MCs garnered headlines about their shoot for the song being shut down by police. Which, it was -- the encounters with police and the helicopters overhead were anything but staged -- but not before Simpkins had captured dozens of friends carrying hastily made “F--k Donald Trump” signs through the streets of Los Angeles in stark black and white. The only color in the video came from flashes of red and blue: the clothing of the Bloods (YG) and Crips (Hussle), an American flag held upside down, the flashing lights atop the looming police cars.
It still didn’t seem totally real, at that time, that Donald Trump might become president; accordingly, the song was treated like a novelty when it was released, a few weeks after Super Tuesday in 2016. But for the rapper himself, who was in the midst of preparing the follow-up to his acclaimed 2014 debut My Krazy Life, the unambiguous, powerful refrain was anything but a schtick. “It got to a point where [Trump] was disrespectin', saying shit that makes no sense,” YG told Billboard at the time. “Me and Nip always talk about doing real s--t about these politics, stepping up and saying stuff other motherf--kers are not, so we finally hit the studio and really did it.”
The song’s message, which was ultimately neutered by what YG has said was a combination of backlash from his label, Def Jam, and the Secret Service originally spoke explicitly about the potential for assassination and included audio of black students who had been ejected from a Trump rally -- as well as of Trump’s infamous promise to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico. It was, like the beat itself, an unintended echo of California hip-hop’s long anti-establishment tradition.
“FDT” was built atop clean, contemporary g-funk pulled by DJ Swish (a.k.a. Samuel Ahana) from 1993’s “Something to Ride To (Fonky Expedition)” by Bay Area duo the Conscious Daughters; its producer, Paris, first established himself via musical dissent (among his first singles was "Bush Killa"). “For [the beat] to be revisited years later is rewarding, honestly, especially for something as politically on point as that ‘FDT’ song is,” he says now. “When it was created, a lot of people thought things couldn't get any worse -- and yet things have continued to get worse, and worse, and worse.”
They have, and YG hasn’t wavered from his cry as it’s become ever more urgent — three years later, he’s still calling out fans who won’t sing along to the song, and even brought out a Trump impersonator at Coachella for people to boo. Before his tragic murder earlier this year, Hussle hadn’t either — even performing the track in front of a picture of Kanye West in a MAGA hat. Even when neither is present, their potent rebuke of so-called “civility” endures: wherever he goes, the president is often greeted by a three-word, YG-penned script.