Donald Trump’s Historically Shallow Relationship With Black Music
Yesterday in a White House statement, Donald Trump declared June African-American Music Appreciation Month, specifically citing Chuck Berry, Ella Fitzgerald, and Dizzy Gillespie’s contributions to American culture. “Their work highlights the power music has to channel the human experience,” he says in the proclamation, “and they remain a testament to the resilience of all freedom-loving people.” The announcement may read as hollow given that the Trump Administration has openly supported policies that exclude and debase people of color. Like with his earlier statement honoring “National African American History Month”, Trump is doing the bare minimum to keep up with tradition: African-American Music Appreciation Month has been a thing since Jimmy Carter declared it so in 1979.
But even putting that aside, Trump has a history of situating himself next to black music, so long as it stays at arm’s length. A 1999 VIBE piece written by Nancy Jo Sales detailed the mutual infatuation between the bigoted business magnate and hip-hop, a relationship symbolized in the article by Trump not only attending P. Diddy’s birthday party, but being the very first famous person to arrive. Alas, the profile doesn’t mention the relationship’s glaring contradictions: Trump’s venomous campaign against the Central Park Five occurred only 10 years earlier, and the Horatio Alger narrative both sides supposedly shared doesn’t quite hold up—rappers don’t typically get a $1 million loan from their KKK-sympathizing fathers.
Nonetheless, Trump was down. Sales’ piece quotes him pushing Method Man to release a new project (Meth would shout him out on 1998 sophomore effort, Tical 2000: Judgement Day):
“Hey, Method Man,” he freestyled onto the Wu-Tang rapper’s answering machine. “This is Donald Trump, and I’m in Palm Beach, and we’re all waiting for your album. Let’s get going, man—everybody’s waiting for this album!”
Trump even gave condescending words of encouragement to the Fugees’ Pras, the third wheel of his own group:
“I know Method Man is now,” Trump adds.
But “Pras?” he asks, voice drifting off. Still not quite sure.“Now, after knowing you,” Trump says on Pras’s album, “I know that you’re gonna be right up there, and I hope very soon you’re gonna be in the leagues with me. So good luck, man. And do good!”
Trump’s amicable relationship with hip-hop continued through the millennium. He called Snoop Dogg “the greatest” in an Apprentice episode and complemented a Twitter user for reading his book The Art of Deal while listening to Jay Z. But Trump’s relationship with hip-hop is just like Miley Cyrus’: You wear the coat of blackness until it gets too hot. During his presidential campaign, he necessarily aligned himself with the conservative constituency that’s been demonizing rappers for decades, and he wasn’t shy about playing the part. In one of his last speeches before Election Night, he criticized Beyoncé and Jay Z for performing at Hillary Clinton rally, pointing at their songs’ “the filthy language.”
Like Barack Obama before him, Trump does directly shoutout hip-hop in his proclamation, writing of black musicians, “their creativity has shaped every genre of music, including rock and roll, rhythm and blues, jazz, gospel, hip-hop, and rap.” Still, he only mentions Berry, Gillespie and Fitzgerald by name, which is convenient— they’re inarguably legends who are also dead, and legacies tend to be pristine when their central voices are silenced. Trump claimed during the election that he’s the “least racist” person, but throughout his campaign and term, he’s yet to engage with a black voice in a way that hasn’t felt cynical. Even in the VIBE piece, Trump seems to believe the value of black expression is merely transactional. “I think hip-hop has done more for race relations…than anything,” he said. “I can tell you—hey, the most important white people have total respect for these guys.”
This article originally appeared on SPIN.