By Jonah Weiner
Barack Obama arrived at the Oval Office with a long parade of expectations in tow. One special-interest group with a particularly colorful wish list is the hip-hop community, which has been plotting this moment for years. If Obama makes his policy decisions based on Nas' 1996 single "If I Ruled the World," for instance, he will appoint Coretta Scott King to a mayoralty, fling open the gates of Attica, and grant every citizen an Infiniti Q45. If he follows the Pharcyde's more modestly pitched "If I Were President," he'll buy Michelle some new clothes and treat himself to a new pair of sneakers. If he heeds the urgent lessons of Public Enemy's 1994 video for "So Whatcha Gone Do Now?" Obama will staff the Secret Service exclusively with beret-clad black militants or else risk assassination at the hands of a far-reaching neo-Nazi conspiracy.
Hip-hop fantasies of a black executive have popped up throughout the genre's history, visions of empowerment that speak to a real-life condition of powerlessness. In this sense, they're merely a loftier version of the standard hip-hop fantasies of potency, whether it's sexual domination, VIP access, or street-corner supremacy.
With Obama's win, this dynamic stands to change. For 25-odd years, hip-hop has been black America's main ambassador to the white American mainstream. How will hip-hop see itself now that the most powerful man in the country is a) black and b) a Jay-Z fan? Obama is doubtless the warmest—and smartest—rap critic ever to take the oath of office. When he has praised hip-hop, he has done so with near-impeccable taste. (His admiration for Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Ludacris, and Kanye West would displease no rap blogger worth his RSS feed.) When he's criticized it, he's spoken with none of the condescension or cluelessness politicians often bring to the endeavor. For him, hip-hop is an art form, not culture-war fodder. "I love the art of hip-hop," he told MTV last year. "I don't always love the message." Though it's too early to say precisely how, there are already clues as to the effect Obama's rise will have on both.