Lil’ Wayne got all of the internets in a frenzy Thursday evening when he tweeted out an endorsement of President Donald Trump. The rapper, whose real name is Dwayne Michael Carter Jr., posted a picture of himself next to a smiling Trump and a caption praising Trump’s policies and assuring that the president “can get it done.”
Just had a great meeting with @realdonaldtrump
@potus besides what he’s done so far with criminal reform, the platinum plan is going to give the community real ownership. He listened to what we had to say today and assured he will and can get it done. ???????? pic.twitter.com/Q9c5k1yMWf
— Lil Wayne WEEZY F (@LilTunechi) October 29, 2020
Lil Tunechi appears to have joined a line of Trump-supporting rappers that include Kanye West, 50 Cent — for a little while at least – as well as Ice Cube and Lil Pump. The endorsement by Weezy F. Baby — the “F” apparently standing for “fiscally conservative” – continues to beg the question of why President Trump and rappers have such appeal for one another.
Trump continues to seek a friend – or prop – in hip-hop artists and in several instances, it's been a successful endeavor. Here are five reasons this may be:
Trump needs to boost his own ego
Believe it or not, it was actually Kanye West who had the best take on Trump’s attitude toward the Black community. No, seriously. During a 2018 interview in which West was being pressed on explaining his own support for Trump, the Chicago rapper was asked if he thought Donald Trump cared about Black people. West gave an incredibly insightful answer:
“I feel that [Trump] cares about the way Black people feel about him, and he would like for Black people to like him like they did when he was cool in the rap songs and all this," the "Power" artist responded. "He will do the things that are necessary to make that happen because he’s got an ego like all the rest of us, and he wants to be the greatest president, and he knows that he can’t be the greatest president without the acceptance of the Black community. So it’s something he’s gonna work towards, but we’re gonna have to speak to him.”
Anyone with a cursory background in hip hop remembers that rappers used to name-drop Trump all the time, as The Washington Post and ABC News conveniently summarized. Nowadays, Trump’s name does still come up a lot in rap, but it’s usually preceded by a certain “f” word.
And whether or not you think Donald Trump is in the running for “greatest president” (spoiler alert: he’s not), Trump certainly seems to think he is – he says it all the time. One part of that argument for Trump is the idea that he’s done more for Black people, and gotten more Black support, than any president since Abraham “also kind of racist, actually” Lincoln. So for Trump, winning over Black people, or at least high profile Black rappers, is a key tactic for boosting his own ego and reputation.
Trump lives a 90's rap lifestyle
There’s a reason why so many rappers used to reference Trump.
He was the go-to not just for extreme wealth, but for flashy, conspicuous consumption. Long before Trinidad James, Trump lived an “All Gold Everything” lifestyle. He even redecorated the Oval Office in his favorite color. He also put his name on everything – buildings, steaks, fake universities, you name it. Trump has branded his whole corporate empire like he was DJ Khaled shouting his name over the beginning of all his tracks.
In short, Trump's whole life has essentially been a late 90's rap video. He relates to the conspicuous consumption lifestyle rap fantasy and uses that to relate to people who promote that fantasy, i.e. 50 "Get Rich or Die Tryin'" Cent and Lil' "Young Money" Wayne. Trump is even calling his economic plan for Black America, The Platinum Plan!
Trump is basically Nino Brown
Like the fictional New Jack City drug dealer, Trump makes his living off of exploiting his own community and then handing out favors the way Nino handed out turkey on Thanksgiving to some people in order to create some goodwill.
Think of the way that Trump treats his own supporters, putting them in financial or even physical harm's way for his own gain. He refuses to promote mask-wearing and social distancing so that he can hold big rallies and White House events that make him look good, even when these events end up spreading COVID-19 or leaving his supporters stranded in the cold or fainting in the heat.
Or, to take a less dramatic policy area, Trump started a trade war that fit with his "tough on China" rhetoric but has severely hurt farmers across the country. But rather than make a deal that would fix this situation, he instead has used taxpayer money to pay farmers billions of dollars in subsidies, which experts and farmers warn is a temporary fix at best. And he makes sure that red states get more of the money even as blue states pay for much of the program.
This strategy can work for a long time. Real-life drug kingpin Pablo Escobar was a hero to many in his community of Medellín, Colombia, giving money to poor people and building schools, hospitals and even churches. Escobar even wanted to run for President of Colombia. To a number of our rappers, who often touted fictional characters like Nino Brown or actual drug lords like Escobar as role models, Trump’s style likely seems familiar and appealing.
Trump rules as a "Big Man"
Trump's model for politics, and life, is to be the richest and most powerful man in the room and to personally hand down favors to semi-powerful people – as long as they're not as powerful as him. He builds personal relationships, with people who can then hand some of that on down to the people below them, and so on. In exchange, these people are expected to return the favor at some point.
In many parts of Africa, this phenomenon is known as that of being the "Big Man." But you see it in many contexts: the Godfather figure in the mafia, the political puppeteer in film and TV who makes decisions in a smoke-filled back room or Reagan-style "trickle down economics" that argues for giving more to the wealthy and letting them take care of everyone else.
Let's look at how Trump has approached his own government. He often brags about filling more federal judge positions than any president in recent history. And he's filled these positions with people who fit his ideology and who know that they personally owe their position to him; in many cases he's chosen people considered unqualified for their new positions. And it's not an exaggeration to say that, like Don Corleone, Trump might come ask for a favor from his judges. He's basically said that he expects new Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett to help his side if there is a dispute over the current election.
Meanwhile, he's ignored the State Department — a branch of the government staffed by people who are expected to be nonpartisan but who perform very important work around the world — simply neglecting to fill many of the open positions in that department. Filling these diplomatic jobs wouldn't bring the same "favor for a favor" expectations, and so he's just not bothered to fill these slots.
This "Big Man" approach is why Trump believes that it's best to reach out to rich and well-known Black celebrities, as opposed to say Black economists and intellectuals, as the major part of his outreach. The rappers who get to visit the Oval Office or Trump Tower can claim to have a relationship with the billionaire President of the United States is a measure of clout and status and all they have to do in return is to "do a service" for the president by promoting him to their fans.
Trump doesn't know any other Black people
Do we really think Trump knows any Black people other than the folks he sees on TV?
He and his inner circle aren't connected to Black America like that – no, continually name dropping Tim Scott doesn’t count – so their familiarity with Black people comes from famous folks like rappers, athletes and actors who they assume must represent the Black community. Here’s a real quote from Donald Trump Jr. from 2018 on why his dad isn't racist:
"I see, I know him [the president], I’ve seen him my whole life. I've seen the things he’s done. You know it’s amazing — all the rappers, all his African-American friends, from Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton, have pictures with him."
Since both Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have made it very clear in recent years that they are no longer fans of Donald Trump, he’s left with “all the rappers” to prove his connection to Black people. But while Kanye, Cube, 50 and Wayne might make a good line-up for Summer Jam once we get COVID-19 under control, they don’t speak for the community as a whole.
For most Black Americans, it’s the words of another famous rapper that represent Black folks’ response to Trump’s hip hop outreach: “we don’t believe you, you need more people.”
And by “more people," we didn’t mean Lil’ Wayne.
Tha Carter III was still pretty good, though.