Twitter is abuzz this morning over a GQ interview with Florida Sentator Marco Rubio. In it, he talks about his relationship with hip-hop.
GQ: Your autobiography also has to be the first time a politician has cited a love of Afrika Bambaataa. Did you have a favorite Afrika Bambaataa song?
Marco Rubio: All the normal ones. People forget how dominant Public Enemy became in the mid 80s. No one talks about how transformative they were. And then that led to the 90s and the sort of East Coast v. West Coast stuff, which is kinda when I came of age. There’s a great documentary on Tupac called Resurrection about the last few years of Tupac’s life and how he transformed. And, ironically, how this East Coast rapper became this West Coast icon, back when all that Death Row/Sean Combs stuff was going on. Hip Hop’s 30 years old now and it’s crossed over and sort of become indistinguishable from pop music in general. You know, many people say Nicki Minaj is a rapper, but she’s also a singer. Kanye’s another guy who’s also a rapper, but his songs aren’t pure rap anymore. There’s also all these collaborations going on, which confuses everything. You know you’ve got the guy from Miami, Pitbull, who’s on TV selling a car and then he’s advertising for Dr. Pepper.
Let’s keep in mind that Rubio was born in Miami in 1971. From age 8 to 11, his family lived in Las Vegas, after which they moved back to Miami.
In his autobiography An American Son, he talks about the influence of having black friends, while he was living in Vegas, during the sixth grade.
I watched Soul Train on Saturday mornings, and became a big Michael Jackson fan. By the end of sixth grade, I had begun enjoying a new kind of music, rap, and I’ve been listening to it ever since. My white friends like hard rock acts — Van Halen, Ozzy Osbourne and others. I didn’t care for that kind of music anymore, and they didn’t care for my preferences, Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash.
In some ways, his timeline is correct. Around 1983, if you were hanging out with young black males, you probably were listening to hip-hop. Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five had popular songs at the time.
But would you really say your favorite Bambaataa songs were “all the normal ones”? Isn’t that very Palinesque? Once you get through “Planet Rock, “Looking for the Perfect Beat,” “Renegades of Funk,” and maybe “World Destruction,” what’s missing?
And Rubio calls Public Enemy influential in the mid Eighties, but their debut album was released in 1987 and it was really their work in 1988 that had the bigger impact. He then draws a line from that to the East v. West battles, which is odd and incorrect. His assessment of rapper-singers is sort of true, but mostly reductionist without laying out the broader context.
It’s also a little odd that he namedrops Pitbull, because Rubio was a teenager and young adult in Miami, which has long had a vibrant hip-hop culture. Did Rubio listen to 2 Live Crew, Trick Daddy or Trina?
In short, I’m not denying Rubio’s love of hip-hop and I don’t fault him for not knowing all the history. But let’s not make too much of this. Anyone who thinks that Eminem is the only rapper “that speaks at any sort of depth” is not really all that into contemporary hip-hop.
P.S. His three favorite hip-hop songs aren’t terrible: “Straight Outta Compton” by N.W.A., “Killuminati” by Tupac and Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.”
P.P.S. After a few minutes thought, I felt I should clarify. I was inspired to write this post because of people joking on Twitter about what rappers Rubio should like to prove his credentials. Is he into Control Machete? Does he like UGK’s song “”International Player’s Anthem”? The fact is, a certain percentage of the population, whatever their political affiliation, will have grown up on hip-hop, depending on where they lived and exactly when they were born. Unless you’re a huge fan of the genre, to the exclusion of other music, the significance of this is probably slight. Did you listen to KRS-One or did you dance to Biggie Smalls in the club? If you’re a 40-year-old Libertarian who digs death metal, that might mean more.
UPDATE: As Jason Linkins notes over at HuffPo, one other element to note is apparently it’s safe for a Republican to express a taste for hip-hop, although when the current resident of the White House does so, a commotion breaks out on the Right.