I would like to say I am shocked by Ben Carson’s political radio ad in which he uses Hip Hop music to court Black voters. However, it is Ben Carson, a man who thinks the pyramids were a big silo for Jesus’ wild oats. Therefore nothing he will ever say and do will ever surprise me.
In fact, the only surprise here is that he didn’t have his wife Candy sing on the hook. That would have been just lovely…
But as some have noted, the ad is pretty ironic and slightly offensive. In particular, Drew Millard, in an article for Vice entitled “Ben Carson’s Rap Radio Ad Is an Embarrassment for Everyone,” wrote:
“It’s a testament to the total cluelessness of the GOP that its politicians have misinterpreted hip-hop’s simultaneous distrust and ironic appropriation of their party as nuggets of support, and somehow decided that they can cultivate that support simply by establishing that they are aware that hip-hop is a thing that people seem to like.”
I agree. But it is not just a Hip-Hop thing.
For instance, Carson’s crazy comrade Herman Cain once used stereotypical language and imagery in a radio ad aimed at getting Black people to vote Republican. More specifically, the 2004 radio ad features the Godfather Pizza founder chastising an unemployed “friend” for cheating on his wife and taking his pregnant “hoes” to get abortions. To which the friend says, “I don’t snuff my own seed.” This pleases Cain who then replies: “well, maybe you do have a reason to vote Republican.”
As clumsy and flat-out distasteful (outside of the obvious anti-abortion ickiness, the attempts at slang alone are enough to make you cringe), the ad is characteristic of how many politicians, of all stripes, use cultural signifiers to specifically appeal to the Black voters. In this instance, Cain was trying to connect his core anti-abortion beliefs to some of the more conservative folks within the African American community.
But in 2010, it was the Democratic National Committee, which used the voices of civil rights leaders of the past in a multi-million dollar advertising campaign directed at Black voters. The series of radio ads, which aired mostly on “urban radio,” shied away from using slang, Hip Hop and other Black culture cues. However “The Struggle” and Martin Luther King Jr.’s name were evoked in order to remind Black people about the sacrifices made to get us the right to vote.
One particular ad featured Civil Rights Leader Rev. Joseph Lowery who offered up his testimony about how he was bitten and beat during the turbulent movement and how those same forces were trying to stop President Obama’s agenda. He concluded his message with, “we owe it to the past. We owe it to the future.”
And in this NPR interview, University of Missouri professor Marvin Overby tells journalist Brian Naylor that generally speaking, politicians like radio because it not only gives them a captive audience (particularly those people stuck in car relying on public radio for their entertainment) but it also gives them a better way to “narrow cast” certain messages without offending the masses. This includes Black voters.
More specifically Overby states:
“They tend to be very program driven, and a lot of that is going to revolve around the music that the station chooses to play, and music tends to track demographics very well. So you don’t have middle-aged white soccer moms listening to the same radio stations as 20-something urban African-Americans.”
The article goes on to cite President Obama’s “We Got Your Back” political ad, which first ran on urban radio stations during his 2012 reelection campaign. In it, President Obama does his talking points over a pseudo-R&B beat while a Take Six-type group harmonizes in the background. The ad concluded with a request that voters go to “GottaVote.org (a now defunct site that redirected voters to President Obama’s main campaign page, which is also defunct)” to learn more about how they can have “the President’s back.”
More recently, Politico reported that last year some Democrats in the South used the shooting deaths of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin in a targeted radio campaign ads as well as mailers and flyers in an effort to connect with and sway Black voters specifically.
So while it is both problematic, and quite funny, that a staunch conservative Republican would appropriate Hip-Hop and other cultural signifiers to appeal to Black voters, he is not alone in this practice.
And if you think that is bad, wait until the campaign season gets into full swing. I guarantee you, they all will be rapping and doing the Nae Nae for us all across our airwaves.