My Top 20 Songs of 2012 #13: Killer Mike – ‘Reagan’

killer mike

Killer Mike’s ‘Reagan’ was one of the most talked about hip-hop records of the year. It was talked about, not so much because of the rage of the kiss-off line (“I’m glad Reagan’s dead”), but for the lines that dealt with Killer Mike’s apathetic feelings towards Obama. In the chorus of the song, Obama is lumped in with the Reagan, Bush Sr., Bush Jr. and Clinton as “just another talking head telling lies on teleprompters”. It sparked heated debate as to why a large proportion of the hip-hop community had turned its back on Obama.

The joy over Obama’s victory in 2008 had evaporated amongst a large number of voters. They weren’t going to vote Republican, but they were disappointed in the lack of change under Obama. Whilst the Tea Party turned right-wing America back towards an even more severe version of free-market economic theory than before (the very same theory, which brought about much of the deregulation that caused the crash), there was another group of less well-organised Americans who began to see the bank bailouts and (whether rightly or wrongly) the invasion of Libya as a mere continuation of the free-market, neo-liberal policies of George W. Bush. Unfortunately, the Occupy movement has several factors that disadvantage it in comparison to the Tea Party: first, it doesn’t have an obvious solution to the problems, possibly because of the political diversity within the movement and the complexity of the problem (contrast that with the Tea Party, who have stoked up public discontentment with the bank bailouts, but see the problem as a simple one: big government – not an unrepentant, deregulated Wall Street and the close relationships of both Democrats and Republicans with Wall Street); secondly, Occupy will never have the Tea Party’s level of funding, as there are no progressive versions of the Koch Brothers; which billionaire wants to fund a group that might decrease their wealth?*

Anyway, back to the track. Some of the lyrics do occasionally veer gratingly towards conspiracy theory, but it would be unfair not to pretend that there wasn’t a genuine acuity amidst the rage. Sonically, the song was not the best on the album (‘R.A.P. Music’ was, for me, the stand-out track), but the odd combination of laidback former-Outkast member Killer Mike and underground producer EL-P, known for his aggressive sound, was still pretty irresistible.

The most effective and articulate section of the song dealt with the war on drugs and the imprisonment of black youth in America: “They declared the war on drugs, like the war on terror/What they really did was let the police terrorise whoever…But thanks to Reagonomics prison turned to profit/Cos free-labour’s the cornerstone of US economics/Slavery was abolished, unless you are imprisoned/If you think I am bullshitting, then read the 13th amendment.”

If you think this is mere conspiracy theory, then consider the fact that until the Fair Sentencing Act of 2010, sentences for crack cocaine were 100 times harsher than those for cocaine. It was a law that disproportionately affected African-Americans. The Supreme Court looked at the disparity between the sentences, decided that they were not only unfair but scientifically wrong, and reduced the sentences involving crack cocaine… to 18 times that for cocaine. To put this into context, black men serve, on average, 58.7 months in prison for non-violent drug offences (mostly involving crack-cocaine), where as white men serve, on average, 61.7 months in prison for violent crimes. Still sound like conspiracy theory?

As of the latest figures there are now more African-American men in prison (including those on probation or on parole) in the USA than were in slavery in 1850. Even if you are not found guilty, arrest can be enough to thwart your chances of getting a job or housing, due to the checking process in many states. On top of this, in many states, felons lose the right to vote forever, locking many out of the political system for life. As a generalisation there are two possible reasons for these figures. Either you believe in the scientifically unfounded theory that black people are genetically predisposed to crime (i.e. you are a racist), or you believe that there must be economic and societal factors behind these figures. I won’t go into any of these factors here, as they are for cleverer, less partisan and better informed writers than this idiot. However, the simple fact that since 2008 the wealth of the super-rich has increased, whilst real wages continued to fall, might begin to shine a light on why some became apathetic towards Barack Obama.

In amidst the joy of Obama’s re-election and the sigh of relief that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan had been kept away from the Whitehouse, it was sobering to reflect on the changes Obama didn’t make.



*for a fascinating, often depressing, but thoroughly entertaining overview of this problem (albeit one that is outdated and – in its final chapters – perhaps a little doom-mongering, given that Romney didn’t win) I highly recommend Thomas Frank’s ‘Pity The Billionaire’.

2 Responses to “My Top 20 Songs of 2012 #13: Killer Mike – ‘Reagan’”

  1. thingsithoughttoday Says:

    Heard this track for the first time following the album’s appearance in the Guardian’s very own top albums of 2012 blog.

    I thought that some of the tracks were a bit anodyne, in the lazy use of profanity in lieu of anything interesting to say, but this track was as relentless in its target as those aerial drones that Obama is so keen on using…

    A courageous attack on a divisive figure whose dubious legacy has been clouded by the hagiographic tributes paid since Reagan’s passing.

    • chetantos Says:

      It speaks volumes that it’s such a visceral thrill to even hear artists saying anything political. Makes it even more exciting when they actually might have something resembling a point, which is made with something approximating panache and/or flair. Even more exciting when it sounds good!

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