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Hip-hoppers for Obama

Obama_l

Obama_lPresidential primary season is in full swing at the moment, with a crowded field of candidates from both parties struggling to distinguish themselves from the pack. There’s not too much to say about all of that from a pop-culture junkie’s perspective (at least until former Law & Order star Fred Thompson hits the hustings), except for one crucial question: Who’s got the most rock-star cred? In recent weeks, it’s seemed like Illinois Sen. Barack Obama (pictured) has the most musical supporters, at least, as former Ruff Ryders rapper Jin and a mysterious reggaeton troupe called Amigos de Obama have both released online singles supporting him. So how do their tunes stack up?

The untitled reggaeton number is fine, as far as it goes. Nice piano hook, solid beat… and that’s about it, over and over again for three minutes or so. The lyrics are mostly in Spanish, so I can’t speak to their content, but they sound pretty basic — “Como se dice? Como se llama? Obama! Obama!” — and the anonymous vocalist with the monotonous flow ain’t exactly the next Don Omar. All in all, it plays like an undercooked caricature of the genre. Current reggaeton is full of inventive electronic textures and snappy, varied rhythms; too bad these guys didn’t bother using any of those.

Jin’s “Open Letter 2 Obama”comes with a lot more potential. For one thing, Jin’s not some nobody:He’s a pretty talented guy who once released a fairly well-receivedalbum, ABC, whose lyrics were exclusively in Cantonese. Andhe’s been semi-officially embraced by Obama HQ, who added him as theirtop friend on MySpace when he released his song. “Their campaign istaking a risk [associating with hip-hop],” Jin told MTV News.”They could easily not recognize me at all. Easily. ‘Cause it’s a bigliability.” That’s a fair point given the current spate of rap-bashingin the media. Unfortunately, the real liability of his “Open Letter”isn’t the fact that it’s a hip-hop song — it’s that the song inquestion is thoroughly wack. “The world’s watchin’ him/After the JackAbramoff scandal, he vowed to clean up Washington,” Jin awkwardlyrhymes. Later, he voices his opinion that “God’s son is voting forBarack.” That’s either a disingenuous attempt to bring religion intothe race or a shameless attempt to speak for an infinitely more talented rapper, and I’m not sure which option is more off-putting.

Thankfully, Chicago emcee Common has provided a brief respite fromthe mini-epidemic of mediocre pro-Obama songs: Midway through hisexcellent new Kanye West-produced single, “The People,”Com slips in the line, “My raps ignite the people like Obama.” Indeedthey do — and if Common ever recorded a full song in tribute to thesenator, it just might turn the election in his favor. Until then,Obama might as well be on his own.

What’s your take, PopWatchers? Have I missed any other artistswho’ve recorded songs in support of a candidate? Which dream act do youwish would enter the musical-endorsement field?

Originally posted June 13 2007 — 11:57 PM EDT

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