Monday, November 10, 2008

Thom Yorke, Jay-Z,, Common, Q-Tip, Nas, Young Jeezy, and more: Various Obama Tributes

(swiped from Pitchfork Media)

We told you about the songs that came out supporting President-elect Barack Obama and, to an admittedly lesser extent, Sen. John McCain in the months before last Tuesday's election (man, was that really only a week ago?). In the days immediately ahead of the vote, other musicians continued to send in their ballots, including Usher, who put out a pro-Obama video just a couple of days before the polls closed. While I hope people can focus on Obama potentially becoming "the first recent successful president"-- as left-leaning media critic Bob Somerby recently put it-- rather than making him bear the weight of his racial identity in a way white presidents don't, I have to say my favorite musical tribute so far has come in the form of 14 versions of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" posted by WFMU.

Since Obama's Nov. 4 victory, plenty of musicians have celebrated the win their own way. Here are some of the more noteworthy tracks, good and bad, red-eyed and blue:

Brother Ali: "Mr. President, You're the Man"
After the closely contested elections of the past decade, surprise was bound to be among the complicated mix of emotions reigning Tuesday night, poll numbers be damned. "He won, man," Brother Ali begins on Marvin Gaye-sampling celebratory song "Mr. President, You're the Man". Handclaps, funky guitars, and Gaye's soulful falsetto counter Ali's giddily forceful delivery: "I got to pinch myself/ I can't believe it." (via 2dopeboyz)

Common: "Changes"
Chicago's own Common was one of the first rappers to mention Obama, on Finding Forever's "The People". A laid-back bass groove and light, Sunday-afternoon horns back wide-eyed rhymes on Common's Obama tribute, "Changes". Slinky keyboards and some vaguely trippy breakdowns make it easy on the ears, even if you never needed to hear Common whistle. Before an excerpt from one of Obama's most famous speeches comes the voice of a child: "Change is inevitable... Change was Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, Shakespeare, Assata Shakur, Barack Obama-- and you can't forget Common."

Dead Milkmen: "Bitchin' Camaro (Obama Intro)" part 2)
Much-loved banana peel smokers Dead Milkmen seized Obama's victory not as something to stop and memorialize but as an inspirational call to action going forward. Over the punkish 1985 original's familiar walking bass line, singer and guitarist Joe Genaro exhorts: "If the black guy with the Arab name can become president, there's nothing you motherfuckers can't do." Then they tear through a mosh-worthy version of the song at Austin's Fun Fun Fun Fest. (via BrooklynVegan)

Jay-Z [ft. Tony Williams]: "We Made History"
Self-referentially lighter-ready stadium anthem that again makes me think of Chicago. This time not so much the city as the Peter Cetera power ballads. Jay-Z manages to support the bombast with some fairly strong verses that bring the political down to a personal level. Kanye West produced and you can find it at his blog.

Nas: "Election Night"
"What's a black president thinking on Election Night?" asked Nas on "Black President", from his most recent, untitled album. He and DJ Green Lantern revisit that question on an Election Night track entitled, ahem, "Election Night". The lyrics are strikingly up-to-date, like in that latest "South Park" episode, even mentioning Obama's late grandmother. The military-style drums and zipping electronics make for a decent backdrop, too, but as both such a campaign-specific song and something of a sequel, it's unlikely this one's going to have much shelf value.

Punchline: "What a Wonderful World" (Louis Armstrong cover)
Pittsburgh band Punchline's Obama-inspired punk-pop cover of "What a Wonderful World" is every bit as heinous as that description might imply (in other words, they're not that Hawaiian dude). And what's with the psychedelic spoken-word section? I guess it's the thought that counts, though, and it's a good time to remember that songwriters Bob Thiele and George David Weiss wrote the original for Louis Armstrong with an eye toward transcending racial and political division. (via Punknews)

Q-Tip: "Shaka"
Q-Tip's impressive return album, The Renaissance, came out on Election Day, and its song "Shaka" featured an unusual guest star (at least for an officially sanctioned release): Obama himself. Q-Tip's slippery flow darts amid the jazzy, discordant guitars, sounding a serious note of his own. Also check out DJ Scratch's recent remix of The Renaissance's "Gettin' Up", featuring previous Q-Tip collaborator Busta Rhymes.

Thom Yorke: "Tchk Harrowdown Jump Rmx"
This one really doesn't have anything to do with Obama's victory, except Yorke dedicated its Nov. 5 release, in part, to "the dawn of a new era in politics in the USA." "It's a New Day", the Black-Eyed Pea member behind the much-viewed "Yes I Can" video, stays heavy-handed on the optimistic, rock-based "It's a New Day". "Gotta manifest that dream," he says, in front of video footage from Obama's victory, shots of driving, and plenty of images of people celebrating. (via XXL)

Ya Boy: "I've Got the Power"
Aside from an Obama speech snippet at the beginning and a somewhat-stale "I'm the rap Obama" line in the chorus, San Francisco rapper Ya Boy's organ-surging "I've Got the Power" is relatively perfunctory I'm rich/great/etc. boasting, without the necessary wit. Mostly posting this for the vintage Snap! sample. You know what I'm talking about. (via Nah Right)

Young Jeezy [ft. Nas]: "My President" (Live on "Last Call With Carson Daly")
Looks like those e-mails to Jesus paid off for Young Jeezy. He and Nas appeared on Carson Daly's show the night before the election, but their performance hit the blogs big-time on Nov. 5. Those celebratory synths and Jeezy's largely apolitical non sequiturs sound just about right in this new political climate (this whole Depression thing makes a blue Lambo sound even better, too, particularly now that the city has towed my wife's decades-old Civic). Plus, Nas's verse is far more aware of its flashy surroundings than I gave him credit for in our previous campaign songs feature: "She ain't a politician/ Honey's a pole-itician." Heheh, Beavis. (via Nah Right)

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