(The Root) — Having previously shared my thoughts on the first couple’s close association with hip-hop’s first couple, Jay-Z and Beyoncé, I vowed not to address the issue again, since I’m not a fan of treading over the same territory in my writing. But I relented today at the behest of a TV producer. While I didn’t have a lot to say about Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s vacation itinerary, I do have an opinion about the rap legend’s newly released rap on the matter.
On Thursday the gossip site TMZ posted a clip from Jay-Z’s new song, “Open Letter,” in which the rapper rails against the lies of politicians and waxes poetically about Havana, where he and his missus vacationed recently, despite a U.S. travel embargo against the country. (Full disclosure: I’ve also been to Cuba, on a student visa when I was in college, as part of a conference.) Then the world’s greatest rapper drops the boom, saying the following: “Obama said, ‘Chill, you gonna get me impeached … We don’t need this s–t anyway, chill with me on the beach.’ “
Of course every armchair psychologist is having a field day speculating about what the lyric really means. Is he insinuating that the president did something questionable to help greenlight Jay-Z and Beyoncé’s controversial trip to Cuba, which has drawn the ire of conservatives? Or is he referring to something else?
Here’s the definitive answer: It doesn’t matter.
The damage has already been done. While the president should be utilizing his time to defend his newly released budget, yet again his administration is being distracted from the real work it should be doing, by a controversy of his own making — well, his and his wife’s.
When Americans look at Jay-Z and Beyoncé, they see lot of things — beauty, wealth, power. One thing they don’t see, and never will, is presidential. Jay-Z’s crass reaction to this Cuba controversy — which likely would have died down had he not unveiled this tacky response — is a perfect example of why.
Before anyone accuses me of being Little Ms. Killjoy, let me be clear. Jay-Z had a right to release the song. He and his wife even may legally have had the right to go to Cuba, but because of their close association with the first couple, both of them should have been smart enough to know that their choices now reflect on the first couple, and they should behave accordingly — that is, if they actually care about the first couple’s image.
Maybe they don’t.
But at the end of the day, the responsibility for this PR mess belongs to the first couple. All of us are judged in some capacity by the company we keep, and the first couple has chosen to keep close company with a woman whose definition of class can be summarized with the song lyrics “Bow down, bitches,” and a man who is a former drug dealer who thinks that joking about the president’s impeachment is the epitome of good taste.
The president and first lady are adults and have the right to be friends with whomever they want. But they also should be judged accordingly.
It’s not fair that the president and first lady have to worry about being judged for such silly things. It’s also not fair that fried chicken and watermelon are considered African-American food stereotypes. After all, who doesn’t love watermelon? But they are stereotypes, and serving them at Obama’s first state dinner would have been an embarrassing choice for the Obamas and all black Americans.
Their closeness with the Carters is similar. If the Obamas cannot handle such scrutiny, then Barack Obama should not have run for office.
For those wondering if this is something personal against the Carters, let me say this. I was a huge Whitney Houston fan and considered her an incredible beauty and talent. But I also would have considered it poor judgment had the president and first lady taken her into their inner circle once she became known more for her legal woes than her talent.
In simple terms, it would not have been a good look for the first couple.
Neither is their close association with the Carters. After Jay-Z’s recent rap, maybe now they know that.