Obama's iPod Anthem


"I decided, you are the him for me."


Back in the day, KRS-One penned "Jack of Spades" for Keenan Ivory Wayans' 'hood Robin Hood in the blaxploitation send-up I'm Gonna Git You Sucka because, "every hero should have his own theme music."


We probably won't see a reconstituted BDP performing "My Philosophy" behind Sen. Barack Obama as he walks onto Invesco Field. But I think we have a proper theme song to play as he takes the stage. Apologies to the very respectable selections of Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi, who will reportedly be in the house to perform before and after Obama's convention speech, from here on in. But, I highly recommend that Obama makes all his entrances to the sounds of Solange Knowles' "I Decided."

The song, which spent most of the summer on top of the charts, has a Motown-feel appeal (digitally updated for 2008 by The Neptunes). It is a certified toe-tapper that sonically transports the listener to a grainy black and white TV era in American history. It's a sentimental sound that almost anyone would have a hard time resisting. Once you see the video and check the lyrics, it makes you wonder if the song was specifically commissioned by Team Obama way back when they were focus-group testing his "change you can believe in" theme. While it doesn't have the pure, "one-world" joy of Coco Tea's "Barack Obama" reggae jam or the pathos of Will.i.am's viral sensations, "Yes We Can" and "We Are the Ones," "I Decided" seems to capture, however unintentionally, the narrative of Obama in 2008.

Although it's sung by a woman to her beloved, "I Decided" wants to sound like a four-minute ode to Barack—clearly the man of the year (win or lose). "First you took me around/Introduced me to your family and friends" is a short, sweet synopsis of the past eight months and "How's it feel to win it?/When ain't no mountains you can't move" is a bit of a prophecy that, as we stand now, probably has a 50-50 chance of coming true.

It's been reported that Obama recently signed reverse-crossover, barefoot U.K. soulstress Joss Stone to eventually do a theme song for the campaign, and if past performance is an indication, then she's probably a pretty good choice. Stone has a penchant for the brothers, shares beauty secrets with Beyoncé and has the look and feel to reinforce the vibe of Obama's 21st century profile. But there's something compelling about Solange's tune—she's a single mom and a nearly-forgotten, Southern belle/debutante-turned pop iconoclast who evokes the heart of the Obama candidacy.


Apart from the pleasant irony invoked by the images of Solange, channeling big sister Beyoncé, channeling Diana Ross, the "I Decided" video features a pop-art-styled pastiche of touchstone visuals from the postwar and Civil Rights Eras—allied bombers over Dresden, protests in Selma and Soweto, the Audubon Ballroom, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, flower children, Black Panthers, "Berlin Wall Crumbles" and Keith Haring's "Crack is Wack" mural in Harlem.

The imagery takes a turn toward the sublime when Solange and her backup singers duck a blast (in time with the beat) from one of Bull Connor's fire hoses just as it's being turned loose on a civil rights marcher. And at the very end of the song, the visuals turn to the future: Solange and her clean-cut paramour walking on a moon-like surface as if to say that the stress and strain of the past century will one day soon be put behind us—either that or she just wants you to know that black love will survive in outer space.


"I Decided" subconsciously brings home the increasingly not-so-subtle point that while Obama is not, per se, a "black leader," his emergence represents a page turning or a software upgrade (choose your own metaphor) of the traditional civil rights black leadership model. The song blends a soundtrack of memories with the present-tense reality that black youth culture has become synonymous with popular culture, that a black man is the current emblem-in-waiting of the putative limitlessness of the American dream, and that whether or not Obama wins the election, something is happening here, whether or not the older guard has fully embraced that shift.

Ironically, there's a symmetry between "I Decided" and Fleetwood Mac's "Don't Stop" ("…thinking about tomorrow…")—the Clintons' 1992 campaign anthem from a bygone moment in time that called on Americans to look back in order to look ahead. After the "W" era, looking back in order to look forward is a necessary strategy for young Americans. As Solange sings "They were too cool to run my race/You kept the pace with a smile on your face," she might as well be Stevie Nicks crooning, "All I want is to see you smile/If it takes just a little while." The subtext is evident: The younger generation is asserting itself, striving to honor the struggles of their parents and grandparents, but moving beyond their worldview.


As Obama steps out in Denver with his pitch-perfect trio of backup singers—Michelle, Malia and Sasha—he needs a sound that symbolizes his artful straddling between the "greatest generation" of African Americans and the maturing hip-hop generation. The Obama campaign hasn't called to ask what's playing on my iPod, but I've decided Solange will be playing in my head, regardless of what is playing for the crowd when Obama takes the stage.

David Swerdlick is a contributor to PopMatters and a former contributor to Creative Loafing. His writing has appeared in EbonyJet, AlterNet and The American Prospect.


David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter

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