“The change, it had to come/ We knew it all along…” — The Who
I’m working on the mixtape of a lifetime.
This is not, of course, a mixtape in the traditional Hip Hop sense, replete with recycled beats, guest appearances and endless self-aggrandizing promotional drops. My mix is a personal collection of tracks that I’ve chosen to capture the range of emotions I experienced as Barack Obama became our 44th President of the United States.
I should mention that the concept is hardly original. Since the commoditization of President-elect Barack Obama went into full tilt after he launched his presidential campaign in February 2007 — including T-shirts, life-size cardboard cutouts, Obama pajamas and even an action figure — an “official” Barack Obama mixtape would, of course, logically follow. However, it seems as though everyone’s mixtape is the official one, including sets by DJ Premier, Z-Trip and DJ Green Lantern (whose Yes We Can Mixtape is likely the most widely known of the collections).
Alongside the DJ-mixed offerings, scores of bloggers have documented the track listings heard at Obama-Biden rallies throughout the campaign season. While most of the tracks were fairly predictable Soul and Pop standards — Earth Wind and Fire’s “Shining Star” and McFadden and Whitehead’s “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” are examples — the selections were hardly edgy or risky. After all, the man was trying to get elected to the highest office in the land.
What distinguishes my mixtape from the rest, however, is that my tracklisting is still a work-inprogress and subject to, well, change. Like most Americans with a vested interest in the future of this country, I plan to hold our new president accountable and I expect my track listing to change over time, for better or worse. But I have high hopes. It’s difficult to know how this mixtape will end but it’s certainly off to a promising start. So far, it goes a little something like this:
1. “A Change Is Gonna Come” – Sam Cooke (1964). There’s little more that I could say outside of the fact that I’d be remiss to not begin my mix with Cooke’s somber yet hopeful Civil Rights-era anthem.
(See Steven Rosen’s “Climate Change” in CityBeat’s Year in Film and Music issue for more about the song and the artist.)
2. “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved” – James Brown (1971). This heavily-sampled single underscores the historical significance of the now-legendary ground game that propelled Obama to the forefront. So you didn’t make it out on Election Day to vote for your candidate? When the hardest working man in show business screams, “Don’t raise your hand, doing nothing,” he was talking about you.
3. “Fight the Power” – The Isley Brothers (1975). I struggled between including this powerful, up-tempo single and another track with the same title by my favorite political Hip Hop group (see No. 8 below). Even as Obama tried to “roll with the punches and got knocked on the ground,” he and his team defeated the impenetrable Clinton Machine and later the far, far right wing opposition. Take that, Sean Hannity!
4. “Sly Fox” – NaS (2008). On this single from his untitled LP, Nasir Jones puts the Rupert Murdock-owned network and inventor of the “terrorist fist bump” on full blast as he pledges allegiance to “the fair and balanced truth, not the biased truth.”
5. “The World Is Ours” – Black Ice (2006). With producer K-Salaam behind the boards, the Philly-based slam poet asks, “What if I graciously accepted the responsibility bestowed on me by the Most High?” alluding to the belief that sometimes our destinies are chosen for us. How many of us are up to the task?
6. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” – The Who (1971). I can’t help but be moved by Pete Townsend’s classic, haunting synth intro and the underlying relevance of this track to today’s political climate. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that the new boss does not, in fact, become just like the old one. Fool me once, shame on you …
7. “The People” – Common (2007). I’ve got to give props to Obama’s fellow Chicagoan for shouting him out (“My raps ignite the people like Obama”) long before it was fashionable to do so. Com set the tone for a string of Obama-inspired lyrics in the months to follow.
8. “Don’t Believe the Hype” – Public Enemy (1988). I’m not sure where to begin with this one (or should I say, that one?). What started with claims of elitism and uppitiness escalated to accusations of Marxism and domestic terrorism. While Chuck D. and company ultimately built a 20-year career out of being “the epitome of public enemy,” the song also takes jabs at the media for fueling rumors and innuendo. False media — we don’t need it, do we?
9. “Picture Me Rollin’” – 2Pac (1996). Perhaps a bit too profane for a mixtape associated with the squeaky clean President-elect, this single perfectly captures the immediate post-election swagger that hardcore Obama supporters felt as we drove past minivans with the recently-obsolete “I’m Voting for Joe the Plumber” stickers plastered to the rear windows.
10. “Cash In Your Face” – Stevie Wonder (1980). Finally, while it was tempting to conclude my track listing with Stevie’s now-ubiquitous “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours,” I opted for this more obscure, message-heavy reminder of how far we’ve come and how much work is yet to be done.
Now, the only thing my mixtape is missing is a catchy, original title. Not surprisingly, all of the change- and hope-related titles were taken.
So I think I’ll go with a title that speaks directly to Obama’s supporters as well as skeptics, critics and political foes. I’ll call it the Now You Know What a Community Organizer Does Mixtape.