Jay-Z's rap struck a chord because America is ready to drop the Cuba embargo. Let's hope President Obama is listening
"Hip-hop is the CNN of the ghetto." It was Chuck D of old school hip-hop group Public Enemy who first said these words. Yet Jay-Z the family man has proven that this saying is still true and has re-established his iconoclastic rep with his fans. Did Jay-Z and his wife Beyonce visit Cuba legally? Does it even matter when his response to the controversy, a rapidly produced song called Open Letter, is trending on Twitter and forced a response from the White House due to some of its lyrics?
Jay-Z's new rap is already in heavy rotation on pop and hip-hop radio stations across America. But you may be wondering why the voice of the Jigga is so influential here in the US. Jay-Z is not just an artist, he's well-known as a major mogul, a cultural trend-setter and as a high profile mega-donor and friend to President Obama and his family.
The lyrics in Open Letter referring to "boy from the hood but got White House clearance" could refer to either his trip to Cuba or to his famous visit to the White House situation room a couple of years ago. The Cuba trip has attracted the attention of Cuban-American conservative lawmakers who asked the Treasury Department to confirm the legality of the trip. The White House has said that the president, a known fan of Jay-Z's music, did not coordinate with Jay-Z or Beyonce on the trip. That may be true, yet once again, the far right is out of step even with their own constituents. The president's policies on Cuba are closer to those that Americans, even Cuban Americans, prefer. It seems more likely that Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Republican from the Miami, Florida area, is using public criticism of Jay-Z's trip for media attention.
Polls over the last few years consistently show that Cuban Americans (and Americans generally) think the US travel embargo is out of date. The most recent Florida International University poll revealed: a majority (57%) favors lifting all restrictions on travel, 60% oppose restrictions on family travel, and 57% even support re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba. Oh, and a whopping 80% of respondents believe that the embargo has "not worked very well" or "not worked at all".
In fact, Cuban-American support for the trade embargo in general has been dramatically decreasing over time, especially among younger people. President Obama's administration has eased restrictions on family travel to Cuba and instituted a "people-to-people" travel program intended to facilitate cultural exchange. These programs have been popular – hundreds of thousands of Americans have visited Cuba since the new rules were put in place. Only Canada sends more people to Cuba, and given that Canada and Mexico are two of the most popular illegal entryways for Americans to go to Cuba, it's clear that there is room for trade and travel growth among Americans.
Cuba is the only country in the world that Americans are restricted from visiting. If you can get a visa, the US government allows you to go anywhere else in the world, even places like Syria, Iran or North Korea. When Hov (another moniker for Jay-Z – short for Jehovah) says in Open Letter:
"I'm in Cuba, I love Cubans. This communist talk is so confusing. When it's from China, the very mic that I'm using"
This resonates with younger people who see a policy that is out of step and hypocritical given our close trade and diplomatic relationship with China, the largest communist country in the world.
Sanctions can work – the former economic isolation of South Africa toward the end of apartheid the current tensions with North Korea are proof. But they only work when many nations come together in agreement to apply economic pressure. We would influence Cuba's internal environment more rapidly if we normalized all relations, just as we did with countries like China and Vietnam. A popular lyric from "Open Letter" that's quoted says:
"Obama said 'chill, you gonna get me impeached.' But you don't need this sh*t anyway. Chill with me on the beach."
It's a soft pushback not just on Congress, but on Obama, the fair weather friend in the White House. Americans admire someone who is bold enough to stand up to the leader of the free world – and invite him to relax the beach.
On Twitter, there's nothing but applause for Jay-Z's new recording. Here's a few examples:
— Samantha Kristine (@sam___e) April 12, 2013
Im trying to chill w Obama n Jay up on the Beach #OpenLetter
— May 28th (L.M.B.Y.B) (@CD_Watkinz) April 12, 2013
i like what HOVs chattin bout, on #OpenLetter.
— lily huntley (@lilyhuntley1) April 12, 2013
Yall would be suprise at the amount of americans that goes to cuba every year.....BUT WHEN BEY AND JAY DO IT.. ITS A PROBLEM? #OpenLetter
— JessecaChan (@Jesse_hov) April 12, 2013
Twitter leans young, and is heavily used among Latinos and blacks in America, so it's a bellwether to watch. Ultimately time will tell whether Jay-Z and Beyonce's trip opens the door to a change in policy. As Jay-Z raps, "The world's under new management". The US embargo with Cuba is one of the last cold war walls to fall. Looks like it's ready to topple with the Jigga giving it a musical push.