From conservative hip-hop to white power rock: Right-wing politics inspires some miserable music
While hip-hop is perfectly capable of conservatism, successful relationships between rappers and right-wing politics generally take a rather different form
Last month, Mark Seymour instructed the anti-Muslim group Reclaim Australia to cease playing the Hunters and Collectors song Holy Grail at its rallies.
“We stand together with refugees and asylum seekers the world over,” he wrote. ‘We are opposed to bigotry, race hate and fascism. Reclaim Australia has no place in Australian Society.”
Seymour’s comments followed similar remarks from Jimmy Barnes , Midnight Oil, Shane Howard and John Farnham – interventions that left the Reclaimers, by necessity, musically reliant on their own supporters. Thus, at the Adelaide Reclaim Australia event, anti-Islam protesters were treated to a performance from a hip-hop artist calling himself Aussie Digger.
It was quite something.
Aussie Digger threw down his rhymes on a stage already occupied by a man wearing a pink onesie and another flag-waving fellow dressed as a giant jar of vegemite. “Our Aussie hangover cure is – wait for it,” rapped the Digger. “Egg and bacon sandwiches/I don’t think there’s any chance of changing it/ So believe it mate you can love it or leave it”.
“The low-fi recordings,” wrote New Matilda’s clearly shellshocked Max Chalmer . “The old people in the crowd trying not to look too perplexed. The growing distance between the rapper and his beat.”
White conservative rap is, of course, a reliably woeful genre, both in its Australian and US manifestations.
Stylistically, Aussie Digger bears more than a passing resemblance to the artist known as Juk , whose track Time for Truth celebrates Ted Cruz, the Republican presidential hopeful who recently distinguished himself by promising to nuke the Middle East .
The clip accompanying Juk’s Time for Truth features the rapper gyrating awkwardly next to two accomplices dressed, not as jars of Vegemite, but as Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton.
“Are you fed up with the excuses?” demands a smirking Juk. “Ted Cruz has got your back/Standing for America on marriage and Super Pacs.”
Likewise, in his song Patriotic People, the Tea Party rapper Hi Caliber , boasts of being “the only MC to ever rock Capitol Hill”, a feat that seems less impressive when you realise this so-called “rocking” almost certainly happened during a rally of angry retirees, some of whom were probably wearing wigs and tricorn hats .
While hip-hop is perfectly capable of conservatism, successful relationships between rappers and rightwing politics generally take a rather different form.
For example, in 2011, Donald Trump, the current Republican forerunner, was ostentatiously namechecked on a track by Pittsburgh artist Mac Miller .
Miller cited Trump, not because of his attitude to Obamacare or sharia law, but because the real-estate mogul’s conspicuous consumption exemplified the “bitches and riches” lifestyle to which Mac himself aspires. As the song explained: “Take over the world when I’m on my Donald Trump shit/Look at all this money, ain’t that some shit?”
Miller was, in fact, more about the shit than The Donald, which explains why he later developed second thoughts about their connection.
“When [Trump] started running for president,” Miller said in 2013, “I was like, ah, fuck, this is horrible: I have a fucking song with this dude’s name, and now he’s being such a fucking douchebag.”
In 2006, the influential American magazine National Review compiled a list of “the 50 greatest conservative rock songs” in an article that inadvertently highlighted the right’s broader problem with popular music.
“On first glance,” wrote John J Miller, “Rock’n’roll music isn’t very conservative. It doesn’t fare much better on second or third glance (or listen), either.”
The tracks he shoehorned into his rightwing mixtape ( Janie’s Got a Gun by Aerosmith on the basis it explained “how the right to bear arms can protect women from sexual predators”; Wouldn’t It Be Nice by the Beach Boys because of its “pro-abstinence and pro-marriage” message; and so on) illustrate the musical difficulties facing most Republican candidates, who ostentatiously embrace the family values for which pop is traditionally blamed for eroding.
Hence, during the administration of George W Bush, the attorney general, John Ashcroft, pioneered the genre that we might call “Tea Party schmaltz”.
Ashcroft, a conservative Christian, wasn’t so much sworn into office as anointed (on his own insistence) with cooking oil. He once covered a bare-breasted statue of justice with a curtain; he supposedly believes that tabby cats are “signs of the devil”. And, when he wasn’t introducing draconian assaults on civil liberties , he liked to sing.
In this clip, for instance, he belts out a self-penned number called Let the Eagle Soar, a song that, like Justin Tranchita’s tune, This is America , consists entirely of platitudes and patriotic cliches.
If Ashcroft earned a reputation for singing earnestly about nothing, Herman Cain, a Republican contender in the 2012 election, took the genre of impassioned meaninglessness to a whole new level.
During one preselection debate , Cain adopted an uncharacteristically serious note, explaining to the audience: “A poet once said, ‘Life can be a challenge, life can seem impossible, but it’s never easy when there’s so much on the line.’”
Internet sleuths searching for this “poet” discovered that Cain was unwittingly quoting the theme song from the Pokémon movie.
That revelation left Cain, however, entirely unabashed. For the rest of his campaign, he continued to cite the tune, thereby proving that syrupy inanities were equally palatable for Tea Party radicals irrespective of whether they lauded the United States or praised the achievements of imaginary monsters.
What does all this mean for Reclaim Australia?
As the rock stars withdrew their support, the United Patriots Front posted a link to a grandly titled Reclaim Australia Anthem . The anthem is more competently performed than Aussie Diggers’s raps, though it distinguishes itself from a subsequent parody The Cronulla Tribute Song by the True Australian Patriots mostly because of the peculiar yodelling that accompanies its first few bars.
If that doesn’t catch on, perhaps Reclaim can call upon the UPF’s former leader Shermon Burgess to step up to the mic. In his spare time, Burgess fronts a charming band called Eureka Brigade, where he warbles away on tracks such as Shit On A Mosque (It’s What We Do) .
Mark Seymour he ain’t but at least you know what you’re getting.
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