How Trump Became A "Thug Life" Idol

Rappers held Trump up as a model of masculinity.
07/09/2017 12:05 pm ET Updated Jul 11, 2017

America has elected, to the highest office in the land, a man who seems to personify the thug life. This is a man—Mr. Donald J. Trump—who is enamored with celebrity, embraces a bombastic style of politics, and has no limits when it comes to the objectification of women. Trump has made a series of disparaging, at times violent, comments towards women. Some of the women he has directly targeted include comedian Rosie O’Donnell, Entertainment Tonight host Nancy O’Dell, news personality Megyn Kelly, former Miss Universe Alicia Machado, and MSNBC co-host of “Morning Joe” Mika Brzezinski among others.

Trump has been criticized by noted writers, pundits, and journalists for his behavior. Historian Jon Meacham, on the Friday June 30, 2017 edition of “Morning Joe,” said that Trump is one of the most “fearful men” in public life “who has not been made larger” by occupying the office of the presidency, while media mogul Donny Deutsch, on this same episode of “Morning Joe,” described Trump as a “vulgar pig” who is “physically disgusting.” Famed Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein has recently defined the Trump presidency as “malignant.” Charles M. Blow, op-ed columnist for the New York Times, has stated that, “Trump is Trump, and that is now and has always been trashy.” These comments seem to suggest that Trump’s style parallels the thug life.

Thug life, as a concept, was made popular in rap music and the hip hop lifestyle with the rise of Gangsta Rap in the 1990s. Gangsta Rap is a subgenre of hip hop music that highlights the gangster way of life as ideal. Thug life, as represented in the lyrics of some of the most popular artists of this era, is about getting paid (making money), womanizing, battling, bosting, celebrity, and violence. Sexism, crass consumerism, and the glorification of violence as a masculine trait (hypermasculinity) are some of the themes of Gangsta Rap in its crudest form. That said, Trump was once wholeheartedly embraced by rap artists because he exemplified the thug lifestyle so well. As a New York real estate mogul, he “got paid,” continuously bragged about his wealth, while frequently battling adversaries in the courts, and the newspapers. Trump’s exploits with his ex-wives and significant others have been well documented in the tabloids.

America’s obsession with celebrity is a part of what catapulted Trump to the office of the presidency. His status as a television icon ensured him instant name recognition, and many Trump supporters are self-identified fans of the “The Apprentice.” Trump has been a fixture in popular culture for decades by way of television and rap music. Comedian Mike Yard contends that Trump “pulls gangsta moves” as the “50 cent of the Republican Party.”

There are more than 65 rap songs that glorify celebrity, getting paid, while holding the Donald up as a man to emulate for his wealth and power. Some of the earliest songs about Trump, or make reference to Trump, include “I Gotta Say What Up” by Ice Cube, “Rolling Hard, Stackin’ Paper like Trump,” by Scarface, “Pocket Full of Stones,” by UGK, and “Pimps” by The Coup.

These 1990s songs tend to emphasize Trump’s wealth and thuggish behavior with many artists going as far as to define themselves as “the black Trump” for their ability to make money and “get paid.” Raekwon in his song “Incarcerated Scarface,” states “guess who’s the black Trump?” while Ice Cube in his song, “Three Strikes You In” states, “I am just tryin’ to get rich like Trump.” Cypress Hill’s 2001 song “Can I Live” laments, “We tryna get money so we can be livin’ like Trump.”

Rappers held Trump up as a model of masculinity in a capitalist materialist culture that often reveals its contempt for women through the popular imagination. Trump-populism, in many respects, reflects a society that is fixated with celebrity and male dominance through violence.

An aura of violence has surrounded Trump from his days on the campaign trail, to his latest tweet of a video depicting him mock body-slamming Vince McMahon with the image of CNN superimposed over McMahon’s face. While on the campaign trail in 2016, Trump made multiple statements supportive of violent acts as a way to battle one’s adversaries. In his travels from Kansas City, Missouri, through Dayton, Ohio, and on to Birmingham, Alabama Trump made a series of statements including the following:

After a Trump supporter punched an African American man in the face at a rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Trump went on to state that he would provide assistance to help defend those committing acts of violence against anyone protesting at his rallies. This is the age of narcissism and Trump is its greatest caricature.

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