Lessons from Obama’s 2017 Playlist

Obama's 2017 Playlist, Common

Obama released his top books and songs of 2017 today, and it was awesome. Whatever you think of his presidency, he was/is the coolest.

The playlist isn’t what you’d typically expect to see from a politician, but it’s no surprise coming from Barack Obama. The man always had way more swagger than anyone else who’s held that office.

The songs aren’t all  wholesome or family-friendly. Some of them deal with some heavy topics, some contain a few unsavory words or phrases. Some of them come with parental advisories, but so does our new president, so whatever.

But the release of his playlist was a reminder of the time that he invited the rapper, Common, to the White House, to much ado over nothing.

Some news representatives weren’t too thrilled about the caliber of human being invited to highest house in the United States. They cited some lyrics he wrote in support of a man who was accused of killing a cop.

But really, is Common the worst?

He’s known, universally, generally, as being a socially-conscious and responsible rapper. He’s “woke,” as the kids say these days, and he speaks with a purpose. His raps aren’t about the usual bitches and hoes, or about makin’ it rain and poppin’ bottles at strips clubs. They tend to be more purpose-driven.

And yet, these pundits found something to hate on Common for.

Sure, the issue they raised was a legitimate one, but their criticism of Obama’s choice for a spoken-word artist is indicative of a bigger problem and raises a bigger question.

Is there no such thing as personal or artistic growth?

There is. And just because you support an artist, specifically who they are and what they represent today, doesn’t mean you support everything they’ve ever said ever.

For example, here’s a quote that I think will speak to a lot of people:

“If you haven’t turned rebel by twenty you’ve got no heart; if you haven’t turned establishment by thirty you’ve got no brains!”

Kevin Spacey said that. I love that quote, but it doesn’t mean that I stand behind everything he’s ever said or done.

On a lighter note, Taylor Swift once said,

“At some point, you grow out of being attracted to that flame that burns you over and over and over again.”

I’m not a fan of Taylor Swift. In fact, I really don’t like her, but sure…that quote holds some resonance.

That doesn’t mean I agree with everything – or most – of what Taylor Swift has to say.

Still, even a crazy person can have a sensible thought. Or even someone from the other side of the aisle can have a thought that kind of makes sense within your own realm of reality.

But is that person accountable for the things they may have said several years earlier? Yes, accountability is a thing that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Yes, people need to speak responsibly.

But timelessness…is it as important?

It’s hard to stay timeless when times change so quickly. Even me – I’ve looked at tweets I’ve sent out on Twitter five years ago that I would never send out today. They weren’t antagonistic or ignorant – just a sign of the times (Sign of the Times was actually one of the songs on Obama’s playlist…fun fact.).

Perspective is important, but context is even more critical.

We’ve been faced with a ton of context issues lately, but in my opinion, we haven’t really given context the respect it deserves. We can’t hold issues from the past to standards of today, and we can’t discredit or disregard intention or setting. Furthermore, we shouldn’t discount humanity and passion. We’ve all been there, where we’ve said something we regretted or spoke too soon without having all of the information.

Forgiveness for past digressions should come when there is evidence of change and growth following the incident in question.

In the case of Common being invited to the White House, I didn’t see anything wrong with that. President Obama acknowledged the criticism he received, but did not rescind the invitation. His stated that while he did not agree with everything Common has ever said, he agreed with a lot of the rest of it. More importantly, he believed Common to be a positive influence on today’s youth, and a superior role model compared to many of the other rappers out there.

Musicians – especially rappers – have a way of connecting with youth. It’s spoken word set to a beat. It’s poetry made accessible and “cool.” It’s artistry delivered in a tangible package that people can delve into over and over again.

And if there’s a way to reach the youth, that should be capitalized on. For all of the content that’s constantly being consumed by them already, whether because they’re seeking it out or because it’s being shoved down their throats by marketing and advertising firms, news outlets, and social media influencers, wouldn’t it be nice to present them with something generally positive that they can experience in a way that actually speaks to them?


Context and setting make a difference. Presentation matters. Audience should always be considered. There are tons of things that I think but would not put on this blog because it wouldn’t be right for the audience. And if I’m writing something for another publication, I have to consider that audience and tailor my message to suit it better.

Everything should be done with purpose, but it should still be true to the creator. Hypocrisy shouldn’t be tolerated, but personal expansion and advancement should be celebrated.

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