How Donald Trump Launched A New Era Of Protest Music

Still from "You're A Mean One, Mr. Trump" | © CollegeHumor
Still from "You're A Mean One, Mr. Trump" | © CollegeHumor
Photo of Ryan Kristobak
Music Editor2 November 2016

Between non-stop Twitter verbal violence, proud claims of sexual assault, threatening to reject the Nov. 8 result if it doesn’t lean in his favor, and so, so much more, it’s hard to keep track of everything that Donald Trump has said and done throughout the 2016 U.S. election cycle. While taking a backseat to his more inflammatory antics, Trump’s relationship with music through the the last 17 months has seen a number of well-known artists ban the candidate from using their tracks, a variety of parodies, and a rise in protest music that hasn’t been seen since the Reagan Era.

References in Hip Hop

Long before he decided it was his job to make America great again, Donald Trump was often mentioned in hip-hop lyrics, almost always favorably. As a real estate tycoon and reality TV personality, Trump has long been viewed as a status of wealth and success in business, his controversial views and statements either largely obscured or ignored because he was the guy who told you, “you’re fired,” not the potential commander in chief of the USA. And in the rising economy of hip hop, beginning in the late ’80s, what rapper wasn’t working to achieve Trump’s claimed billions?

In August of 2015, Huffington Post put together a video with 67 references to Trump in hip-hop music across 25 years. The video begins with Ice-T’s “My Word Is Bond,” released in 1989, in which featured Bronx rapper Donald D says, “Yo Ice, I did a concert in the White House / and after that me and Donald Trump hung out.” In 1992, UGK’s Bun B rapped, “Fuck Black Caesar niggas call me Black Trump” on the duo’s track “Pocket Full of Stones,” referencing the 1973 film Black Caesar centered on a black kingpin in Harlem.

Over the next 19 years, Trump was name-checked by the likes of Master P, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Raekwon, House of Pain, Coolio, Ice Cube, Nas, Cypress Hill, Nelly, 50 Cent, Ludacris, Busta Rhymes, Lil Wayne, Notorious B.I.G., Sean Paul, Diddy, Rick Ross, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Big Sean, Meek Mill, Juicy J, Young Thug, Rae Sremmurd, and even, Shaquille O’Neal.

While many more hip-hop artists have given Trump a shoutout, the most recognized came from Pittsburgh rapper and producer Mac Miller. In 2011, Miller rose to fame after declaring that he would take over the rap game on his “Donald Trump shit.” Originally praising the song after it hit 20 million YouTube views, calling him the “new Eminem,” Trump threatened to sue Miller in 2013 for illegally using his name. Then, on March 10, 2016, Miller stopped by The Nightly Show to clarify his current, anything-but-amicable feelings on the Republican candidate, as well as having tweeted, “Just please don’t elect this motherfucker man,” in December 2015.

One rapper who was never fooled by Trump: Tupac.

The Parodies

It’s hard to imagine one sentence from Trump’s campaign that hasn’t been lambasted or lampooned. Even his slogan “Make America Great Again” has been dissected and reimagined by businesses and individuals to either mock the candidate or highlight actual changes that might benefit the United States, the most famous of the former being Last Week Tonight‘s “Make Donald Drumph Again” cap.

Trump’s voice has been dubbed into Star Wars scenes featuring Darth Vader, he’s been pitted against the Dark Knight in a Batman v Superman trailer, and we’ve all been warned that “Winter is Trumping.” As well as being inserted into every movie and TV show possible, some of the best Trump parodies have come in the form of music.

It only took one word for the videos to start rolling in: China. There’s no official count of how many times Trump has said “China” since he announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015, but when YouTube user Chris Kogos published his remix of Huffington Post‘s “Donald Trump Says China” at the end of August of the same year, Trump had tallied at least 234.

In the spirit of the holidays — or, more accurately, lack thereof — CollegeHumor decided to “Make Christmas Great Again” by inserting Trump into the classic song “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” mid-December 2015. In it, we learn that Trumps hair is actually made from a rat, and we are blessed with fantastic lines like, “I wouldn’t touch you despite your thirty-nine-and-a-half percent lead in the polls,” referring to the Republican primary standings at the time.

Justin Bieber’s “Sorry” got an appropriate Trump rendition, although unlike the pop star, we don’t expect many apologies from the Republican candidate. Trump’s promised wall along the Mexican-U.S. border got its best pitch with a parody of Frozen‘s “Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?” (Stick around for the whole video to watch things suddenly devolve into a “crime rave.”) This isn’t the only Disney spoof either, someone having rewritten the lyrics of Beauty and the Beast‘s “Gaston,” which we can only imagine a full-costumed troupe of actors performs for Trump every morning to make sure his ego receives its most important meal of the day.

In late April of this year, The Daily Show paid homage to Trump’s long relationship with hip hop in the music video for their original track, “They Love Me,” by Black Trump, as played by correspondent Roy Wood, Jr. As Wood Jr. explained to host Trevor Noah, “Trump doesn’t belong in the White House. Donald Trump belongs in a rap video. Everything Trump says is straight out of a rapper’s play book. He brags about his money, he’s disrespectful to women, and there’s always fights at his concerts.”

Trump has been inserted into plenty of classic songs, some by their original creators, including Wham!’s “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” Barbara Streisand’s “Send in the Clowns,” Janet Jackson’s “Nasty,” Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” Stevie Wonder’s “You Haven’t Done Nothin’,” Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” and Steve Martin’s “King Tut.” However, the best goes to Saturday Night Live‘s Melania Trump-goes-Beyoncé parody “Melanianade.” Taking on “Sorry” musically and visually, terrifically replacing the infamous line “Becky with the good hair” with “some guy with the weird hair.”

In the wake of the three debates between Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, a few more videos popped up, including a Danny Elfman-crafted horror soundtrack of Trump stalking Clinton during the second debate, and a “Weird Al” Yankovich-moderated version of the final debate. Black Eyed Peas member teamed up with Funny or Die, portraying MC Donald T. Rump for the song “GRAB’m by the PU$$Y,” regarding Trump’s 2005 comments to former Access Hollywood host Billy Bush.

Trump Hump the Chair Song” provided us with the fantastic phrase “grabby, grabby pumpkin man,” but the weirdest parody video easily goes to this fake Japanese commercial declaring Donald Trump “world president,” filled with manga-style illustrations of the Republican candidate, a hulking Trump-faced llama, and Japanese text that reads “Trump is God.”

Anti-Trump Music

Musicians calling out political candidates for using their music during an election cycle is a longstanding tradition. Bobby McFerrin told George H.W. Bush to remove “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” as their campaign song in 1988; Sarah Palin ignored Heart’s request to stop playing “Barracuda”; and Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.” was used by Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, and Pat Buchanan, all of them either ignoring or missing the song’s themes like its critique of the Vietnam War and the detrimental affects of overwhelming nationalism on the working class.

However, no candidate has been informed by artists to stop using their music more than Trump. So much so that Last Week Tonight enlisted the star power of Usher, Cyndi Lauper, Sheryl Crow, Josh Groban, John Mellencamp, Imagine Dragons, Heart, and Michael Bolton to record the anti-campaign-song song “Don’t Use Our Song.” Among the ranks Trump has angered:

-Neil Young
-Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler
-The Rolling Stones
-The widow of opera singer Luciano Pavarotti
-The George Harrison estate
-Paul Rodgers
-Twisted Sister
-Elton John
-House of Pain’s Everlast
-Backstreet Boys
-The White Stripes
-The O’Jays
-Earth, Wind & Fire

On the other hand, a large number of artists have been using their music to castigate Trump’s racism, sexism, and general policies and claims. Most famous is YG’s “FDT,” aka “Fuck Donald Trump.” Following the track’s release, the Secret Service allegedly reached out to YG’s label, Def Jam, to inquire about the lyrics on the rapper’s at-the-time upcoming album, Still Brazy, which features the track. Ultimately, the lyrics of the album version of the track had to be heavily censored and all mentions of Trump’s name removed. YG also released a second version of the track featuring Macklemore and G-Eazy.

For some artists, it was Trump’s comments on Mexico and its people that spurred them to action. It was only 10 days into Trump’s campaign when 19-year-old singer and actress Becky G released “We Are Mexico.” Three months later, Emilio Estefan released the similarly titled “We’re All Mexican,” stating that the track is more about the “celebration of Hispanic Heritage” than it is about Trump. Mexican-American grindcore outfit Brujeria took a slightly more aggressive approach on “Viva Presidente Trump,” including lyrics like, “I actually want him to be president gabacho, because he wants war and so do we / I want the Trump president to win because if he starts something, we’re definitely gonna finish it.”

Other singular tracks include Perfect Giddimani & Stephen Dajure’s reggae protest “Dollnald Trummp,” Eminem’s nearly-eight-minute lyrical thicket of a freestyle “Campaign Speech,” Ted Leo’s rock-builder “In the Mean Times,”Smoke DZA’s marijuana-friendly counsel “Don’t Pass Trump the Blunt,” and Pussy Riot’s “Straight Outta Vagina.” Recruiting rappers Desi Mo & Leikeli47, the Russian punk rock group remind us all, “Don’t play stupid, don’t play dumb / vagina’s where you’re really from.”

Then, with one month until the election, Jordan Kurland (Zeitgeist Artist Management) and Dave Eggers (McSweeney’s founder and author) launched 30 Days, 30 Songs — the project has now shifted to include 40 songs — a musical project dedicated to releasing one song per day by artists fighting for a Trump-free America. Having worked on 90 Days, 90 Reasons in 2012 in support of Barack Obama’s second term, Kurland and Eggers got the inspiration for their 2016 iteration after Eggers covered a Trump rally in Sacramento.

He was shocked by the music that was playing while the people waited for Trump to appear, including Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, The Who; none of them had messages in line with Trump’s campaign. Knowing that there were plenty of artists out there that wanted to so something about this election, but weren’t sure how or how to make an impact, the duo decided to tap into folk protest music, most commonly associated with the movement during the ‘60s.

But Kurland isn’t sure he would consider this a “revival” of folk protest music. “As is the case with protest songs, when you’re protesting something or you’re happy with something, if you write your song in response to that, that’s the definition of a protest song,” Kurland told Culture Trip. “I think Donald Trump certainly elicits more of that than any presidential I can remember in my lifetime. Obviously, during Reagan’s era there were a lot of songs written about what was going on in the world. But yeah, I think that…because he’s such a divisive candidate, I think it really connected with artists.”

He continued: “It would be nice to think that, looking at the classics, we’ve reframed it and updated it a little bit. That a protest song doesn’t have to look or sound a certain way. It doesn’t have to be a woman with a guitar in a cafe, or Rage Against the Machine to classify as a protest song. You can write a song the way that Aimee did or Death Cab did and it still qualifies.”

Kurland and Eggers recruited artists such as Death Cab For Cutie, Aimee Mann, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, R.E.M., Franz Ferdinand, Ledinsky, Moby, Lila Downs, and more to record original tracks or provide live renditions. They tried not to be too “heavy-handed,” allowing artists a significant amount of freedom in their topic selection — some tracks are directly about Trump, some comment on more general aspects of the political system, and some address what they love about the United States. Some even explain how Trump’s existence make them want to smoke crack.

There’s a reason why Trump’s name isn’t in the project’s title. It could be argued that the incessant media coverage of Trump’s antics played a significant role in getting all the way to November, and so there’s a fear that it might ultimately do just as much or more damage as it does good.

“I feel like at this point… it might… you know, every major newspaper in the country with the exception of one didn’t endorse Donald Trump in this election,” Kurland said. “And in a way, that almost emboldens his statement that the media’s rigged and that the mainstream doesn’t want a tone like his.

“When we were talking about the branding of the project, [we asked ourselves] “do we want Trump anywhere?” The reality is, even at the time we launched it, 30 days before the election, you know, how many people really didn’t have their mind made up? You know, there’s trying to reach a new group, that is a big part of it, but it’s also just about reframing this election and trying to get people motivated, and realizing people do have a voice.”

Just as they felt when they launched 90 Days, 90 Reasons, Kurland and Eggers believe there is an apathy among younger voters that needs to be addressed. And it’s no wonder after this brutal election circuit. In the end, 30 Days, 30 Songs is more about creating a sense of urgency and importance around the right to vote than it is about dissuading Trump supporters.

“You hear, ‘Oh, Clinton’s just the lesser of two evils,’ or people are so bummed out that Bernie wasn’t the candidate. They have this feeling they are going to sit out the election or they’re not really understanding how big of a difference there is between these two candidates. Whether or not it emboldens Donald Trump, there’s always that risk, right? I don’t know if it’s so much of the case now, but there’s the usual statement that any press is good press. Our feeling is that the positive effects of this project outweighs the bad potential.”

Check out all of the songs released from 30 Days, 30 Songs below.

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