Ludacris, Obama at Odds Over Campaign Song

Jimi Izrael, Ruben Navarrette, Arsalan Iftikhar and Nick Charles talk about the House of Representatives' apology for slavery, the latest controversial campaign ad by Sen. John McCain, and why Sen. Barack Obama is NOT saying thank you to rapper Ludacris for a pro-Obama campaign song that disses McCain, Sen. Hillary Clinton and President Bush.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. It's time for our weekly visit to the Barbershop where the guys talk about what's in the news and what's in their minds. Sitting in the chairs for shape up this week are freelance writer Jimi Izrael, media executive Nick Charles, civil rights attorney and editor Arsalan Iftikhar, and syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette. I may jump in here or there but for now, take it away, Jimi.

JIMI IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. Yo, yo, yo, fellas. What's up? Welcome to the shop. How are we doing?

Mr. NICK CHARLES (Media Executive): Hey, hey, hey.

ARSALAN IFTIKHAR: Hey, pretty good.

RUBEN NAVARRETTE: Doing good man, how's it going?

IZRAEL: Man, well, check this out. You know what? Senator John McCain, his latest attack ad compares Senator Barack Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Wait a second. Oh, snap, Michel. I know there's some tape.

MARTIN: Do you want to hear it? You guys want to hear it?

IZRAEL: I'd like that.

Mr. CHARLES: Sure. Drop it.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah.

MARTIN: OK. Here it is, although that doesn't show you - the pictures are kind of awesome. But here it is. Here's the audio.

IZRAEL: Right. Right. Drop it.

(Soundbite of McCain ad)

Unidentified Woman: He's the biggest celebrity in the world.

(Soundbite of crowd chanting "Obama")

Unidentified Woman: But is he ready to lead? With gas prices soaring, Barack Obama says no to offshore drilling and says he'll raise taxes on electricity. Higher taxes, more foreign oil. That's the real Obama.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): I'm John McCain and I approved this message.

IZRAEL: Wow.

MARTIN: Well, there you have it. And what you don't...

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel.

MARTIN: Yeah, and what you don't see are like the thousands of people right there when he was in Germany, like...

IFTHIKAR: Berlin.

MARTIN: Something like hundreds of thousands of people came out to see him. We've got these pictures of this huge, you know, crowds waving at him and so forth, chanting, Obama, Obama. So, there you go.

IZRAEL: Yeah. On an interesting tip, A-train, we know that you're the in shop Obama supporter. You know what? I got to give it to McCain, because you know what? He's making a legitimate criticism of Obama fever by likening it to the pop culture code of personality. You know what? I'm going to cosign that.

IFTKIHAR: And I am not going to cosign that. I think that...

IZRAEL: All right.

IFTIKHAR: You know, with Barack's recent trip, his recent world tour, I think McCain is trying to again latch on to the fact that Barack is some sort of cult of celebrity. And unfortunately, we, as Americans, are attracted to the cult of celebrity, and I think that, you know, he's just trying to triage all the positive publicity that Barack's gotten and we'll find out, you know, whether or not this Obamapalooza has any attraction to it or not.

MARTIN: But wait a minute, isn't it more of a criticism of the people supporting him? I mean, how is it a poor reflection on him that you got hundreds of thousands of people who want to come out? I mean, I just think this is kind of tricky.

NAVARETTE: I think Michel is into something here. It's really a criticism of how we have confused electing a president with the process of selecting the next "American Idol." I don't think the ad works because I think it needs to be much more precise. McCain needs to be much more precise in explaining to us what it is about Obama that we should find troubling. And the idea of somehow he's a celebrity, Michel's right, doesn't make Obama look bad. It makes us look bad for elevating him to celebrity status.

MARTIN: Yeah, it's like saying you're stupid - it's like saying, you all are stupid.

NAVARETTE: Yeah, and that we're so eager to have these kinds of heroes that we can mix together, you know, cult celebrities with the local celebrities and whatever. But I think that at the end of the day, we like celebrities. So, the idea somehow that you would call Obama the biggest celebrity in the world, how is that exactly a slam on your opponent? If anything, that makes your opponent sound good. This guys thinks...

IZRAEL: You know what? I think everybody here has it wrong. Nick, come on, man. I know you've got my back, bro.

Mr. CHARLES: I think the man is just doing what everybody says that, you know, you have a thin resume, so he goes out there to pad the resume. And he's working against a guy, you know, who runs an ad that basically praises him, because the fact that John McCain couldn't get 10 people to show up, that's on him. And even if people who show up to see Obama, these folks cannot vote for him. They're abroad. And they just want to see what he looks like. It's a phenomenon and that's OK to be a phenomenon. Now, he has to be a phenomenon with heft.

NAVARETTE: Obama's got to step up to the plate and say there is steak with the sizzle. It's not just sizzle, there's steak here too.

Mr. CHARLES: Exactly, exactly.

IZRAEL: There's a lot of sizzle there, bro. Lot of sizzle.

Mr. CHARLES: Where's the beef? Where's the beef? I want that commercial. Where's the beef?

MARTIN: Speaking of sizzle...

IFTIKHAR: You all are a bunch of haters.

MARTIN: Seriously, that is the hateration. That is hateration.

IFTIKHAR: You all are a bunch of haters.

IZRAEL: All right. But speaking of hateration, Obama's got a little bit for rapper actor Chris Bridges, also known as Ludacris, who lent himself to a rhyme. Have a little freestyle, you know, to kind of give Obama the ups. But you know what Obama said? No, thank you. I think we got some tape to show.

MARTIN: Yeah. Do you want to hear it? A little bit. Can't play it...

IZRAEL: Pump that.

MARTIN: Can't play the whole thing because, you know, I'm trying to keep my license. But...

IZRAEL: Right, right, right, right, right.

MARTIN: But here you go. Here's a little bit.

IZRAEL: Drop it.

(Soundbite of song "Politics as Usual")

Mr. CHRIS BRIDGES: (Rapping) We 'bout to make history. The first black president is destined and it's meant to be. The threats ain't phasing us. The news is all the jokes. Get off the (beep) black people. Time to get out and vote. Paint the white house black and I'm sure that's got 'em terrified. McCain don't belong in any chair, unless he's paralyzed.

MARTIN: Now, that was mean.

IZRAEL: Oh, snap.

IFTIKHAR: Ouch.

MARTIN: That was mean.

IZRAEL: That was the funky beat. That was the funky young buck beat which I believe was orchestrated by David Banner now. Chris Bridges is a three time Grammy winner. Also philanthropist and up and coming actor. He was born in Illinois, just for you - those of you who do not know.

Mr. CHARLES: Yeah.

MARTIN: What are you, Wikipedia?

IZRAEL: Obama's is actually on record....

MARTIN: What's up with you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: Obama is actually on record as a Ludacris fan saying that he keeps in regular rotation in his iPod.

Mr. CHARLES: Right.

IZRAEL: But not so much anymore. I'm thinking he's turning his back on Luda. Yo, Nick what's up?

Mr. CHARLES: I'm so disappointed with Obama on this one, because my thing is, it was Obama a couple of weeks or a couple of months ago who said, I can't defend every time someone puts my name in their mouth for whatever reason. And the people who listen to Luda, you know, they notice that's just par for the course among rappers and people like himself. And the thing about Chris Bridges, he is more than just some kind of, you know, second rate rapper, he's also a very good actor and a very good artist who reach out to the community. So, Obama's like, oh, Luda's in my rotation, he's on my iPod and then, Luda comes out with saying things in this rap and oh, I think the thing against John McCain's a little off color and you know, a little off putting, but the other stuff he said about Clinton and other...

MARTIN: Yeah. He's called Hillary the B word.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah, that's...

IZRAEL: My thing...

NAVARETTE: Well, the B word.

Mr. CHARLES: Yeah, I know he does. He actually says it.

MARTIN: As I mentioned, I'm trying to keep my license, so...

Mr. CHARLES: Irrelevant. He said irrelevant and the b word.

IFTIKHAR: That makes it a little hard to do the fund raising, brother.

IZRAEL: Exactly

IFTIKHAR: A little hard to make nice with the Clinton.

Mr. CHARLES: Yeah, well I don't think so.

Mr. IZRAEL: But I'll tell you - I'd tell you - I'm going to tell you how it is.

IFTIKHAR: Uh oh.

IZRAEL: How it is is that - is Obama really needs Ludacris, because Ludacris has some of that cache. He has a legitimacy and Ludacris co-signing him for that crowd who listens to Ludacris who are of voting age. I'm thinking, you know what? That wasn't a good move on Obama's part to hit him back. Yo, A-train. That's your boy.

IFTIKHAR: You know, Chris Rock once said that I love rap music but I'm tired of defending it. It's hard to defend "I got hos in different area codes" on an intellectual level.

IZRAEL: I don't know it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IFTIKHAR: Hold on. Hold on. Hold on a second.

IZRAEL: I don't know if it is or not.

Mr. IFTIKHAR: Hold on a second. Two things about the track that we just heard. Number one, it wasn't a freestyle. It was written.

IZRAEL: OK.

IFTIKHAR: Number two. It was a dope track, except for when he called Clinton an irrelevant b.

IFTIKHAR: Because he didn't need to do that. He is literally feeding the Bill O'Reillys of the world. They are automatically going to associate Luda and Obama now and Barack like Reverend Wright, like Father Flager is going to have to answer for it.

MARTIN: Well, can I ask this? But Nick's point was, he shouldn't have answered. Ruben?

Mr. NAVARRETTE: This is the latest chapter in Barack Obama's never ending saga of black and white, which one am I?

IFTKIHAR: Right.

NAVARRETTE: And this chapter is about a bunch of black rappers who, bless their heart, have decided to awaken politically by attaching themselves to Obama and trying to help him, but Obama has the right to say, hey, you know what? Step back. Well, you're not really helping me with this. You think you're helping me? Just don't do this. And so I think it's, who needs who more in this scenario?

MARTIN: Let me ask this though. Ruben was saying it's a black thing. I'm not - is it about race or is it about age because younger people like different music than older people do and all I'm saying is like the Rolling Stones have some lyrics that - but because they're older now...

IZRAEL: Right. Right.

MARTIN: They're in their 50s and 60s, it's faded into, isn't that cute? It's elevator music. But back in the day, it was edgy. And if you have a candidate who's that edge, right? You're talking about brown sugar, I mean, excuse me, what's that about?

NAVARRETTE: Right.

IZRAEL: Right.

IFTIKHAR: Right.

MARTIN: I mean, so I guess what I'm saying is when music - when you are of the times, your music is always going to be considered a little off color. I'm telling you, in 20 years, you know, Luda is going to be in the elevator. I mean, we're going to go, oh, isn't he cute?

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: Well I need - I need to point this out. I mean, first of all, it's not Ludacris' job to be anybody but Ludacris. I mean, he's not...

NAVARRETTE: Exactly.

IZRAEL: You know, it's not like he's Jessie Jackson and he's like faking the funk about so many different levels, he's just Ludacris. You know and at the end of the day, Obama needs to stop trying to be his brother's keeper. And just run Obama. I think what's going to happen is Obama's going to run himself ragged trying to answer for why does this brother does this or what this sister does - said this or that or the other. Obama needs to do like he did early and brush it off his shoulders and keep it moving. And I'm that dude and I approve that message. Moving on.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to Tell Me More from NPR News. I'm speaking to Jimi Izrael, Nick Charles, Ruben Navarrette and Arsalan Iftikhar. They're in the Barbershop. Back to you, Jimi.

IZRAEL: Thanks, Michel. You know what? The House has put forth a resolution to apologize for slavery, oh hallelujah, praise the Lord.

NAVARRETTE: I feel better already.

IZRAEL: We's free at last.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: You know what? I don't know. R. Ruben, help me out here, man.

NAVARRETTE: Yo.

IZRAEL: What does good an apology even do? At this late day?

NAVARRETTE: I don't know. I mean, yeah, a lot of folks are making fun of - in light of this notion of an apology for slavery but if you couple it with the rest of it that came after slavery with all the Jim Crow. With all the various efforts the government took to segregate and disenfranchise a whole segment of the population based solely on skin color, then I think I begin to get into it a little more. I don't like the idea of going back 150 years to apologize for something that nobody today can relate to. I'm sensitive to your wrap which is basically, you know, this is a symbolic gesture. How does this help me?

IZRAEL: You know what? Congressman Steve Cohen who's running for office in Memphis, Tennessee, he's only 10 days outside of a heated election. He'd give some black votes. Hey, A-train, get it.

IFTIKHAR: Let's not forget also during World War II, the interment of 120,000 Japanese-Americans led to the civil liberties act of 1988 signed by President Ronald Reagan, 42 years ago. After the internment, apologizing for the internment and providing 1.25 billion dollars in reparations of 20,000 dollars to most internees, evacuees and others of Japanese ancestry. And so, our government has apologized and more importantly has paid reparations in the past, you know, people always laugh about the whole reparations debate but, this was 1.25 billion dollars of reparations paid to 120,000 Japanese-Americans for something that happened 42 years ago. And so...

NAVARRETTE: What I want to know is where is the line? How did I miss out? Is there like a place you go fill out a form? I mean...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. CHARLES: Oh, come on R.

IZRAEL: All right. Great.

NAVARRETTE: The southwest used to be under different ownership.

Mr. CHARLES: I think, you know, Arsalan, hit it on the head, you know, forget the apologies, send me a check. This is a week where we had two other apologies. The military apologized to some black soldiers up in (unintelligible) for something that happened back in 1944. I know of course, the apology by the AMA to the NMA which is the American Medical Association International, medical association which is the back version of DMA for all the years when they wouldn't let these brothers and sisters to work in the bath facilities and to treat people. So, you know, as far as apologies go? The slavery one was third.

MARTIN: We've covered both those stories. By the way, we had Steve Cohen on the program and he can answer these questions or whether he's just doing it for politics. He says he's not and secondly...

IZRAEL: Strange timing.

MARTIN: On the AMA thing, well, he's been trying to do it since the Clinton administration.

IFTIKHAR: Yeah. He's incumbent, man.

MARTIN: He's been trying to get this done since the Clinton administration. And then, he's tried to get Clinton to pass this...

NAVARRETTE: What party's Cohen in? Is he a Republican or is he a Democrat?

MARTIN: He's a Democrat.

Mr. NAVARRETTE: He's Democrat.

MARTIN: He's a Democrat and he just said...

NAVARRETTE: All right, listen Cohen. Here's that - listen up. Listen up. If Cohen's out there listening, here's what you need to do. As a Democrat, if you want to help black folks, listen carefully. The number one challenge that black folks are dealing with right now is a public school system that is not attentive to their needs, their dropouts are too high, there's still remnants of racism within there and guess who is lording over their public school system? Yup, that's right. Public school teachers and teacher's unions, who support who? Wait for it. The Democratic Party.

IFTIKHAR: Oh, come on.

MARTIN: Well, here's...

NAVARRETTE: So, if Cohen wants to really help black folks, let him bite the hand that feeds him and do something meaningful.

MARTIN: OK. We hear you on that. I just...

NAVARRETTE: I hope Cohen hears it.

MARTIN: The argument is - well, we'll send them the tape. These apologies, the argument is that it expresses the moral position of our time.

NAVARRETTE: Right.

MARTIN: And that's never wrong to do. So I just wanted to ask Nick, where are you on that?

Mr. CHARLES: I know. Where was I when I first said, you know, save the apology. I think it's symbolic. And know, you know, I don't think it means much and when I said send the check, I wasn't being facetious that everybody should just get a check. But as Arsalan pointed out, we have specifically sat down scientifically and mathematically been able to give reparations and help folks for what we did to them back in 1941 to '45. I still don't see the remedies going forward for slavery and or Jim Crowe etcetera.

MARTIN: But I guess I think that this is the sort of the net. To me reparations is another issue. This is some of the narrow question of whether it makes sense to express the moral sensibility of the time. I mean, you know, there are lots of times when we say, we're sorry to someone even if there's nothing we can do. If you experience a loss...

Mr. CHARLES: That's know as a fake apology.

MARTIN: No. It's real. It's not. If you experienced a loss and I said to you, I am so sorry this happened to you. Would that be wrong?

IZRAEL: No. Empathy is fine.

NAVARRETTE: It's not wrong.

Mr. CHARLES: What are your motives?

IZRAEL: But I say, but if you punch somebody in the eye - if you punch somebody in the eye and then say, oops, I'm sorry I punched you in the eye. My big.

IFTIKHAR: No, no, Jimi. Jimi, your analogy is slightly flawed. What it is, is my great-granddaddy punched your great-granddaddy in the eye.

Mr. IZRAEL: Right. Right.

IFTIKHAR: And I'm apologizing on behalf of my great-granddaddy because he did not have the compassion to apologize and so I'm apologizing for him.

IZRAEL: No, no. That dog don't hunt, bro. You know, buddy. You know I'm not satisfied...

MARTIN: Well then, you know, well I'm not sending you a Christmas card because you obviously don't care about gestures and I'm saving mine for somebody who does.

IZRAEL: I would be satisfied if the government would just pay off my student loans. Hello. You know. All right.

MARTIN: Well, they obviously didn't get their money's worth.

NAVARRETTE: Oh.

IFTIKHAR: Oh snap.

IZRAEL: This is what happens with every day, day in, day out. In my sleep, I'm hearing Michel crack the whip. Let's keep it in motion, fellas. You all know what? Rumors about the Green Bay Packers are from but far money to stay in retirement abound. What's up with that? Nick, I mean, kind of thumbnail what's going on with Brett Favre for those of us that don't know.

Mr. CHARLES: Well, you know, the last time we saw Brett Favre in uniform, he was losing to the New York Giants back in...

NAVARRETTE: Ouch. Ouch.

Mr. CHARLES: And then after that two months later, you know, he's retiring and a big - a lot of tears crocodile tears for like, oh my God he's so heartfelt. He really loves the game but it's time for him to go. So he bows out. But he really doesn't bow out. And so he has this whole game going for the last four or five months of will he or won't he unretire? And finally, he's like, OK, you know, I'm coming back. And so the did the Green Bay Packers who have moved on, and they're like well, you know, we didn't kinda - we didn't plan for this. So, we'll rather give you 20 million dollars to go and sit at home. And now, Brett Favre is like saying, well, I don't know. I may just show up at the training camp.

MARTIN: Wait, wait, wait. You serious? Twenty million dollars to not work?

Mr. CHARLES: Twenty million dollars.

IFTIKHAR: Just sit down.

Mr. CHARLES: Michel, if you said, 20 million bucks, I'll stay home.

MARTIN: Can I get that?

IZRAEL: No. No. You know, what's interesting is that there's also talk. Thanks for that, Nick. There's also talk that you know, Packers can flip the game, take him into the fold and either trade him to Minnesota or the Bears in Chicago. What's up with that, A-train?

IFTIKHAR: Being the Barbershop (unintelligible) here, I'm going to...

(Soundbite of laughter)

IFTIKHAR: Ya'll are bunch of haters right now. You're all a bunch of haters.

Mr. CHARLES: Feel the love.

IZRAEL: I have to leave...

IFTIKHAR: Listen now. I'm from Chicago but I had to say Brett Favre is my favorite football player there has been less 20 years. I'm not saying that I think he should come back. I'm saying that if he wants to come back, he's Brett Farve. I mean, that's...

IZRAEL: Ruben, my questions is, is he coming back for the glory or is he coming back for the money?

NAVARRETTE: I think he's coming back for the ego.

IZRAEL: Right.

NAVARRETTE: If at all, I think Favre is probably more in the right because the team can't make up its mind. They don't want to trade him. Or release him. But on the other hand, they don't want to necessarily to play him for string. They want to have him in the back, right? So, it's really inconsistent. It's like my girlfriend I used to know in college who had this...

MARTIN: Mm hmm.

NAVARRETTE: This philosophy. I may not watch you - listen. Listen carefully now. Listen carefully.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NAVARRETTE: I may not watch you but I don't want anybody else to have you either. So, let him play somewhere else.

IFTIKHAR: Put your haterade right down, guys.

(Soundbite of laughter)

IZRAEL: Everybody. I think I'm going to have to retire for the day. I think that's a wrap. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for being a part of Barbershop.

IFTIKHAR: I think you're a bunch of haters. A bunch of haters.

IZRAEL: I got to kick it back to the lady of the house. The quarterback, Michel Martin.

MARTIN: That's right. But I guarantee you if you had 20 million dollars for me, I would go home.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: OK. Take it back.

NAVARRETTE: Find something else to do.

MARTIN: Find something else to do.

IFTIKHAR: Like peace, I'm out.

MARTIN: That's right. Jimi Izrael is a freelance journalist who writes for theroot.com and TV 1 online. He joined us from member station WCPN in Cleveland. Ruben Navarrette writes for the San Diego Union Tribune and cnn.com. He joined us from San Diego. Nick Charles is the vice president of Digital Content for bet.com. He joined us from our bureau in New York and Arsalan Iftikhar is a contributing editor for Islamica Magazine and a civil rights attorney. He joined us from our Washington bureau. Gentlemen, thank you so much.

NAVARRETTE: Peace.

Mr. CHARLES: We love you, Michel. We love you.

IZRAEL: Yup. Yup.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today.

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