Eminem has hardly been the name on people’s lips recently. Since his imperial heyday – when this newspaper wrote about him as a poet, contrasting him with Eliot, Whitman, Browning, Tennyson, Frost and pretty much every other poet ever bar Pam Ayres – his stock has slumped. He bucked the market in Eminem futures on Tuesday, though, with an anti-Trump freestyle that aired during the BET Hip Hop awards. In a few ferocious minutes, Eminem excoriated Trump for his attitudes to race, Puerto Rico, gun control, captured soldiers and pretty much everything else, before telling Americans to “stand up” and sending a message to his own fans “And any fan of mine who’s a supporter of his / I’m drawing in the sand a line: you’re either for or against / And if you can’t decide who you like more and you’re split / On who you should stand beside, I’ll do it for you with this / Fuck you!”
Donald Trump has figured in pop lyrics – especially hip-hop – for decades. Until recently, he tended to be used as a measure of wealth and status. Raekwon wanted you to “guess who’s the black Trump”; Ice Cube was “just tryin’ to get rich like Trump”; Cypress Hill were “tryna get money so we can be livin’ like Trump”. No one is talking about him in song that way now. In fact, he has inspired more songs – almost entirely angry – than any politician in living memory, except perhaps Ronald Reagan (although Trump has still got years to accumulate more). Here are the best.
Fiona Apple – Tiny Hands
The singer-songwriter composed Tiny Hands as an anthem for the Women’s March in January. It couldn’t be simpler, which is precisely what makes it powerful. It begins with a sample of Trump saying “grab ’em by the pussy” before, over a simple piano figure, Apple intones: “We don’t want your tiny hands anywhere near our underpants.”
Pussy Riot – Make America Great Again
Not content with taking on Vladimir Putin, the Russian art provocateurs used the runup to last November’s election to offer their views on Trump. The video concentrates on his fixation with female bodies; the song offers a simple instruction to the man who would be president: “Let other people in / Listen to your women / Stop killing black children / Make America great again.”
Rocky Mountain Mike – AKA Mike Hardeman – is a writer of politically themed parodies who, presumably, couldn’t believe his luck when an orange-skinned man ran for president. He slapped some new lyrics over the Byrds’ arrangement of Mr Tambourine Man and – voila! – here was a condemnation of the Trump movement: “All my friends say ‘Get a grip’ / And my skull’s too numb to think / Waiting only for the bullshit you’ve been peddling.” The idea of Mr Tangerine Man was irresistible to others, too: Wesley Stace (the former John Wesley Harding) performed a different lyric to the same melody for last year’s anti-Trump 30 Days, 30 Songs project.
Joey Bada$$ – Land of the Free
Aside from saying “Donald Trump is not equipped to take this country over”, the rapper’s single from March this year is not specifically about the president – but it is about Trump’s America, and African Americans’ place within it: “Start a new coalition against corrupt politicians / It’s not enough pots to piss in, too many murder convictions / Another family evicted, another black man a victim.” It’s also the kind of record likely to make a greater impression than Rocky Mountain Mike or Pussy Riot, because it’s an angry record by a major star with a large, young audience. He had words for the president in Rockabye Baby, too: “If you got the guts, scream, ‘Fuck Donald Trump!’”
Waters has long been one to wallow in the world’s awfulness, so the rise of Trump was grist to his mill. The title track of his latest album opens with a Trump sample to give you context, then drifts into a reverie about fear being the driver of modern life, and how “a nincompoop can become president”. Honestly, after listening to it, you’ll return to your Radiohead albums for the wealth of laughs they offer by comparison.
YG and Nipsey Hussle – FDT
Can you guess what the title means? Released during the election campaign, Compton rapper YG sent a message to Trump should he be planning to come to California: “Have a rally out in LA, we gon’ fuck it up / Home of the Rodney King riot, we don’t give a fuck.” FDT is furious, a screed of incomprehension that anyone could vote for Trump, and fearful for the consequences of his victory: “You built walls? We gon’ prolly dig holes.” YG was so livid about Trump he returned to the song four months later, in company with G-Eazy and Macklemore, for FDT Part 2: “A Trump rally sounds like Hitler in Berlin / Or KKK shit, now I’m goin’ in.”
Arcade Fire feat Mavis Staples – I Give You Power
Rather than offering declamation, Arcade Fire offer something a little more oblique. I Give You Power is musically foreboding – all rumbling synths – but lyrically it eschews condemnation, choosing instead to remind the occupant of the White House that power depends on consent: “I give you power, I can take it away.” Mavis Staples reminds Trump of the limits of power: “Where do you think it all comes from?” That was before it became apparent Trump intended to govern by decree and tweets.
Brujeria – Viva Presidente Trump!
Let’s not forget that Trump has offended not just those resident in the United States, but also his neighbours to the south, too. As he ramped up the rhetoric on the campaign trail – “Mexico is not our friend!” – Mexican metal band Brujeria responded in kind. Yes, they did want him to win, but only so they could offer him outside: “Por que si lo empieza algo nosotros lo acabamos,” they sang. For the benefit of those whose Spanish is rusty: “Because if he starts something, we’re definitely going to finish it.” Or, as they put it more simply later in the song: “He wants war, and so do I.”
Aimee Mann – Can’t You Tell?
One of pop’s best songwriters tackled Trump with rather more subtlety than most of her peers. The only rage in Can’t You Tell? Is the rage of Trump himself, deciding to take his revenge after being mocked by president Barack Obama at the 2011 White House correspondents’ dinner. Mann opens: “That bastard making fun of me in front of all my peers … Well, guess what Mr President: I’ll be seeing you in four years.” There’s sadness to it, though it’s more the sadness of being lumbered with the president rather than sadness for him. But there’s empathy, too, as Mann concludes: “I don’t want this job … Can’t you tell I’m unwell?”
Death Cab for Cutie – Million Dollar Loan
Ben Gibbard’s indietronica band also chose to approach Trump obliquely, concentrating on one aspect of his rise: his assertion that he is a self-made man, aided only by the million bucks his dad loaned him when he was starting out. “A million-dollar loan, no one makes it on their own,” Gibbard intones, sweetly, imagining Trump in his tower, looking down on New York “from a gilded room, of gold, marble and soft perfume”. It’s almost as if the president is a political Rapunzel, trapped with his extraordinary hair far from the reality of life.