The complaints surrounding politically-minded works in hip hop often stem from the superficial nature of the commentary within them. It’s a fair critique, but in a three-minute song, there’s only so much you can convey. Sometimes, the failure is in the attempt.
With “I’m Not Racist,” the new song and video from Joyner Lucas, the Massachusetts MC delivers a reminder of what’s possible when a song’s boundaries aren’t confined by what will immediately stream its way to the Hot 100. In doing so, he eradicates almost every safety net within the “race conversation.”
The nearly seven-minute video for “I’m Not Racist” begins a heavyset white man wearing one of Donald Trump’s signature red Make America Great Again hats, berates a young black man from the jump, rapping Joyner’s lines about black people being “lazy” and soaking up welfare benefits. They’re echoes of stereotypes that have reverberated throughout America for decades. The whole time the young black man listens intently. When the Trump supporter finishes, the young man begins rapping Lucas’ lines, which pivot to reflect a black perspective, highlighting why white people shouldn’t say the “n-word” and, at one point, he gestures so aggressively that he knocks the Trump supporter’s MAGA hat off his head.
Even in his efforts to unflinchingly explore racial dynamics, as YouTube commenters and social media pundits have already begun expressing, Lucas connected with the pitch, but didn’t necessarily knock it out of the park. Critiques point out that the black narrative within the song doesn’t highlight the underlying institutional and systematic catalysts for the MAGA supporter’s complaints. Too often, the “n-word” becomes the figurehead of arguments over race relations, and not the byproduct it is.
But still, with “I’m Not Racist,” Lucas took the gloves off, and got much closer to the core of one of America’s many divides than most musicians in recent memory. And he did so in a manner that was so abrasive and accessible that resulting dialogue was almost inevitable—which was likely the point.
Watch “I’m Not Racist” above.