Hip Hop Reflections on Ronald Reagan

Well, today is June 11th and I’m watching all these TV stations play Ray Charles rendition of ‘America’ [Brother Ray just passed away yesterday] while showing the funeral of former President Reagan. Some stations are even showing pictures of the two men together. I can’t help thinking something is not right about what I’m seeing. In the words of Public Enemy ‘Can’t Truss It’.

To start, I feel like my senses have been assaulted all week with non stop news coverage that seemed designed on getting me to believe that we had just experienced the passing of a Saint. I keep asking myself how is this happening?, because when I think back to the Reagan years I recall some very troubling and contentious times that we are still recovering from.

It has been suggested by President Bush that we stay home to mourn and reflect upon the life and times of Ronald Reagan.. Well when I reflect I like to do it to music.. So I guess it was only appropriate that I pulled out Gil Scott Heron’s 1981 album ‘Reflection’ which contained a highly charged 12 minute spoken word song called “B-Movie” which was directed at Reagan shortly after he took office. I also pulled out a landmark record from pioneering rapper Mele-Mel called ‘Jesse’ which was released in 1984. Both these songs spoke truth to power and help me cut through all the hoopla, fanfare and blatant rewriting of history with regards to Ronald Reagan. Gil Scott starts off his B-Movie song by saying:


Well, the first thing I want to say is. “Mandate my ass!”

Because it seems as though we’ve been convinced that 26% of the registered voters, not even 26% of the American people, but 26% of the registered voters form a mandate–or a landslide. 21% voted for Skippy and 4% voted for somebody else who might have been running.

But, oh yeah, I remember. In this year that we have now declared the year from Shogun to Raygun, I remember what I said about Reagan, meant it. Acted l ike an actor. Hollyweird. Acted like a liberal. Acted like General Franco when he acted like governor of California, then he acted like a Republican. Then he acted like somebody was going to vote for him for President. And now we act like 26% of the registered voters is actually a mandate. We’re all actors in this I suppose..”

-B-Movie- by Gil Scott Heron


As I listened to all this lavish praise being bestowed upon Reagan and US Senators proposing that his face be put on a 10 dollar bill and carved into Mount Rushmore, I kept asking myself- is this the same guy who immediately started cutting back social service programs and started scapegoating folks in the hood as the reason for inflation and overspending in government? Gil Scott early on let us know just what we were up against as he kicks is third stanza.


….What has happened is that in the last 20 years, America has changed from a producer to a consumer. And all consumers know that when the producer names the tune. the consumer has got to dance. That’s the way it is. We used to be a producer–very inflexible at that, and now we are consumers and, finding it difficult to understand. Natural resources and minerals will change your world. The Arabs used to be in the 3rd World. They have bought the 2nd World and put a firm down payment on the 1st one. Controlling your resources we’ll control your world. This country has been surprised by the way the world looks now. They don’t know if they want to be Matt Dillon or Bob Dylan. They don’t know if they want to be diplomats or continue the same policy–of nuclear nightmare diplomacy. John Foster Dulles ain’t nothing but the name of an airport now. …

-B-Movie- by Gil Scott Heron


Mele-Mel who helped kick off a wave of message type songs from Hip Hop’s than emerging scene, starting with his groundbreaking song ‘The Message’ in 1982, also brings home some salient points. After dealing with 3 terrible years Reagan’s economic policy, the trickle down theory, also known as ‘Reagonomics’ Mel summed up the situation in the first verse of his song ‘Jesse’…


See Ronald Reagan speaking on TV
Smiling like everything’s fine and dandy
Sounded real good when he tried to give a pep talk
To over 30 million poor people like me
How can we say we got to stick it out
When his belly is full and his future is sunny
I don’t need his jive advice
But I sure do need his jive time money.

-Jesse- by Mele-Mel


I’m listening to these songs -reflecting and asking myself how in the world are 200 thousand people standing on line waiting to see this cats’ body? Was this the same Ronnie Reagan who had no problems closing down mental wards and setting all those ill patients to fend for themselves back in our community?

Is this the same Iran-Contra scandal Ronnie who back in the 80s showed his first signs of Alzheimer’s by stating he didn’t recall all the corruption taking place right under his nose?

Was this the same Ronald Reagan, the jovial jellybean eating, ‘great communicator’ who is credited with ending communism and bringing down the Berlin Wall but vetoed a bill calling for sanctions against the racist South African Apartheid Regime?

Is this the same Ronald Reagan who wouldn’t lift a finger to help end Apartheid but in 1983 was more than willing to send US troops to smash the Black Government of the small Island of Grenada who they said had links to Cuba and Communism ?

Was this the same Ronnie Reagan who got called out and embarrassed by Noble Peace Prize winner Bishop Desmond Tutu who said he was “evil, immoral, and un-Christian” because of his ‘Constructive Engagement’ policies toward South Africa. This article in the Boston Globe gives the break down on this http://www.boston.com/

I kept asking myself with such a sordid track record that impacted so many and continues to impact many, how are folks so shedding tears for this guy?

Thank God for Gil Scott who gives the breakdown as he eloquently explains the American mindset. Peep the lyrics…


The idea concerns the fact that this country wants nostalgia. They want to go back as far as they can–even if it’s only as far as last week. Not to face now or tomorrow, but to face backwards. And yesterday was the day of our cinema heroes riding to the rescue at the last possible moment. The day of the man in the white hat or the man on the white horse–or the man who always came to save America at the last moment–someone always came to save America at the last moment–especially in “B” movies. And when America found itself having a hard time facing the future, they looked for people like John Wayne. But since John Wayne was no longer available, they settled for Ronald Reagan–and it has placed us in a situation that we can only look at–like a “B” movie.

Come with us back to those inglorious days when heroes weren’t zeros. Before fair was square. When the cavalry came straight away and all-American men were like Hemingway to the days of the wondrous “B” movie. The producer underwritten by all the millionaires necessary will be Casper “The Defensive” Weinberger–no more animated choice is available. The director will be Attila the Haig, running around frantically declaring himself in control and in charge. The ultimate realization of the inmates taking over at the asylum. The screenplay will be adapted from the book called “Voodoo Economics” by George “Papa Doc” Bush. Music by the “Village People” the very military “Macho Man.” Macho, macho man!”

Put your orders in America. And quick as Kodak your leaders duplicate with the accent being on the nukes–cause all of a sudden we have fallen prey to selective amnesia–remembering what we want to remember and forgetting what we choose to forget. All of a sudden, the man who called for a blood bath on our college campuses is supposed to be Dudley “God-damn” Do-Right?

“You go give them liberals hell Ronnie.” That was the mandate. To the new “Captain Bly” on the new ship of fools. It was doubtlessly based on his chameleon performance of the past–as a liberal democrat–as the head of the Studio Actor’s Guild. When other celluloid saviors were cringing in terror from McCarthy–Ron stood tall. It goes all the way back from Hollywood to hillbilly. From liberal to libelous, from “Bonzo” to Birch idol.born again. Civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights.it’s all wrong. Call in the cavalry to disrupt this perception of freedom gone wild. God damn it.first one wants freedom, then the whole damn world wants freedom.

Nostalgia, that’s what we want.the good ol’ days.when we gave’em hell. When the buck stopped somewhere and you could still buy something with it. To a time when movies were in black and white–and so was everything else. Even if we go back to the campaign trail, before six-gun Ron shot off his face and developed hoof-in-mouth. Before the free press went down before full-court press. And were reluctant to review the menu because they knew the only thing available was–Crow.

Lon Chaney, our man of a thousand faces–no match for Ron. Doug Henning does the make-up–special effects from Grecian Formula 16 and Crazy Glue. Transportation furnished by the David Rockefeller of Remote Control Company. Their slogan is, “Why wait for 1984? You can panic now…and avoid the rush.”

So much for the good news.

As Wall Street goes, so goes the nation. And here’s a look at the closing numbers–racism’s up, human rights are down, peace is shaky, war items are hot–the House claims all ties. Jobs are down, money is scarce–and common sense is at an all-time low on heavy trading. Movies were looking better than ever and now no one is looking because, we’re starring in a “B” movie. And we would rather had John Wayne.we would rather had John Wayne.

-B-Movie- by Gil Scott-Heron


Deregulation, the busting up of unions, trickle down theory economics, attacks and roll backs on civil rights legislation is what I recall about Reagan. For the most part it wasn’t good. Reagan was the great communicator because he had a nice way of smiling and a jovial way of talking while he put a foot up your ass. The effects of Reagan are still being felt to this day. As Mele-Mel noted:


The land of the free and the home of the brave
But it might as well be the home of the slave
They got me walking around saying freedom’s come
But my body is free and my mind is dumb
The people ain’t black but the house is white
And just because I’m different they don’t treat me right
They done cast me aside and held me down
Dragged my name down to the ground
Oh beautiful for spacious skies
With your amber waves of untold lies
Look at all the politicians trying to do a job
But they can’t help but look like the mob
Get a big kick back and put it away
Watch the FBI watch the CIA
They want a bigger missile with a faster yet
But yet they forget to hire you the vet
Hypocrites just talkin trash
Liberty and Justice are a thing of the past
They want a stronger nation at any cost
Even if it means that everything will soon be lost

-Jesse- by Mele-Mel


Mele-Mel went on to completely embarrass Reagan by chronicling this all but forgotten incident when Reverend Jesse Jackson succeeded where Reagan failed.


The 30th day that’s in december
Is a day that everyone’s gonna remember
Because on that day a righteous man
Thought about taking a brand new stand
The name of the man is Jesse Jackson and his call
Is for peace without an action
Cause now is the time to change the nation
Without just another negotiation
He went to the East for human rights
To free a lieutenant shot down in flight
Just another statistic and the government knew it
They didn’t even want the man to go do it
Before he left he called the president’s home
And Reagan didn’t even answer the phone
But I tell you one thing and that’s a natural fact
You can bet he calls Jesse when Jesse got back

-Jesse- by Mele-Mel

DAVEY D./FONT> is a hip hop historian, deejay and community organizer. Visit his excellent website at: http://www.daveyd.com/