Florida Sen. Marco Rubio lit up the Internet Monday after his interview with GQ devolved into a discussion of rap. The rising Republican star not only spoke knowledgeably about Public Enemy's role in hip hop, but weighed in on whether Kanye West and Nicki Minaj are rappers or singers and name-dropped Tupac Shakur. Considering that his party's nominee this year, Mitt Romney, identified a bunch of old white guys as his musical favorites (Garth Brooks, Alabama, the Eagles), Rubio looks downright edgy.
He also looks very smart, according to hip hop historian Davey D, a journalist and professor at San Francisco State University.
"He covered all the bases," Davey D told Yeas & Nays of Rubio's favorite rap songs. "That Marco's a slick guy."
Politicians associating with rap today isn't novel, he said, particularly if they're young. "Anyone who's under a certain age, at this point I'd say 50, probably has some sort of engagement with hip hop," he said. "It's hard to ignore." When Bill Clinton took the stage with Queen Latifah in the 1990s, or Eazy-E lunched with George H.W. Bush, that was a much bigger deal, he said.
"So you listen to NWA, Tupac, and Eminem?" Davey D said. "They're 20 years old."
What would surprise Davey D would be if Rubio name-checked a more political act, like Dead Prez or Mos Def, who has written on Cuba and why the embargo should be lifted. Mentioning someone "who was in a drive-by in Compton" is much less controversial. "That thing is so mainstream right now," he said.
Davey D said it's perfectly likely that Rubio is genuine when he brings up Public Enemy, but it's also a savvy move.
"It's going to position Marco Rubio as culturally aware of a genre that has always sparked conversation," he said. "It's not an easy thing like, I hang with Bruce Springsteen. I listen to Taylor Swift. Who cares?"
"For a lot of younger folks," he continued, "they might give him a second look."