White House Rapper Controversy Gives GOP Something to Whine About

Kim Conte

commonMichelle Obama has really done it this time! The First Lady had the nerve to invite Chicago poet and rapper Common -- along with Elizabeth Alexander, Billy Collins, Aimee Mann, and Jill Scott -- to the White House for a poetry reading Wednesday night.

Not only is Common widely regarded in the music industry for being a thoughtful, socially conscious artist, but he's also starred in family-friendly films including Freedom Writers and Just Wright and has written children's books. But the Daily Caller is making him out to be an angry, controversial, violent rapper by drawing attention to one of his spoken-word performances from 2007, where he talks about threatening to shoot police and issues a call to "burn a Bush" for starting the war in Iraq.

And conservatives are having a field day ...

Conservative sites including National Review are questioning whether Common is the best choice for the reading. Fox News ran the following headline: "Michelle Obama Hosting Vile Rapper at White House?" And, of course, Sarah Palin chimed in via Twitter with "Oh lovely, White House..."

It's hard to take criticism about such a trivial issue seriously given that it's coming immediately on the heels of some huge wins for President Obama -- namely, the silencing of the birther movement (at least for now) and the death of Osama bin Laden. In other words, the GOP is practically foaming at the mouth for something to complain about.

Granted, the few lyrics that were reprinted in the Daily Caller aren't Common's most peaceful; but sometimes poetry, art, and rap are meant to challenge us and make us uncomfortable. And do I even have to remind naysayers that like all Americans -- artist or not -- he's simply practicing his right to free speech. Considering that these lyrics represent only a very tiny part of a much larger, less controversial body of work, is it even fair to paint him as a violent "vile rapper"?

Consider this, too: There have been plenty of artists who have performed for presidents in the past who have controversial lyrics of their own. President George W. Bush himself invited Bono to lunch at the White House in 2005 despite the fact that the very political U2 frontman has been critical of the U.S. government in many of his songs.

The whole point of this week's reading at the White House is to highlight poetry's influence on American culture. Is anyone going to argue that rap -- even rap that's hard to listen to -- isn't an important part of our culture? Sure, we can attempt to ban every artist who has ever made a controversial statement in the past; but then the only person left will be Kenny G.

And, I have to believe our culture is so much more than that.


Image via Frazer Harrison/Getty

Read More