MAGA rappers are certainly out there

The Trump era brought us a subgenre of hyper-partisan hip-hop. It's still going.

MAGA rappers are certainly out there
Kelvin J. and Tyson James flaunt in the music video for “MAGA BOYS,” which has more than half a million views on YouTube. (Screenshot: YouTube)

The Trump years gave us a lot of things to chew on, and it often feels like we as a nation are still digesting the fatty bits. They also brought with them a swarm of MAGA social media influencers who continue to extract engagement and cash from Trump’s fanbase.

In this newsletter, we’ll briefly look at the ones who rap!

The conservative movement has fought for decades in a culture war they’ve lost almost entirely. Rebuked by the public for its opposition to gay rights, the movement has grown self-conscious and embarrassed about its fading cultural impact, and so it has become desperate to advance the careers of anyone under 80 years of age who checks the right ideological boxes and also produces some form of nominal entertainment. Country music was once the tip of this cultural spear, but as that door has closed ever so slightly, God, or somebody, is opening a window elsewhere.

MAGA rap blossomed into full flower in the latter half of the Trump era, making strides toward professionalism and away from the half-baked joke raps of clowns like Baked Alaska. Aspiring artists jumped at the chance for a loyal fanbase, even a niche one, especially if it came at the seemingly low cost of producing a viral video hit. The starter kit was basic: Acquire some Trump merch, pose in front of a lifted pickup truck, and sell a part of your soul. Rap music has also long harbored artists slow to shed their contempt for gay and transgender people, making the bridge between the modern conservative culture war and the rap industry shorter than one might assume.

The resulting music is rarely listenable. The artists are trying to capture the ineffable Trump vibe, so their music often embodies the same gaudy sleaze that festoons the interiors of Trump hotels. Like the man, the music attempts to define a type of prestige that it is unable to obtain for itself. (It is also just really hard to make songs praising cops sound cool.)

There are some exceptions, like Florida rapper Forgiato Blow, the stage name of Kurt Jantz. Blow has some genuine talent that he’s enthusiastically wasting, rapping January 6 apologia and making music videos featuring the Proud Boys and Roger Stone.

But please, if you take one thing away from today’s newsletter, make it this: the music is barely the point.

The clear standout of the genre is former wrestler Tom MacDonald, who is known for blending the purest thoughts of moral panic conservative Twitter users with boomer-esque performative patriotism in a way only a Canadian national could pull off. Conservatives found in MacDonald a tattooed hardass who would say corny shit like, “If my stars and stripes offend you, then I'll help you pack your bags.”

Three of MacDonald’s songs have charted on Billboard’s Hot 100 list this year, a feat other MAGA rappers can only aspire to. Right-wing content farms love him for it; The Daily Wire slobbered all over MacDonald in a profile crowning him “a musical revolutionary.”

Over the Trump years, other MAGA rappers have basked in the spotlight for their allotted five minutes, but at the moment, the subgenre is experiencing a boom thanks to a clutch of proposed anthems for the “Let’s Go Brandon” MAGA in-joke. (“Let’s go, Brandon” is a tongue-in cheek way of saying “Fuck Joe Biden.”)

Loza Alexander’s “Let’s Go Brandon” song was the first one I thought struck gold (for broad values of gold). His track leans too heavily on its looped sample, but this is pretty solid as far as this genre goes:

That's what they get for treatin' us like we in Squid Games

Green light, mandate like he's insane

These times, people wakin' up to e'ything

Go Brandon, but we all know what the sayin' mean

It made the rounds with an admittedly fun, scrappy video, in which Alexander was clearly enjoying himself, and it resonated with MAGA fans.

But Alexander would quickly be dethroned by Bryson Gray, who tapped in Tyson James and Chandler Crump for his track. Gray’s “Let’s Go Brandon” song is the single that captured the right-wing media’s imagination, likely because of Gray’s dubious claims that the song had become a number-one hit. Conservative media ran headline after headline praising Gray for climbing the iTunes top songs chart.

Topping the iTunes chart in 2021 is not an imaginary accomplishment, but it’s also not an especially meaningful one. The chart is simply not an especially good measurement of whether or not a song is a hit—in an era where most people stream their music instead of buying digital copies of it, you can rocket up the iTunes list with a relatively small number of sales. If you were able to convince a couple thousand people to purchase a song on iTunes, you too could become a “number one” artist on that largely irrelevant chart.

Of all the MAGA rappers making rounds, Gray has been the most open about appealing to extremist political movements to build his fan base. And in his music, he often lies and expresses hatred. In “Banned,” he is unambiguous:

LGBT is wicked, go to hell if you don't change (Facts!)

All the transformers too, you'll also see the flames (Facts!)

Ultimately, all these rappers want to see their generally unpopular and unsellable ideas represented in American culture more prominently. As a recipe for cultural change, it is doomed to fail, but as a business strategy, it’s often reliable, so it persists nonetheless.

Cringe Annex: ‘Mint Chip’

Not every MAGA rapper makes it big. That brings me to “Mint Chip,” a younger MAGA rapper who once went by the name “Lil Trump.” His most popular YouTube hit is titled “FAKE NEWS (The Enemy Of The People)” and has about 11,000 views. If you like cringe content, watch this music video.

Edited by Sam Thielman