The 2016 presidential campaign is shifting into a higher gear, and with Super Tuesday just eight days away, it’s only going to get weirder from here. Dominated thus far by the rise of so-called “outsider” candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, as well as the difficulties faced by presumed sure things Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, by modern political standards the campaign reaches new levels of absurdity every week. What nobody probably saw coming, though, is the prominent role played by the two Houston rappers who have been thrust into the thick of things this month.
Some recent background: as jockeying for votes in the GOP’s February 13 South Carolina primary was reaching a fever pitch, the Ted Cruz campaign went after rival candidate (and fellow senator) Marco Rubio with an ad featuring former adult-film actress (and Houston native) Amy Lindsay. Perhaps searching for a way to save face and/or change course, Team Cruz next went after Clinton with a parody of the “printer scene” from the 1999 Mike Judge comedy Office Space, where several characters destroy the infamous piece of toner-bearing equipment as the Geto Boys’ “Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangster” plays on the soundtrack. This ad, entitled “It Feels Good to Be a Clinton,” features a Hillary lookalike destroying a similar device — obviously meant to be her controversial private email server — and lyrics like “a real Clinton knows they’re entitled, and you don’t get to know what they do.”
Many Cruz supporters and a few pundits thought the ad was hilarious, but when news of the ad reached the Geto Boys, the group released this official statement: “We do not support Ted Cruz or his super lame ad using our music.” Responding to the Cruz backers who claimed the spoof did the group a favor by helping raise their profile, i.e., the exact wrong thing to say, Willie D elaborated on his Facebook page a few hours later:
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While I'm always humbled by any interest in mine or the group's music, I'm not so desperate for attention that I want my music to be associated with the devil's advocate. Maybe that works for you but not me. Being happy that Ted Cruz is parodying my music, which speaks for the underprivileged, underserved, and underrepresented, is like a mugging victim being happy that the mugger filmed him or her being struck in the face, and uploaded it to social media for entertainment, because at least now everybody knows who they are.
Keep your press. We're the Geto Boys. On the strength of our catalogue and loyal fans, our name and music will live much longer than Ted Cruz and any microwave publicity he garners due to running for POTUS. We don't need Ted Cruz or his supporters to be relevant.
Willie D appeared on-camera the next day for a segment on Yahoo! News Live, during which he likened Cruz to the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. His calls for an apology from Cruz have thus far gone unanswered (that we know of), and the ad continues to run on Cruz’s Web site.
“I don’t think he has a heart,” Willie D told Yahoo! anchor Bianna Golodryga. “He’s a self-aggrandizing, insufferable douchebag.”
It’s one thing for a rap group to fight back against the unwelcome use of its music and image in an unauthorized campaign ad, though. Heading to the front lines where the political sausage is made is something else. Somehow making room in what has to be one of the busiest schedules of any Houstonian, Bun B filed a series of in-depth reports for VICE in the days leading up to both the New Hampshire and the South Carolina primaries. With shades of Hunter S. Thompson’s legendary election-season journals like Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, Bun’s dispatches are part frank social commentary — in New Hampshire especially, he’s often one of the few people of color in the room — and part fish-out-of-water fairy tale, as the often-freezing rapper reflects on being “about as far from Texas in the continental United States as one can get.”
Despite his name sometimes appearing in quotation marks onscreen, Bun’s reporting has even been noticed by a few members of the mainstream media. Last Friday, he appeared on MSNBC to share some of his adventures with anchor Tamron Hall. Echoing one of the campaign’s biggest buzzwords, Bun told Hall he was brought in to provide an “outsider’s” perspective, and immediately called attention to some rather obvious facets of the campaign that have nevertheless gone unremarked upon by most major media personalities except perhaps Stephen Colbert.
“I don’t want to make it seem like all conservatives are racist or anything, but there’s definitely coded language and terminology that’s being used to kind of tiptoe around words that they know aren’t politically correct,” said Bun, also a comparative-religion professor at Rice University since 2011. “But most of all, I think people really aren’t paying attention to what most people care about. A lot of this has really just been about selfies and autographs, especially when you get around the Trump campaign.”
Thus far Bun, a Bernie Sanders supporter, has written five articles for VICE from the campaign trail, three from New Hampshire and two from South Carolina. With Texas among the states voting on Super Tuesday, we can only hope he keeps it up closer to home. UGK fans have long known what a brilliant writer the King of the Trill is, and his VICE reports are full of sharp observations and strong opinions, often in the same sentence. Anyone who is interested in politics (or good writing) should read all five; just for a taste, though, here are snippets of each one.
After a long day of attending rallies for New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Marco Rubio, Bun watches the Super Bowl at his hotel, in “without question the quietest room I've ever been in where there was a sporting event playing on the TV and an open bar.”
I scan the conference room and realize it's filled with some of the most powerful people in the Republican Party. How I got in here is anybody's guess, but I'm in this bitch so fuck it, let's mingle.
Most of the reporters here are still reeling from Iowa. A good meal, a stiff drink, and a football game is the perfect way to wind down. I watch Queen Bey rock the halftime show, while older white women quietly observe 20-plus black women shaking their asses in synchronicity.
Searching for a Donald Trump event that isn’t already at capacity, Bun stumbles across the Mercy of God African Market, “in the middle of fucking New Hampshire.”
Shit is getting realer by the second. I go inside and learn that the market is African owned and operated. I ask if there is some large African population in New Hampshire that I haven't seen or heard about, and I was told there was not. I think about grabbing some cassava fufu but there's no time for that. We got shit to do.
Bun runs into Jeb Bush (or “Jeb!”), who eventually dropped out of the race after finishing fourth — barely — in South Carolina with less than 8 percent of the vote.
I'm like six inches away from him, and the first thing I notice is how tall he is. I'm pretty sure Bush is bigger than Trump, and he's in much better shape than he used to be, so I'm not sure why he lets Donald punk him so easily.
Bun arrives in South Carolina, or “South Cakalaka to the locals,” and heads to a Trump rally in Walterboro, about 50 miles west of Charleston.
As Trump takes the stage, complimenting the sportsmen who introduced him as "very rich and very nice," I get it. This isn't about politics. This is about a famous person from television coming to town. This election isn't really about the issues at hand—it's a popularity contest, made for reality TV. And this dude is the Honey Boo Boo of this political pageant.
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After a Ted Cruz rally at Mutt’s BBQ in the Low Country, where he comes face-to-face with the candidate, Bun heads to Greenville for the Conservative Review Convention, “a confab of right-wing infotainers and presidential candidates."
Inside, I spot a funnel cake concession stand and grab one because that's what you do in the South. We wander past various right-wing talk radio booths and people milling around in campaign shirts, and eventually, we make our way to the spin room. Halfway through a pulled pork slider, I get word that Sean Hannity will be in shortly. I wipe the BBQ sauce off my beard and get ready. I ask him if he and Fox News will throw their support behind the winner of the GOP nomination, even if it's Donald Trump. He tells me that he and Fox News are two separate things, and he deftly avoids giving me a straight answer. I thank him anyway. Leaving, he doesn't just give me a handshake — he gives me dap. A good strong dap, too. Somebody has black friends, y'all.
This week, Houston will be the epicenter of the campaign thanks to the latest GOP debate, which will be held at the University of Houston on Thursday. But imagine if it were at Rice instead, and either Bun himself or his bosses at the university (or both) were able to pull the proper strings to land him a spot on the panel alongside moderator Wolf Blitzer.
Finally, voters might start getting some real answers for a change. And the questions would be a hell of a lot more exciting, too.