Members of the United States Congress making reference to famous hip-hop lyrics is a relatively new phenomenon in American politics. Also new? Reporters not knowing that they’re hip-hop lyrics.
It all started Tuesday, during proceedings to consider motions prior to the impeachment trial of President Trump. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a Democrat from New York who is one of the Democratic impeachment managers, was speaking on the floor in reference to a motion about issuing a subpoena for White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, and addressed his remarks at Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s attorneys.
“We are here, sir, to follow the facts, apply the law, be guided by the Constitution, and present the truth to the American people. That is why we are here, Mr. Sekulow, and if you don’t know, now you know.”
See the video here:
Those final eight words were, of course, a reference to the Notorious B.I.G.’s 1994 song “Juicy,” which was one of the late rapper’s first hit singles:
There’s another major song that uses that phrase, and that’s “Cabinet Battle #2,” from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s popular hip-hop musical Hamilton. In the song, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson are debating whether the United States should assist France in its coming war with England. In arguing for intervention, Jefferson (played in the original production by Daveed Diggs) punctuates one of his rhymes with “if ya don’t know, now you know,” replacing Biggie’s n-word with “Mr. President.”
The reaction to Jeffries’ use of the rhyme made one thing clear: Some members of the Washington press corps, as well as numerous Twitter randos, are very familiar with Hamilton, but not so familiar with foundational 1990s hip-hop:
Also, it doesn’t seem as though many of the Senators got the reference:
This has always been overstated, as there are a lot more Hamilton fans in small towns who listen to the soundtrack than those marshaling political connections to get front-row seats, and show has been touring for years now, with tickets that aren’t nearly as expensive as they used to be. And the show’s lyrics are both uncommonly dense and based on diverse influences from ’90s rap to Ja Rule/Ashanti duets to Jesus Christ Superstar.
That said, music-appreciating adults should know where the lyric “if you don’t know, now you know” originated.
CULTURE (counter, pop, and otherwise) and the people who shape it.