Claire Beaudreault a.k.a. Clara Bizna$$, is a rapper (from the group Hand Job Academy), writer, nail artist and multi-hyphenate living on the Brooklyn/Queens border. New Orleans-born, Los Angeles-, Manila- and West Virginia-bred, she moved to NYC a decade ago with two suitcases and $1,000. Bylines include BarkPost, Bust, Salon, Brokelyn and xoJane. She has got a Chihuahua, a Captain Beefheart tattoo and once played a hooker on SVU. Her religion is karaoke. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram. (photo credit: Hayleigh Hatcher)
In 2008, I was still idealistic. My life was a mess, but I believed in Hope and Change. It was the last days of my drinking and the last days of the Bush regime. I didn’t have a real creative or musical project happening — unless you count sitting on a barstool and drunkenly telling anyone who would listen about my imaginary rockabilly band, Cut Off.
Country music was my soundtrack of choice that year, but a handful of hip-hop and rap albums were in heavy rotation. The South was strongly represented, mainly Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III, which I listened to nearly every day during the summer of ’08. Three years after Hurricane Katrina, Weezy was speaking to the issues and anger of New Orleanians in the aftermath. He’d grown as an artist, and this record showcased his lyrical originality, agility with metaphor and punchlines.
I wasn’t the hugest T.I. fan, but “Swagga Like Us” was all over the radio, and “Whatever You Like” had been given adorable new life in a voting-themed remake by some Atlanta school children. Watching what was essentially a Social Studies project presented by kids who could have a president who looked like them held a special significance.
I’d been excited about Barack Obama since his keynote at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. There were rumors about his future bid for the presidency, and although I didn’t know much about the young Illinois senator, I could already feel his electricity. I was cautiously optimistic for the possibility of a young, charismatic, biracial president — someone who could really represent my generation and me. I’d voted for every dull Democratic candidate since my first legal election in 2000, but I was finally inspired. When he got the nomination, I felt a rush of hope that only gained momentum as the election cycle unfolded.
So, on the chilly morning of November 4, 2008, I rolled out of bed, put on my boots and threw a coat on over what I had worn to bed: underwear. I headed across the street to my polling place, a Brooklyn junior high school. I wanted to tell my grandchildren (I suppose I’m telling you, as I don’t really plan to ever have grandchildren) that I voted in this historical election in the nearly altogether. It’s probably some kind of illegal to roll up to a junior high school in the garb of a flasher, but I felt a frisson of rebellion. Cheap thrills, I guess.
I listen to the radio in the morning, usually Hot 97. Memory doesn’t exactly serve regarding what I was specifically listening to, but “Heartless” by Kanye was released that day. Doesn’t exactly match the mood, but it would be on repeat through Christmas.
That night, as the results came in, we took to the streets, chanting and cheering. I got drunker and drunker and bawled my eyes out. The energy in the city was magical, and the glow of victory lasted for many days after. Barry’s most-played campaign song was “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” by Stevie Wonder, and in his victory speech he borrowed some lyrics from “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke. I’m sure I heard both in the days to follow. I don’t remember what, if any, music was playing in the streets; all I hear in my memory is continuous cheering and chanting.
I was born in New Orleans and left as a small child, but visited my favorite city as often as money allowed. I had a trip planned with a gentleman friend with whom I drank and destructed; we flew down on November 8. The objective was a cliché of New Orleans vacations: debauchery. I was also looking forward to seeing the place I had in common with Lil Wayne, the place that informed and inspired so much of his work.
I’d visited many times in the years after Katrina, but after Obama’s win, something felt different. There was a sense of hope in the air, a little bit of joy in the city that had been so devastated by not only the storm but years of racial and socioeconomic division and the resulting violence and crime. As a self-centered active alcoholic, I only saw one way to do my part in stimulating the economy.
We hit the French Quarter and doubled my male companion’s lifetime strip club attendance record in a twelve-hour marathon of vice. (I was a seasoned strip club patron and found this adorable.) One of our stops was the now-shuttered Bourbon Street location of Little Darlings. When we walked in, the Young Jeezy song “My President” was blasting. Even in a dark club, the joy was palpable. Everyone was celebrating.
“My president is black, my Lambo’s blue,” the Atlanta artist rapped over the triumphant beat. I sent my friend to the ATM with its $5 fee, and we made it rain on the club’s eponymous Little Darlings.
The track appears on Jeezy’s album The Recession, released before the election in September 2008. In his verses, Jeezy paints a portrait of his frustration and oppression by the political machine. He references war in the Middle East and the war on drugs at home. He addresses issues facing the African-American community such as incarceration and poverty, and his hopes that Obama can help enact change.
The video for “My President” portrays a hip-hop version of a political convention. Signs bear the names of Sojourner Truth, Soulja Slim, Obama, Bernie Mac, Malcolm X and other Black historical figures and artists. Various districts represented on signs include Haiti and Queensbridge, New York. Speaking of Queensbridge, Nas guests on the track and delivers the strip-club-appropriate line, “She ain’t a politician, honey’s a pole-itician.” He’s not just talking about adult entertainment, though. Like Jeezy, Nas touches on serious topics. “Our history, black history, no President ever did shit for me.” Mr. Jones mentions the fact that ex-felons lose the right to vote. It’s a banger, but it carries a message.
I kept the song on repeat for months, and in January, Jay Z dropped a remix in time for the inauguration. Hova dropped the line “Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther could walk/Martin Luther walked so Barack Obama could run/Barack Obama ran so all the children could fly.” It was a little corny, in mid-era Jay-Z fashion, but it was the truth.
Eight years later, in the twilight of Obama’s presidency, I’m no longer that drunken, idealistic twentysomething. Obama brought a lot of change, but we have a long way to go. This primary cycle, I watched young Bernie Sanders supporters who reminded me of my youthful exuberance in 2008. Fueled by weed, fresh college degrees and the dankest of memes, they were on fire for a candidate who excited them. I wish I could say I shared their enthusiasm. I agreed with Sanders across every platform, but there was a spark missing. I tried to feel the Bern, but I was left a little chilly. My group even played a Bernie benefit concert, but I still wasn’t obsessed. The soundtrack to the Vermont senator was mostly folksy songs of revolution by the likes of Tracy Chapman, Bob Marley, Simon & Garfunkel and even my favorite Bowie song “Starman.” All solid stuff, but my world wasn’t rocked.
My conscience and I voted for Sanders in the primary, and now I’m With Her. I’m not as excited as I’d like to be, and my 2016 election theme song is angry instead of hopeful. Instead of hyping and praising one candidate, the song is taking one to task. YG & Nipsey Hussle’s “FDT (Fuck Donald Trump)” says it all, and I agree.