Guest poster Adam Leon, co-proprietor of the popular Philly/NYC music blog BadmintonStamps, offers his take on the recent controversy over Barack Obama's alleged plagiarism.
Hillary Clinton's plagiarism ploy brings to mind the classic beef between rappers Cam'ron and Jay-Z. In 2006, Cam'ron released several dis tracks aimed at his former labelmate, the generally unimpeachable Jay-Z. The fracas stemmed from Jay's decision to leave Roc-A-Fella Records for the presidency of another label, Def Jam, a move that Cam'ron, who always played second (or third) fiddle to Jay in terms of sales and esteem, felt disrespected both himself and Jay's former business partner, Damon Dash.
One of the songs Cam dropped was "Swagger Jacker," a seven-and-a-half-minute epic sonic collage sampling instances where Jay-Z "plagiarized" from other rappers. The parallels to Hillary's YouTube dis video are undeniable. Both Hillary and Cam'ron, unable to gain the respect or popularity of their rival, resort to calling their opponent a plagiarist. The arguments are thin at best, although at least Cam included multiple examples. As Noam Scheiber (No'am?) pointed out, almost all politicians bite each others' rhymes, and Senator Clinton is in no way a stranger to the practice. The same is true in hip-hop, where rappers often pay homage to their peers by "borrowing" their lines. This is why "Swagger Jacker" was greeted with a generally tepid reception.
Jay-Z came out the victor in the beef, in part because he reacted with no more than a shrug, refusing to release a response song directly aimed at his foe. Jay was able to position himself as above such childish and desperate mud-slinging, a strategy Senator Obama seems to have successfully, um, borrowed.