“Reagan” is a popular politically charged rap song by Killer Mike. Michael Render or Killer Mike is a famous and prolific rap artist. In addition to being the founder of Grind Time Official Records, he is both a social and political activist. He was influenced politically by his Grandma who raised him in Collier Heights—a neighborhood rich in political history. His grandmother played an integral role in getting him involved in politics, educating him on American politics from a young age. His first hip hop influence was Schoolly D, Public Enemy, and N.W.A and earned his stage name for being “a killer” of mike’s (Biography.com). The image above is from Killer Mike studio album R.A.P Music, which stands for Rebellious African People. This title suggests that Killer Mike is writing an album to stir up conversation and make an impact on the political atmosphere. This song illustrates Killer Mike’s ability to recognize social injustices in America. In this song, he focuses on the Reagan administration. His goal is to show the connection between the state of the black community and the heavy decisions of those in power. He exposes things that are forgotten or ignored because of their radical nature. He references the problems that the black community in America face both internally and externally. These problems include the glorification of violence in rap songs, the organized influx of cocaine, the War on Drugs, police brutality, the prison system, and more.
Historical and Cultural Context
The song discusses many important historical and political events such as the war on drugs, the Iran-Contra scandal, and Reaganomics. Killer Mike artfully implies through his meaningful lyrics that all of these events are connected and Reagan’s policies destroyed the black community in more ways than is discussed in history books or is common knowledge. Killer Mike begins to rap about The War on Drugs. Contrary to popular belief, The War on Drugs didn’t start with Ronald Reagan, but rather with Richard Nixon in the 1970s. Nixon emphasized to the American people that drugs were problem with the country and levied different prison sentence to different drugs (War on Drugs). Nixon also introduced “”New Federalism” during his presidency which offered the states a means to preserve race-based hierarchies after civil rights by returning funding power to governors” (Hinton 135). This meant after civil rights, black people were allowed to join in the political landscape but the core system stayed the same and never gave the black people any political power. John Enrichleman, domestic policy chief of Nixon, explicitly admitted that purpose of the War on Drugs was to disturb the communities of “antiwar left and black people.” When Reagan came into power after Jimmy Carter’s term, the War on Drugs reached its peak (War on Drugs).
Another pivotal event during the Reagan administration was the Iran-Contra Scandal, which eventually led to the crack epidemic in black communities all across the nation. When 7 hostages were held in Iran, Reagan agreed to sell 15 missiles for 30 million dollars and funneled 18 million to the Contras in Nicaragua as they were fighting against a communist government know as the Sandinistas (Iran-Contra Affair). During this period of time America was extremely afraid of communism and were prepared to do anything to deter the spread of it. Reagan was willing to do anything to stop this threat, even Americans. In order to further fund the Contras, who were involved with cocaine dealings, the FBI introduced cocaine to black communities, leading to the cocaine distribution funding the Contra’s efforts and the crack epidemic of the 1980s (Parry 68).
After the crack epidemic, Reagan administration increased the severity of law enforcement, especially regarding crack and cocaine. Reagan put Law and Order first and foremost, above all the other executive duties. Police brutality became rampant and young black men were disportionately affected in imprisoned, since the drugs were found in black communities. This brutality led to a increase of black incarcerations (Abshire 76).
Regarding economic policy, Killer Mike also describes that due to “Reaganomics,” “prisons turned to profits, cause free labor is the cornerstone of US economics” (Killer Mike- ‘Reagan’). This line highlights the hypocrisy of the privatization of prisons and references that slavery built America. Killer Mike’s references to private prisons “causes many to question the morality of turning prisoners into profitable commodities” (Genius). Killer Mike expresses prison inmates as slaves and despite the 13th Amendment—which prohibits involuntary servitude—prisoners were used as a labor source. Ronald Reagan remodeled the structure of the American system with his trickle-down economic plans and conservative fiscal policies. Though many claimed this helped the U.S. economy, “Reaganomics” resulted in a tripling of the national debt and exacerbation of wealth inequality (Longley 156).
Themes and Style
Killer Mike’s “Reagan” is a popular, catchy rap song that incorporates strong, politically charged lyrics and an intricate, multilayered beat. This song’s main theme revolves around Ronald Reagan and his unfair political policies. Killer Mike takes a tough stance against a generally popular president, challenging his ideas and actions by mentioning specific events in his song. His historical allusions to Oliver North, the Iran-Contra scandal, and “Reaganomics” highlight the government’s institutionalized destruction of black communities. His use of rhyme and beat in the song place emphasis on specific words like “cocaine” and “triggers” to draw the attention of the listener to the statements in his song. Killer Mike injects pathos in his song by specifically painting an image of young black boys being abused by the police—a direct result of the war on drugs put in place under Reagan. These lyrics and historical references shed light on the institutionalized destruction of black communities. The motive behind these actions can be traced back to racism rooted in slavery. The mindset is carried on through generations and has resulted in black lives perpetually facing unfair challenges in society.
One of the most signficant and boldest claims Killer Mike makes in his song is “Just like Oliver North introduced us to cocaine” (Killer Mike – ‘Reagan’). This is a reference that is thoroughly historically discussed in the Historical and Cultural Context section of the digital encyclopedia. This claim refers to the CIA’s coordinated influx of cocaine to black communities to fund Contra efforts in Nicaragua. Killer Mike is a social activist and believes this portion of history is never discussed, despite the overwhelming evidence and scandals surrounding the event. Black communities today still suffer from drug use and very little are aware of the government’s involvement in this issue. Statistically it has been proven that blacks are disproportionately imprisoned for drug use compared to others in America, only to maintain their status as slaves in “post-slavery” America. Killer Mike has emphasized this point in his song, declaring “Cause slavery was abolished, unless you are in prison” (Killer Mike – ‘Reagan’). This highlights the plague that perpetual cycle that black people face due to racist attitudes.
Later in the song, Killer Mike alludes to the present day when he compares Reagan, Clinton, Bush, and Obama as “talking heads telling lies on teleprompters.” This line implies there is little difference between the presidents, and that the government is just as corrupt as it was under Reagan. Killer Mike’s rhyme of “we invaded sovereign soil, going after oil,” highlights a major injustice among many presidents, indicating the same recurring issues arise (Killer Mike – ‘Reagan’). As a vocal political and social activist, Killer Mike has proclaimed his lack of faith in the government. His song mentions the bleak cycle that blacks are placed in and describes how the system is impeding their progress.
Another major theme in this work is the continuous destructive cycle in black communities. Killer Mike uses metaphors of “bread” and “bakers” declaring, “we brag on having bread, but none of us are bakers” to criticize black and rap culture for boasting about wealth without actually achieving financial security. The lyrics, “We are advertisements for agony and pain, We exploit the youth, we tell them to join a gang, we tell them dope stories, introduce them to the game” are one of three strongest lyrics of this song because it highlights how the problems within black communities cycle endlessly (Killer Mike – ‘Reagan’). He criticizes the glorification of drug dealing and gang culture,placing the blame of the destruction of black communities and racism not only the government, but also on the current culture among black communities.
While there is not much critical conversation surrounding this particular song, there is immense controversy surrounding the Reagan presidency as a whole. For example, one of the most significant programs lead by Reagan was the “War on Drugs,” which was implemented with the public intention to end overdoses and unhealthy drug use, but really was used to imprison young black Americans. Elizabeth Hinton’s From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: the Making of Mass Incarceration in America sheds more light on the corrupt prison system in America. This specifically relates to Killer Mike’s reference to “prisons turned to profits,” in which prisoners were used as a labor source despite the 13th amendment during the Reagan presidency. In the prison system they have no agenda to decrease the incarceration rate because it is for their own benefit (Hinton 184). The prison conditions were also a topic of heated debate. Hinton claims that prison conditions were inhumane and disgusting, but others claimed prisoners did not need to be treated well.
While the cocaine scandal surrounding Reagan has been supported by many, some still believe it is merely a conspiracy theory. Robert Parry’s Lost History: Contras, Cocaine & Other Crimes provided conversation regarding the Reagan presidency and the cocaine scandal. Parry, an investigative reporter that worked for The Associated Press and PBS Frontline, provides detailed accounts of how the FBI helped finance the Contra’s efforts by organizing the black community’s addiction to cocaine, causing the crack epidemic in the 1980s. While Reagan is an iconic president, many consider him a racist and detrimental to those who were not elite. Others, including the elite, were big fans of Reagan due to his conservative economic and social policies. In Deconstructing Reagan: Conservative Mythology and America’s Fortieth President, Longley covers the presidency of Reagan and his significant influence of politics in America. Longley praises Reagan as an iconic symbol of the conservative party in America and the idea of “Reaganomics” as it began the conservative regime in America. He goes onto describe other influential conservative policies enacted by the Reagan administration and their effects on America.
Despite much history surrounding his presidency that is hidden and controversial, Reagan was generally a popular president. His public relations team was able to manipulate the media and his public image to pain him in a good light despite the Iran-Contra scandal and the turmoil in black communities. Saving the Reagan Presidency: Trust Is the Coin of the Realm by David Abshire discusses the public relations committee and their plan to alter the public image of Reagan after countless scandals, the most significant one being the Iran-Contra scandal. Changing and manipulating the public image is a skill that people who work for presidents have perfected. It is no surprise that Reagan’s public image is still so good due to the complicated scheme coordinated to keep Reagan liked among Americans. This book provides insider information on the manipulative schemes within the administration and supports many accusations in Killer Mike’s song, “Reagan,” including Oliver North’s cover up in the cocaine scandal.
Politics is obviously a widely debated topic, and Reagan’s presidency is no exception. While there are many different opinions on Ronald Reagan, Killer Mike’s lyrics and allusions demand the listeners to reconsider the popular president and question our society and government.
Abshire, David M. Saving the Reagan Presidency: Trust Is the Coin of the Realm. Texas A&M University Press, 2005.
Hinton, Elizabeth Kai. From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: the Making of Mass Incarceration in America. Harvard University Press, 2017.
“Iran-Contra Affair.” History.com, A+E Networks, 2017, www.history.com/topics/iran-contra-affair.
“Killer Mike- ‘Reagan’ (Official Music Video).” Youtube, Pitchfork, 3 Oct. 2012, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6lIqNjC1RKU.
“Killer Mike Biography.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 30 May 2017, http://www.biography.com/people/killer-mike-5102017.
“Killer Mike – Reagan.” Genius, 15 May 2012, genius.com/Killer-mike-reagan-lyrics.
Longley, Kyle, et al. Deconstructing Reagan: Conservative Mythology and America’s Fortieth President. M.E. Sharpe, 2007.
Parry, Robert. Lost History: Contras, Cocaine & Other Crimes. Media Consortium, 1997.
“War on Drugs.” History.com, A&E Networks, 2017, http://www.history.com/topics /the-war-on-drugs.
“13TH | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix.” Youtube, Netflix, 26 Sept. 2016, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V66F3WU2CKk&t=3s.
“Bernie Sanders x Killer Mike Interview #FeelTheBern || Moorish World News.” Youtube, IAMHH Temple, 20 Jan. 2016, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eJjQWaWIxCs.
Logan, Charles H. Private Prisons: Cons and Pros. Oxford Univ. Press, 1990.
Smith, Calvin L. Revolution, Revival, and Religious Conflict in Sandinista Nicaragua. BRILL, 2014.
- Killer Mike
- War on Drugs
- Iran Contra Scandal
- Police Brutality
- 13th Amendment