DOWD: Gangsta pol: The rap on Marco Rubio

  • Marco Rubio, drink of water, GOP response, SOTU, political cartoon

Not long ago, scrolling for a movie, I saw that "Notorious" was on.

How can you resist Cary Grant as an American spy in Rio recruiting Ingrid Bergman to seduce and betray a Nazi played by Claude Rains? But it turned out to be a very different "Notorious," one about the rise of gangsta rapper Biggie Smalls, aka The Notorious B.I.G., his artistic relationship with Sean "Puffy" Combs at Bad Boy Records in New York and the bloody East vs. West feud between Biggie and Tupac Shakur, a star in L.A. who spent his final year at Death Row records.

Like the 1946 "Notorious," the 2009 gangsta rap saga offered sex, strife, danger, gats, Champagne, a strong immigrant mother and trust issues. Crack replaced uranium as the perilous substance. The movie climaxed with Tupac getting shot in a car on the Las Vegas Strip in 1996 and then, in retaliation six months later, Biggie getting shot in a car in L.A.

Little did I know, as I brushed up on gangsta rap history, that the topic would soon spice up the overture to the 2016 presidential race.

Gangsta rap used to be a reliable issue for politicians, but they were denouncing it. Now Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida is praising it — and right at the moment when Republicans are pushing the argument that guns don't kill people; it's a culture glorifying guns and violence that kills people.

The ubiquitous 41-year-old — who's on the cover of Time as "The Republican Savior" —looked as if he needed some saving himself as he delivered the party's response to the State of the Union address in English (and Spanish). He seemed parched, shaky and sweaty, rubbing his face and at one point lunging off-camera to grab a bottle of water. He needed some of the swagger reflected on the Spotify playlist he recently released featuring Tupac's "Changes," as well as Flo Rida, Pitbull, The Sugar Hill Gang, Kanye, Big Sean, devoted Obama supporters Jay-Z and Will.I.Am, and a Foster the People song about "a cowboy kid" who finds a gun in his dad's closet and goes after "all the other kids with the pumped up kicks."

Rubio told GQ that he loved the documentary on Tupac, "Resurrection," and his song, "Killuminati," and that 30-year-old hip-hop is now "indistinguishable" from pop. (Sorry, Tipper.) He said that Tupac, who loved Shakespeare and called "Romeo and Juliet" "serious ghetto," wrote poetry. Tupac's "Changes" lyric — "You see the old way wasn't working so it's on us to do what we gotta do to survive" — could be an anthem for the busted Republican Party.

Maybe Rubio is siding with West Coast rap in an early bid to nail down California's 55 electoral votes. But in The Atlantic Wire, Elspeth Reeve argues that, message-wise, it would make more sense for the ambitious GOP senator to go with B.I.G., who had "up-from-his-bootstraps small-business acumen" and a mom who immigrated from Jamaica and ended up, as Biggie rapped, pimping an Acura with "minks on her back." Tupac's mother and stepfather were Black Panthers.

Asked by BuzzFeed's Ben Smith about this recently, Rubio said that he was in school at the peak of Death Row music and preferred it.

He demurred when asked if he had learned any life lessons from Tupac — "I don't listen to music for the politics of it" — and noted that mostly, rappers were not "condoning a certain lifestyle" as much as reporting on "what life was like in South Central."

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