How Nipsey Hussle and YG Harnessed the Power of Hip-Hop and Took on Donald Trump

In an excerpt from the new Nipsey biography ’The Marathon Don’t Stop,’ author Rob Kenner looks back at the origins and influence of the protest track ”Fuck Donald Trump”

In 2016, appalled by Donald Trump’s racist rhetoric, L.A. rappers Nipsey Hussle and YG set out to collaborate on, as YG later put it, “stuff other motherfuckers are not doing. So we finally hit the studio and really did it.” The result was “FDT”—aka “Fuck Donald Trump”—a broadside they dropped in the middle of Trump’s presidential campaign. Despite being partially censored and receiving scant airplay, “FDT” would go on to become the most influential rap protest song since NWA’s “Fuck tha Police,” its relevance extending into the George Floyd era.

As revealed in this excerpt from Vibe co-founder Rob Kenner’s The Marathon Don’t Stop, the just-published biography of Hussle, “FDT” was more than a thorn in Trump’s side; by calling out his toxic racism, the song was crucial to delegitimizing Trump in the hip-hop community that once embraced him.

During the early morning hours of Friday, June 12, 2015, YG was in Studio City wrapping up a recording session on his sophomore album, Still Brazy, when “a little incident” took place. His account of what happened can be heard on the second verse of “Twist My Fingaz,” a song he recorded soon afterward. The short version: he was shot outside the studio by unknown assailants and rushed to the hospital, where doctors removed the slug and patched him up. The very next day he was back at the studio on crutches, and Nipsey Hustle stopped by to make sure his homie was good. “I got shit to do,” YG told Billboard. “This shit don’t stop for nobody.”

As brazy as that situation was, something altogether more bonkers was about to take place three thousand miles to the east at 721 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Four days after YG’s shooting, Donald J. Trump glided down the golden escalator of his fifty-eight-story skyscraper to announce his candidacy for president of the United States. Greeted onstage by his daughter Ivanka, Trump stood before a gaggle of media, curious bystanders, and actors who’d answered a casting call, earning fifty dollars cash to wear Make America Great Again T-shirts and hold up signs of support. Then Trump uttered the first lie of his campaign. Addressing a crowd that reporters later estimated at 100 at most, Trump gushed: “Wow! Whoa! That is some group of people—thousands!”

From the start Donald Trump built his campaign on a bedrock of racist rhetoric. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” he said that day, straying from the official talking points distributed by his staff, and presumably speaking from the heart. “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists.”

A couple of weeks after Trump started to take America on a long escalator ride down—and after a twenty-one-year-old unemployed ninth-grade dropout and avowed white supremacist named Dylann Roof entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and murdered nine Black parishioners with a handgun—Kendrick Lamar performed “Alright” live at the BET Awards. “Alls my life I has ta fight, nigga,” the mighty MC roared, spitting truth from atop a graffiti-tagged prop police car, surrounded by explosions and flames, as a giant American flag waved behind him.

Like every other rapper in Los Angeles, Nipsey Hussle was paying close attention to Kendrick at that moment. “You know we all conscious of each other’s movements on the west,” he told me a few years later. “What was dope about Kendrick to me is that he became such a commercial success but never really made commercial product, in intention. [His music] became consumable on the highest level, but I always respect when people find that balance.”

YG had a self-made mindset similar to Nipsey’s. “I’m the only one who made it out the west without Dre,” he declared on “Twist My Fingaz.” YG went on to build his own 4Hunnid brand, and negotiated his own label deal for the release of Still Brazy. “Nip, we talked about a lot of family stuff, business stuff, life goals,” YG said. “He ended up bein’ like a big brother to me.” The feeling was mutual. “YG represent a lot of things I represent,” Hussle said. “He important not only to the city but to hip-hop. I got a certain respect and understanding with anybody that come from L.A. and the street culture of L.A. I feel like I understand you a little better.”

It was thus almost inevitable for Hussle and YG to embark upon a collaborative project. They decided to call it 2 of Amerikkkaz Most Wanted, inspired by the classic Snoop and 2Pac collaboration.

On the last day of Black History Month, February 29, 2016, Trump threw a campaign rally at Valdosta State University, deep in southern Georgia. A group of thirty Black Valdosta State students decided to attend the rally, all of them dressed in black to protest that Trump had been endorsed by former KKK grand wizard David Duke. But they didn’t get the chance. Before Trump began speaking, security guards asked them to leave the auditorium.“We didn’t plan to do anything,” said Tahjila Davis, then a 19-year-old majoring in mass media. “They said, ‘This is Trump’s property, it’s a private event.” Brooke Gladney, another Black

Valdosta student asked to leave, said, “The only reason we were given was that Mr. Trump did not want us there.”

Cell phone footage of the distraught Black students being escorted out of the rally circulated on social media, along with reports that another group of Black students had been ejected from an earlier Trump rally in Virginia earlier the same day. Campaign mouthpiece Hope Hicks denied allegations of racial bias but her statement was contradicted by Valdosta police chief Brian Childress, who checked with the campaign staff and confirmed that it requested the Black students be removed from the event.

How could a candidate endorsed by the KKK get away with calling himself “the least racist person there is anywhere in the world”? Part of the explanation was that the media did not take Trump seriously until it was too late, playing his presidential run for entertainment value and big ratings. But another explanation for Trump’s ability to fly under the radar for so long despite his racist track record was that hip-hop moguls were infatuated with the billionaire playboy whose name had been branded as a signifier of success.

For years Trump hung out with Puff Daddy and Russell Simmons at opulent rap functions. In 2005 he stopped by 50 Cent’s G-Unit Radio show to chat with DJ Whoo Kid and Tony Yayo. Donald said Ivanka was a big 50 Cent fan and Curtis Jackson himself soon called in to chat. “Let’s do a song,” Trump told 50. “Write up some good lyrics.” Yayo and Whoo Kid laughingly suggested they could call the track “You’re Fired.” Trump was proud of his hip-hop clout. Mac Miller, Jeezy, Smif-N-Wessun, and Rae Sremmurd all released songs name-checking him in the title. “I’m in more of these rap songs,” Trump bragged. “My daughter calls me up, she said, ‘Dad, you’re in another one!’ ”

To Miller’s credit, he was one of the first hip-hop artists to denounce Trump’s political career. In December 2015 he sensed that the joke had gone too far and tweeted, “Just please don’t elect this motherfucker, man.” The late MC also appeared on Comedy Central’s Nightly Show in March 2016 to emphasize his point. “I fuckin’ hate you, Donald Trump,” Miller said. “You say you wanna make America great again? We all know what that really means—ban Muslims, Mexicans are rapists, Black lives don’t matter. Make American great again? I think you want to make America white again.”

Soon, other hip-hop royalty distanced themselves. Russell Simmons withdrew support for his “old friend,” publicly backing Hillary Clinton, as did Pusha T. Meanwhile, Killer Mike aligned himself with Bernie Sanders. There were qualified holdouts: Kanye West — struggling with mental health issues—would eventually rock the red MAGA cap, while Azealia Banks tweeted: “Donald Trump is evil like America is evil. I only trust this country to be what it is: full of shit. Takes shit to know shit so we may as well put a piece of shit in the White House.”

Somebody needed to step up, harness the awesome power of hip-hop, and speak with a clear voice, calling out Trump on his bullshit.

When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, the unified power of hip-hop helped lift him to victory. Endorsements from Jay-Z and Jeezy to Common and Will.I.Am—not to mention two cover stories in Vibe magazine—helped mobilize record turnout among young voters from varied races,  cultures, ethnic groups, and economic backgrounds. Eight years later, America was faced with the most openly racist candidate in modern history, but the popular resistance was in disarray. Somebody needed to step up, harness the awesome power of hip-hop, and speak with a clear voice, calling out Trump on his bullshit.

YG and Hussle were about to start work on their collaborative album as outrage against Trump was reaching a fever pitch. “Everywhere I went, everybody’s findin’ out all the real shit about him,” YG recalled. He and Nip always talked about using their platforms to make a bold statement about real issues. As YG put it, they aspired to do “stuff other motherfuckers are not doing. So we finally hit the studio and really did it.” For Hussle, Trump was “just a privileged rich dude that got an out-of-touch view of the world. That made me like, dude is definitely out of his mind and our country sounded crazy for even taking him as a legitimate candidate.”

Having grown up in L.A., both YG and Hussle found Trump’s attacks on Latinos particularly offensive. Hussle had always discouraged Black-on-brown conflict. “I feel like we got a common enemy, so I don’t feel we got time to be beefin’,” he told Davey D in 2006. In the decade since, Hussle had put those views into practice, bringing different hoods and cultures together within his team, including his Mexican-born business partner and road manager Jorge Peniche. “The way Trump was campaigning was really affecting my guy,” said Hussle, who gained a new appreciation for the impact of Trump’s rhetoric. “This dude went to college. This dude is a good person.” The son of an immigrant himself, Hussle had a sizable Latino fan base. “I felt like they needed somebody to ride for ’em,” he said. “Because we relate in the struggle, and poverty, and not havin’ shit, and bein’ incarcerated.”

By the time Blacks started getting thrown out of Trump rallies, YG felt they had no choice but to act. One day he put it to Nip: “Look, bro, if we doin’ a project called Two of AmeriKKKaz Most Wanted, we gotta have a song called ‘Fuck Donald Trump.’” Nip thought the idea was “tight,” like a 2016 version of N.W.A’s “Fuck tha Police.” His exact words, as YG remembered them, were: “Cuz, on Six-Owe, I feel you! Let’s do it!”

Everything unfolded quickly from there. “We heard it back through the speakers and we already knew this was powerful,” Hussle recalled. YG thought Nip should be the one to rap the verses. “You always talk about real shit,” he said. But Nip challenged YG to set it off. “Nah, you rap it!”  YG didn’t hesitate. As soon as he laid down his first verse—evoking the Rodney King riots and declaring “I’m ’bout to turn Black Panther / Don’t let Donald Trump win, that nigga cancer!”—everybody in the studio started looking around like, We should lock the door and finish this. “Me as an artist, Nip as an artist, we very straight up and down,” YG said later. “It is what it is. It ain’t no hidden messages when we rapping. You gon’ know what the fuck we talkin’ ’bout.”

With inspiration flowing, the song was finished in less than an hour. In case anybody missed the significance of what was going on, YG closed out with a promise to pay Trump a visit. “When your L.A. rally? We gon’ crash your shit!”

As soon as they knocked out the vocals, YG turned to Nip. “I’m like, ‘Ay, bro . . . you ready?’ ”

“What you talkin’ ’bout?” Nip replied.

“You ready for what might come with this?” he said. “Like, niggas gonna get banned from shows. All the police, all them people, gonna be on us.”

Nip replied. “Fuck it. Let’s make it worth something.”

They called the song “FDT” and dropped it on March 30, 2016. Hip-hop’s powerful rebuke of the presumptive Republican candidate set the internet ablaze. The final version of the track included a sound bite of Trump talking about building his “great wall” on the Mexican border and a clip of Tahjila Davis speaking about getting thrown out of the Trump rally. “We tryna touch the people,” YG told Billboard after the song was released. “We tryna motivate all the young people to vote. Really take your time ’cause it’s important, you feel me? If not, it could be all bad for us.”

“FDT” represented much more than just two rappers dissing a controversial politician. A Blood and a Crip had come together to make a song repping for Mexicans—whose L.A. street culture dates back even farther than the Slausons and the Businessmen gangs. As hard as Nip and YG went in their verses, they still made space for open-minded white folks to join the movement. If California historian Mike Davis was right when he said, “I don’t think there’s anything the police fear more than an end to gang warfare,” then “FDT” was their worst nightmare.

Always using his music to motivate, Hussle invested every song with a sense of purpose. With “FDT” the stakes could not have been higher. It was one thing for Snoop to clown Trump after the election, but Nipsey and YG hit the candidate with a lyrical blast when it really mattered, rallying their fans to get involved. “This was when he was still campaigning,” Hussle said. “So we was just really trying to make sure he didn’t win.”

All they needed now were the visuals.

On April 3, 2016, YG and Hussle met up with director Austin Simkins, to shoot the “FDT” video in the streets of L.A. YG and Hussle shot the first scenes together on Fairfax, then split up to do separate shoots in different locations. There was no need to recruit  extras —as soon as the song started blasting a crowd formed; the helicopters and squad cars that responded were provided courtesy of the LAPD at no additional cost. Hussle shot his scenes a few blocks south of The Marathon Clothing store, near Crenshaw and Florence. Cars cruising by slowed to watch the action as a group of young people hollered, “Fuck Donald Trump!” Cobby Supreme sat on top of his white Impala, waving his hands in the air as his homies climbed on top of the vehicle with him, enjoying the moment. A police officer approached, pointing a Taser at him. “This is my car,” he told the cop, who held his fire. But the squad cars kept arriving—as did the news crews.

“Fucc Donald Trump video shoot was lit!” L.A. artist J23 posted on Instagram. “@nipseyhussle had the whole city behind him.” As things were winding down the police stepped up the pressure. “First they pulled out tasers, then pistols, then SHOTGUNS,” the L.A. artist Mosaicc posted. “Not sure any of that was necessary, but my nigga @nipseyhussle executed like a professional.” In his Instagram video, Hussle can be seen stepping in front of armed police with his hands in the air to protect the crowds taking part in the video.

On April 18, five days after Kobe Bryant played his final NBA game at Staples Center, the “FDT” video was released on the Worldstar YouTube channel. It opened with a statement, in white type on a black background, clarifying the intention behind the song. “As young people with an interest in the future of America,” Hussle and YG asserted, “we have to exercise our intelligence and CHOOSE who leads us into it wisely. 2016 will be a turning point in this country’s history. . . . The question is. . . . in which direction will we go?” The statement closed urging viewers to “register ASAP and choose wisely.”

The gritty black and-white video soon began racking up millions of views. It wasn’t long before the powers that be took notice. “Secret Service hollered at the label,” YG told a TMZ reporter. In fact, the Secret Service didn’t complain to YG’s label, Def Jam; they escalated the conversation to its corporate parent, Universal Music Group. “They were basically saying we were sending death threats to a presidential candidate,” YG recalled.  Hussle said it was freedom of speech. “You know, we didn’t make no threats.”

After reviewing the lyrics, the Secret Service objected to YG’s “I’m surprised El Chapo ain’t snipe you” and Hussle’s  “And if your ass do win, you gon’ prolly get smoked” and demanded that these lines be removed or else the album would be pulled. “Ever since John F. Kennedy was assassinated there’s somewhere in the law that you’re not allowed to cite any type of violence towards a sitting politician,” Steve “Steve-O” Carless, YG’s A&R and one of Hussle’s business partners, explained in an interview. “I was just like, damn,” said YG, who considered leaving “FDT” off of Still Brazy altogether. Carless convinced him to keep the song on the album with the offending lines removed. “It’s still explicit,” said Carless. Says YG, “Donald Trump definitely heard ‘Fuck Donald Trump.’ ”

Even in the song’s edited form, Rolling Stone hailed “FDT” as the summer’s “most jubilant protest anthem . . . a catchy middle-finger track.” But acceding to government censorship didn’t make it any easier to get the song played on the air. “We can’t get it cleared,” YG said during a visit to Big Boy’s Neighborhood. “Radio stations banned the joint. It’s understandable, though.” Undaunted by the radio blackout, Hussle and YG doubled down by dropping a remix of “FDT” featuring G-Eazy and Macklemore, spreading the message to fans of the clean-cut white rappers.

While Hussle stayed close to home awaiting the birth of his son, YG hit the road in the summer of 2016 for a nationwide Fuck Donald Trump tour, pledging to donate a dollar from each ticket to victims of police brutality. YG was used to dealing with pushback from concert promoters concerned about his gang ties, but after “FDT” the pressure increased: “One day they just started trippin’. My shows started getting canceled.” When one reporter asked YG if he was actively pro-Hillary, he replied, “I ain’t pro-nobody. I’m just pro–‘Fuck Trump.’ ”

Inspiring young voters to say “FDT” would prove easier than inspiring them to register, vote, and support his opponent. In between the Chicago and Minneapolis gigs, with a month still to go on the “FDT” tour, Trump won the presidency—despite Hillary Clinton earning almost three million more votes. Hussle was shocked when he heard the results. “I be so busy working that I catch it as it’s unfolding,” he recalled. “They were like, ‘The polls lookin’ like he’s gonna win,’ and I’m like, ‘He ain’t finna win.’ ”

One of Hussle’s business associates, the marketing maven Karen Civil, had been working with the Clinton campaign. “She had the celebration set up for Hillary,” Nipsey said. Like many, Hussle assumed Hillary had it in the bag. “When they said Trump won, I was in shock,” he said. “Almost how I felt when Obama won, but at the opposite end of the spectrum.” YG took the loss even harder. After all that he and Hussle had put on the line, it was devastating to see Trump win. “It’s America, that’s how it was designed,” YG said. “We came here as slaves. It wasn’t designed for us to win.” Still, he felt good for speaking his mind. “That’s what rap is made for,” he said. “Too many rappers keep saying shit with no substance.”

“When they said Trump won, I was in shock. Almost how I felt when Obama won, but at the opposite end of the spectrum.” —Nipsey Hussle

As the shock of Trump’s victory wore off, YG focused on “knowing my rights, chasing my dreams, and taking care of people.” The “FDT” experience had a profound effect on him. “I’m on that positive now,” he said. “We’re playing for keeps, for survival. We’ve got to play chess, we can’t be playing checkers. We have to motivate, but we’ve also got to make our own moves and fight out there to keep our heads above water. What else can we do?”

If there was any silver lining to Trump’s win, Hussle appreciated a certain “era of honesty” that came with his election. At least there was no pretense of fairness. “He’s not even hiding it,” Hussle said. “His shit is coming out and he’s sayin’ Fuck it.”

As the Trump administration settled in, lying about the size of the crowd at his inauguration and instituting a travel ban against primarily Muslim countries, “FDT” gained new resonance. “When he won, the song became that much more meaningful,” Hussle observed. Global outrage over Trump’s policies spread, inspiring Hussle to tweet, “A wall won’t erase hate, only increase it. And a ban won’t protect us, only divide us.”

In some ways, the trajectory of “FDT” mirrored Hussle’s own, thriving on fervent grassroots fans rather than mainstream support. The song has become a protest anthem alongside N.W.A’s “Fuck tha Police”—and remains so even in the George Floyd era.

On April 28, 2018, Hussle was booked at Broccoli Fest in Washington, DC, performing for a crowd 33,000. While he was in the nation’s capital, it seemed only right to close his set with “FDT.” Even two years after its release, the song always got a good response. Fifteen minutes before Hussle took the stage, his team noticed a photo of Kanye with his red MAGA hat trending on social media and threw it onto the screen behind the stage. The crowd at Broccoli Fest booed the picture loudly. “We let the people react to seeing the hip-hop icon that Ye is represent somebody who is completely opposite of what hip-hop stands for,” Hussle explained. “I don’t do the subliminal. I’m not finna halfway diss you. I just thought that the picture had a lot of conversation around it. The White House is around the corner. I was gonna perform ‘Fuck Donald Trump.’ I wanted to create a moment.”

Hussle posted a shot of the stage with MAGA-capped Kanye on his Instagram with the caption “Performed #FDT in Washington D.C. Picture Speaking A Thousand Words.” As Hussle said later, “I think all of us as hip-hop artists, we gotta be liable. Even if you don’t come from the hood, or you’re not from no block, or you’re not from no area where there was standards. You a part of hip-hop. Hip-hop got a standard. And you gotta hold yourself to that standard or else you gonna be ostracized. And if you don’t check yourself you might be revoked.”

Simon and Schuster

From THE MARATHON DON’T STOP: The Life and Times of Nipsey Hussle by Rob Kenner. Copyright © 2020 by Robert J. Kenner. Reprinted by permission of Atria Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

RELATED: ‘FDT’ By YG and Nipsey Hussle Was Streamed Over a Million Times on Election Day

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