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Bernie Sanders, Killer Mike, and Lil B
The Based God and Killer Mike are campaigning for Bernie Sanders. (Elli Slavitch / McGill Tribune)

When rappers feel the Bern: The impact Killer Mike and Lil B can have on Bernie Sanders’ campaign

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Brandon "Lil B" McCarthey, AKA The Based God is a mysterious figure. His online persona is something that should not have worked: He obviously and aggressively tried to make himself go viral by creating numerous Myspace pages and Twitter accounts. Michael “Killer Mike” Render gained his fame by more conventional means, first garnering recognition as a feature on an Outkast record, then on his own terms more recently as part of the dynamic duo Run the Jewels. Both of these figures have been actively voicing their support for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ Democratic primary run.

Although he was a relative unknown outside of Vermont, Sanders has become the main competition to the presumed favourite of the Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton. Sanders has been criticized for his perceived lack of appeal to black voters while his defenders have instead been mainly focused on his lack of visibility.

As such Killer Mike and Lil B's endorsements of Sanders stand to be significant both culturally and politically. Killer Mike is an easier figure to understand. He comes from an activist background, and questions authority and government frequently and poignantly in his music. In this way, it’s not surprising for him to be supporting a candidate who is positioned as outside of the establishment—hopes Sanders won’t be controlled by “the man behind, the man behind, the man behind the throne.” Mike has spoken publicly about the connection he sees between the democratic socialist ideals Bernie espouses and traditional values of the black christian community. Killer Mike has become active on the campaign trail: He conducted a six-part interview series in a traditional black barbershop with Sanders and has even given interviews in the 'Spin Room' after debates.

With Lil B, it is more difficult to know where he stands. He initially supported Clinton, but dropped this support and moved towards Sanders in the summer of 2015. Lil B has up to this point seemed like a relatively apolitical figure, a kind of living meme. Because of the nature of his music, which is delivered from a stream of consciousness, it is difficult to find a consistent message in his music. He supported Hillary’s presidency earlier, but within a song titled “Bitch I’m Bill Clinton.” The defining feature of Lil B is his completely earnest persona. He seems to speak directly from the heart both in his interviews and in his music, but it gets lost among the enormous amount of material that his persona generates.

All this said, Lil B currently has 1.22 million followers on Twitter, many of whom actively engage with him and seem inspired by his positivity while Killer Mike has 193,000 followers. Thus, Mike’s more lucid, consistent position can have difficulty making the same impact as Lil B’s embrace of Sanders. At the very least, Lil B's tweets on the issue have sent the name out to people in America who could then be led to looking up Sanders, which could help him reach minority voters who don’t know his name.

The Iowa caucus is a dead heat, but Iowa is a state with a mostly white population, and Bernie’s success could ride on the upcoming South Carolina primary, where there are many more voters of colour. The race has been a bitter one to this point, with clashes from the highest level of campaigns down to individual supporters on Twitter. The nature of the modern fragmented world of politics means that people get their information in radically different ways, and social media and cultural figures undoubtedly are a part of that. From this point on, all that's left to do is watch and pray to the Based God.

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