Ben Carson may not really be running for president, but the Kanye favorite is definitely trying to raise his profile among black youth with a new campaign ad called “Freedom,” featuring Savannah-based rapper Aspiring Mogul. The 60-second spot, which hit the internet yesterday, is scheduled to air on urban-format radio for two weeks starting today. Needless to say, the song is bad — but not as bad as it could be. The beat slinks along like an old UKG track, and a flute sample gyrates above Mogul’s voice as he implores his listener to vote "Ben Carson 2016." We were intrigued enough to reach out. Mogul, a self-professed Republican Christian rapper, hit us back immediately. His name ain't just for show.
In December 2014, after seeing Cuba Gooding Jr. play Carson in the biopic Gifted Hands, Aspiring Mogul wrote “The Black Republican,” a brassy cut with lyrics like, “I’m pro-life, I don’t believe in abortion.” “It was inspired by the lack of African-American voices in music as it relates to conservative politics,” says Mogul. “If you’re an African-American who identifies with the Republican Party, there’s a certain degree of house-negro sellout that comes with that.”
Mogul, who has a discernible Georgia accent, also serves as the founder and chairman of the Savannah Black Republican Council, on the minority engagement board for the state of Georgia, and as a youth minister. He was hesitant to give his real name — Robert Donaldson — for some reason (we can think of a few), but given his involvement in Georgia politics, he's not hard to find.
Aspiring Mogul would go on to send the song to Carson's camp, which ended up posting it on its official Facebook page in September. Then Donaldson reached out again with a request to be put to work: "Yo, I like Ben Carson, and I’m a rapper. I’m pretty decent at writing. Can I channel that message?” Team Carson agreed to work with Mogul on a campaign song, with the rapper sending both the music and lyrics over for approval before completing "Ben Carson 2016" and eventually meeting up with the candidate face-to-face. The song's beat was produced by someone with an equally great name: Chief Exek Beats, Mogul’s Atlanta-based collaborator.
Embellished with portions of Carson’s stump speech, the ad was met with criticism even from Carson himself, who shied away from it yesterday on CNN. "There are people in the campaign who felt that that was a good way to do things," the candidate said. "And, you know, they're entitled to their opinions about such things. I support them in doing that, but I probably would have taken a little different approach." Nevertheless, “Ben Carson 2016” will be released as a four-minute song on iTunes later this month, with talk of an upcoming video featuring Carson.
“Carson likes classical music like Haydn and Tchaikovsky,” Mogul admits. “But when I made the song, I didn’t think about whether he was into rap or not. I thought, I’m a rapper, and this is how I feel, and I just said it. I don’t look it as any form of pandering because whether or not he liked it, I still wrote it because I felt this represents me.”
Mogul’s not campaigning for Ben Carson in any official capacity, but hopes the song will bring attention to the fact that not all rappers are "sacrilegious Northern Democrats." “People find it so strange because a person who calls themselves a Republican, who raps — that has never happened. I’m really a Christian artist who happens to be a Republican. Nobody has ever seen that.”
But his overall aim is bigger than merely convincing the public that Republican rap is real: “The reason I go by Aspiring Mogul is because it’s not about me. It’s about me inspiring other black men, other African Americans, to say, ‘Hey, you can start a business, you can become anything you want to become in America. You can get on Google and Google anything you want to be or anything you want to do. I don’t specifically believe that white America is holding me back or anything that white America is doing or has done prevents me from being successful.”
The married father of two also goes by Aspiring Mogul — AM for short — because it’s to “remind me that a.m. is morning time, which means you need to get up and go about your business. Anytime anybody says "AM" to me, I think, morning time, and in the morning I think about what should I be doing to make myself successful.” Like writing a rap song for Ben Carson.