Meet The Man Behind The Ben Carson Rap

Nov 7, 2015
Originally published on November 7, 2015 6:34 pm

GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson has been having a rough couple of days. In the past 48 hours, several news organizations have raised questions about aspects of his past.

But even as he's weathered the increased media scrutiny, this week also saw Carson grab headlines for a decidedly different campaign milestone: He dropped a rap song.

It's a 60-second radio ad aimed at young black voters, which is getting air time in eight cities. The man behind it is Robert Donaldson, who goes by the performance name Aspiring Mogul.

A self-described "Republican Christian rapper," Aspiring Mogul joined NPR's Michel Martin to talk about the story behind the song — and his reaction to the often-harsh response its received on social media.

"Being a follower of Christ, you accept the good and the bad," he tells Martin. "So, whatever people's opinions are of it — good or bad — I welcome it. Now it's a conversation on a national level that we should have, and should have had a long time ago."


Interview Highlights

On the story behind his moniker

African-American males, I believe, today we need more entrepreneurship in our communities. So, when I thought about Aspiring Mogul, and I happen to be in youth ministry, happen to be a business owner, and I've been in republican leadership now for the last six years. So when I combine all of those together, I find myself in multiple worlds. So that's why Aspiring Mogul is the title. And I don't think I'll ever be a mogul — I'm always aspiring to do better or do more, so that was the reason I use that moniker, Aspiring Mogul.

On how he got on Ben Carson's radar

I wrote a song after seeing Gifted Hands, the movie that Cuba Gooding [Jr.] played Dr. Ben Carson. And I was so inspired by that, and it led me to write that song. I sent the song to Barry Bennett, who is Ben Carson's campaign manager — and he liked it, and he posted it on Facebook. After that, I was inspired and said, "Well, I can write a campaign song for Dr. Carson." And I wrote the campaign song and sent that to them, and they liked it — and there you have it.

On criticisms that the song is condescending

When Obama ran for president and the whole music industry made a song — from Will.I.Am to Alicia Keys to Common Sense and everybody — "Yes, I can! Yes, I can!" That was definitely a rap song. And so for me, I see it as the exact same thing. So [Ben Carson] did a rap ad — he did a country ad, too! Is that a knockoff to people who like country music, because he has a country song that represents him? ...

What I'm basically saying is: What genre of music is sufficient to use for a presidential ad? Is it only classical music? Is it pop music? I never said that this is an ad to get the black vote. That was the way they marketed it; I wrote the song because Ben Carson inspired me.

And if they're using it for that reason, I'm now talking to you and have this opportunity to have this conversation. So the song has done, to some degree, the goal that I initially intended to begin with.

On what he hopes the ad will accomplish

It's actually a whole song that I wrote, that'll be for sale on iTunes, Rhapsody, Apple Music in the coming week or so.

But what I hope happens — my goal is not necessarily to convert everybody to being a Republican as much as it is: Let's have a conversation! The Republican party always ... you know, a lot of people say, "Well, they don't reach out to African-Americans!" And I understand that.

But for me, I use Jackie Robinson as an example. I use Hank Aaron, anybody who went into an arena where black people weren't initially there, it had to be somebody who broke that mold. And I believe that African-Americans need a seat at every table: the GOP, in Silicon Valley, in Wall Street. I think we should be in every arena of life that we can be in, to have a voice that represents our ideals. That's my goal.

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Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In a few minutes, we'll head in to our Barbershop, where some interesting folks take a fresh cut on the day's news. One of the things we'll be talking is presidential contender Dr. Ben Carson. He's having a rough couple of days after some media organizations started raising questions about aspects of his past. But on the flipside, his campaign dropped this add in eight major cities this week.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

ASPIRING MOGUL: (Singing) Inspire (vote, vote) revere (vote, vote) Ben Carson 2016...

MARTIN: It's a 60-second spot aimed at young black voters, and we wanted to meet the man behind it. His performance name is Aspiring Mogul. He calls himself a Republican Christian rapper, and he is with us now from Charleston, S.C. Thanks so much for joining us.

MOGUL: You're very welcome. Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: So how did you come to the attention of the Carson campaign? I understood that you got on their radar earlier this fall with your song "Black Republican." Is that about right?

MOGUL: Yes, ma'am. I wrote a song after seeing "Gifted Hands," the movie that Cuba Gooding played Dr. Ben Carson. And I was so inspired by that, and it led me to write that song. And I sent the song to Barry Bennett, who's Ben Carson's campaign manager. And he liked it, and he posted it on Facebook. And after that, I was inspired. And I said I can write a campaign song for Dr. Carson, and I wrote the campaign song and sent that to him, and they liked it. And there you have it.

MARTIN: Well, you know, the ad you created has gained some buzz...

MOGUL: Right.

MARTIN: ...But not all positive.

MOGUL: Sure.

MARTIN: I mean, you know Twitter can be harsh, so...

MOGUL: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I saw that.

MARTIN: You ready for it?

MOGUL: Well, I've seen it all...

MARTIN: So you're not going to be surprised when I say that some have called it wiggity wiggity whack. Some have said Biggie didn't die for this.

MOGUL: You know, the critics - being a follower of Christ, you know, you accept the good and the bad. So whatever people's opinions are of it, good or bad, I welcome it. But my Republican leadership of the people - my core people - I get a lot of emails from a lot of, you know, African-Americans across the country saying I'm a Republican, too. And I think people were scared to address this issue. And now that they see a conservative rap artist, now it's a conversation on a national level that we should have, and we should've had a long time ago.

MARTIN: Well, to that though, there are others - and I just saw it, actually, an interview today with a person who was previously connected to the Giuliani campaign, who's also an African-American Republican, who said that, you know, it's condescending to assume that rap is the way to reach a particular constituency. You know, what do you say to that?

MOGUL: When Obama ran for president and the whole music industry made a song from will.i.am to Alicia Keys to Common and everybody - yes I can, yes I can - that was definitely a rap song. And so for me, you know, I see the exact same thing. So he did a rap ad - so he did a country ad, too. Is that a knock-off to people who like country music?

MARTIN: Who are we talking about here? I've lost track of who you're talking about. I'm sorry.

MOGUL: Ben Carson. What I'm basically saying is what genre of music is sufficient to use for a presidential ad? Is it only classical music? Is it pop music? I never said this was an ad to get the black vote. That was the way they marketed it. I wrote the song because Ben Carson inspired me. And if they're using it for that reason, I'm now talking to you and have this opportunity to have this conversation, so the song has done, to some degree, the goal that I initially intended to begin with.

MARTIN: Well, so you hope what will be accomplished with your ad and with your music overall?

MOGUL: Well, it's actually a whole song that I wrote. It'll be for sale on iTunes, Rhapsody, Apple Music in the coming week or so. What I hope happens - the Republican Party always - you know, a lot of people say they don't reach out to African-Americans, and I understand that. But for me, I used Jackie Robinson as an example. I'll use Hank Aaron - anybody who went into an arena where black people weren't initially there. It had to be somebody who broke that mold. And I believe African-Americans need a seat at every table - the GOP, in Silicon Valley, in Wall Street. I think we should be in every arena of life that we can be in to have a voice that represent our ideals, and that's my goal.

MARTIN: Robert Donaldson raps as Aspiring Mogul. He created an ad for Ben Carson's presidential campaign, and the ad is scheduled to run in eight markets over the next two weeks. Mr. Donaldson, Aspiring Mogul, thank you so much for speaking with us.

MOGUL: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.