Poets, rappers and playwrights use battle rap to call out Trump on ’45 Lies’

Screen grab from Daveed Diggs' 45-second rap for the 45 Lies project.
Screen grab from Daveed Diggs’ 45-second rap for the 45 Lies project.
(45 Lies)

Using the iconic and heavily sampled beat from the Honey Drippers’ 1973 track “Impeach the President” as a backdrop, poet Marc Bamuthi Joseph rhymes:

For starters, this m— lied about his inauguration size

Which isn’t as racially charged as Charlottesville, both sides

It’s not the coronavirus, don’t wear a mask


It did not cost 200,000 lives

The 45-second spoken-word piece is a direct challenge to President Trump’s 2017 speech at CIA headquarters, where he said there seemed to be “a million, a million and a half people” at his inauguration.

Joseph’s self-filmed video, posted to the Instagram page 45 Lies 2020, is part of a national campaign of rappers, poets and playwrights using hip hop to fight disinformation coming from Trump. (Some videos contain profanity.)

Created by Joseph, the 45 Lies project eventually will showcase 45 lyricists including co-lead MC of the Roots, Black Thought, Broadway performer Daveed Diggs, spoken-word artist Sonya Renee Taylor and poet-rapper-filmmaker Saul Williams.

The instructions for the project are simple: Pick a specific Trump lie — subjects include the pandemic and his wealth — and create a monologue, poem, rap or freestyle to call out why the president’s disinformation tactics are dangerous. They then challenge two other artists to do the same.


With the heart of hip hop revolving around battle culture, it’s a particularly fitting art form to take on Trump, Joseph said.

“There’s an undercurrent of competition — sometimes dangerous and misogynistic — but at its best highly expressive, combative and flourishing,” he said. “We’ll call you out, and we’ll do it with flavor.”

In another video, author Bassey Ikpi takes on Trump’s assertion in March about coronavirus — “I’ve felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”

Ikpi rhymes:

Said he doesn’t care that the ‘rona is killing folks in states that are blue

Said it was no worse than the flu

And even when the death toll rises, still he lyin’


Still so he can lie and still feel no remorse for the people his lies kill

Since launching on the same day as the first presidential debate, the project has quickly amassed followers and views.

Chris Wallace tried pleading, placating, interrupting back. Nothing stopped President Trump from ignoring all the rules in his first debate with Joe Biden.

Sept. 29, 2020

Joseph, who began developing the idea for 45 Lies about two weeks ago, said he was inspired by today’s unsettling political climate.

“This unstable environment where, even if I haven’t always trusted politicians to tell the truth, I’ve always trusted in the stability of our democratic institution. And a climate of disinformation is eroding the stability of those institutions.”

A first-generation American, Joseph thought of his mother, who is Haitian and grew up under the regime of dictators Francois and Jean-Claude Duvalier. “She started talking about some patterns and this very specific environment of, ‘If I say it’s true, don’t believe your own eyes,’ which was really frightening her.”


There was also his 18-year-old son, who will be a first-time voter in November.

“All these things came together and I really wanted to do something that implored artists, very specifically to organize around fighting back against the destabilization of our democratic institutions,” Joseph said.

He solicited “personal heroes” and a diverse mix of people from literature, poetry, hip hop and theater to be involved. Diggs, who won a Tony and Grammy for “Hamilton,” was one of the first people Joseph contacted.

Diggs’ rap, which he wrote in about 20 minutes, addresses the Trump administration plan to uplift cities through a multibillion-dollar tax break to help low-income areas — called “opportunity zones” — which was later found to have benefited the wealthiest Americans.

Saying he poured money into the hood

But you know, the thing about money is we can track where it actually goes


At best it’s been invested in expensive student housing

But the rest of where he’s spending it is even more astounding

When a man can claim he’s spreading out the national wealth

By pouring it in storage units and his high rise hotels

The foundation of hip hop is language, Diggs said via email, “so when you have to engage with facts or counter-arguments it’s good at that, it’s designed for it.”


Joseph also worked with journalists to categorize the lies on the project website. The website presentation is informed by linguist George Lakoff, who suggested the media create a “truth sandwich” out of Trump’s tweets and speeches. Start with the truth, call out the lie, then return to the truth.

The original plan was to roll out sets of 15 videos after each presidential debate. Joseph is developing a new plan after the chaotic nature of the first debate Tuesday (and the uncertainty of future debates given the president’s COVID-19 diagnosis).

The goal is to reach young and disenfranchised voters, and others who are fatigued with politics, Joseph said.

“We want to enliven folks who have become numb, who don’t necessarily trust their information sources, but trust these writers.”