Abandoned Train Depot in Detroit
Photo by Bob Jagendorf
Several years ago, before the crash, Chrysler rolled out a commercial featuring Chrysler mainstay Lee Iacocca and a by-this-time sanitized rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg.

The commercial is playful, selling the viewer on Chrysler by emphasizing its “hipness” as well as its affordability and its quality. Although it goes without writing I’m going to write it anyway–there’s no way in hell that Kool Herc, Grandwizard Theodor, Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaata or any of the progenitors of hip-hop would have predicted that some 20+ years after hip-hop developed, rappers would be making commercials, much less making them for American audiences in general, much less making them for Chrysler. The commercial domestically reproduces one of the central arguments for globalization–making the “free market” available to everyone does not dissolve but rather embraces differences.

Last night, Chrysler unveiled another commercial featuring a rapper (technically Snoop’s a rapper…Eminem’s an MC):

A very different groove. Both commercials work to sell a product. But this particular commercial is designed to work in a very different political and economic context. One in which the rustbelt is literally on life-support, and one in which ruin pornography runs rampant, with Detroit at its center. Although critiques of this approach abound, arguably this is the most powerful response to date, working powerfully at the affective register. It works best as an urban nationalist manifesto, perhaps in the same way that some of the best hip-hop works. We’re here. We’re not going anywhere. But like many nationalist manifestos Detroit’s complexities are ignored (no racial tension here–Eminem is backed by a black gospel choir), muted (Diego Rivera’s murals are shown prominently but its marxist politics are not), or at best/worst reworked in this case for Chrysler’s purposes.

I suspect that this commercial will ALWAYS move me, as I am and will always be a Detroit patriot. But given my work both on hip-hop and on urban politics, I cannot ignore the narratives this POWERFUL commercial shunts aside.