By Tyler Bunzey
August 3, 2022
Former President Barack Obama has been showing love for North Carolina’s cultural institutions since the beginning of his presidency. Between his avid fandom of college basketball and his persistent connections to musical artists, Obama has served as not just political leader but also cultural tastemaker. This year, the former president continued his tradition of paying homage to North Carolina art and culture in his inclusion of The Foreign Exchange and Shana Tucker on his annual summer playlist.
Since Obama started releasing summer and year-end playlists in 2015, he has almost always included nods to North Carolina artists old and new, popular and underground. His earliest playlist in 2015 featured Hamlet, NC-born jazz legend John Coltrane. Since then, he has featured Tryon native Nina Simone, Charlotte R&B singer Anthony Hamilton, and even Charlotte rapper DaBaby. His most frequent NC selection is unsurprisingly J. Cole, who has appeared in 2018, twice in 2019 (year-end and summer playlists), and 2020.
The former president, however, doesn’t only select artists who resonate on top 40 lists. Obama selected “Raleighwood Hills” in his 2019 year-end list, which featured talented Triangle artists LestheGenius, Sonny Miles, and Jaxson Free. This year, he continued his state fandom by selecting “Better,” a collaboration between the Grammy-nominated duo the Foreign Exchange, North Carolina-based cellist and singer Shana Tucker, and New Jersey R&B singer-songwriter Eric Roberson. Featuring Netherlands-born producer Nicolay (who is now based in Wilmington), his finely textured production is laced with soul-bending melodies and clever wordplay of emcee Phonte Coleman (Little Brother). Shana Tucker, joined by Roberson, layers Phonte’s melodies featuring her “ChamberSoul” style, which refers to the stylistic blending of jazz, folk, acoustic pop, and R&B. The song suits a North Carolina summer, whether you’re grilling at the park with your family and friends, lounging on a tube on the Eno, or driving down the delightfully verdant Blue Ridge Parkway.
It’s clear why Obama added “Better” to his summer ’22 playlist, as its dynamic sonic character can segue into many songs on the list, ranging from Rakim’s “When I B on tha Mic” to D’Angelo’s “Spanish Joint” to Prince’s “Let’s Get Crazy.” North Carolina rarely disappoints the former president, and the only question is, which artist from Tar Heel state will catch his ear next?
Listen to “Better” by The Foreign Exchange featuring Shana Tucker and Eric Roberson and the rest of Barack Obama’s 2022 Summer Playlist.