Lift Up Your Mojitos: Dessa’s “Who’s Yellen Now?”

February 2021

She’s the first that’s led

The Council of Economic Advisers, Tresh and the Fed,

She needs a three-sided coin that always comes up heads

To put the triple crown down when she goes to bed

Janet Yellen’s back!  In 2017, the 45th president decided to replace her as Federal Reserve Chair because – and I’m not kidding – he thought she was too short for the job.  But Yellen is “qualified as ffff —” for an even bigger role, and on the day then-president-elect Biden announced his intention to nominate Yellen for Treasury Secretary, the stock market shot up over 30,000 for a new record.  She was sworn in last Tuesday and has already begun briefing the new president on the economy.

National Public Radio’s “Marketplace” show reports that when Biden made his announcement back in November, he said, “We might have to ask Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the musical about the first secretary of the treasury, ‘Hamilton,’ to write another musical for the first woman secretary of the treasury — Yellen.”  So “Marketplace” asked the rapper Dessa, a member of the hip-hop collective Doomtree and a contributor to “The Hamilton Mixtape,” to imagine a Miranda-style song about her.  That was the stimulus and “Who’s Yellen Now?” was the response.  (It’s worth noting here that the “Hamilton” was also an inspiration for phenom Amanda Gorman’s Inaugural Day poem, “The Hill We Climb.”)

There are a lot of things I love about “Who’s Yellen Now?” and one of my favorite lines (which is an admittedly ironic one, in light of the title’s double-entendre riff on Janet’s name) is “…here comes Yellen with that inside voice/Never mind the mild manner, policies make noise.”  I like this actions-speak-louder-than-words message, combined with the point that a louder voice isn’t necessarily more effective or more powerful, including when it comes to certain domains of governmental responsibility such as money, jobs and economic growth.  Overall the lyrics acknowledge gender stereotypes with a nod toward balancing embodied “feminine” approaches to leadership with traditional “masculine” ones.  The potency of this balance, which led Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman to suggest in 2019 that women may be better leaders than men, has recently been underscored by their new research conducted in the context of Covid-19.  The big take-aways:

Perhaps the most valuable part of the data we’re collecting throughout the [Covid-19] crisis is hearing from thousands of direct reports about what they value and need from leaders now. Based on our data they want leaders who are able to pivot and learn new skills; who emphasize employee development even when times are tough; who display honesty and integrity; and who are sensitive and understanding of the stress, anxiety, and frustration that people are feeling. Our analysis shows that these are traits that are more often being displayed by women.

I bet a woman rapper and former record executive like Dessa understands this as well as anyone, and it sounds as though she found an unlikely hero in Yellen while learning about her in order to write the song.  “I read a lot about her to make sure that she was somebody who I’d like to send up,” Dessa told “Marketplace” host Kai Ryssdal, “and it was really exciting to become a fan of Janet Yellen.”  She added, “The three of us who worked on this song …I don’t think we’ve ever had so much fun…It was like, how do we get out of this normal rap game and into this [cabinet] appointment niche because it was so much fun to write.”

I join Dessa and her collaborators in lifting up a metaphorical mojito to Janet Yellen “managing the mint” as the first woman to hold the title of Treasury Secretary in its 231-year-old history!  (Complete lyrics to the song are below; click on the title and scroll down for the link to hear Dessa perform it.)

WHO’S YELLEN NOW?”

Vocals and Lyrics by Dessa

Production by Lazerbeak and Andy Thompson

 HOOK

 Oooo, who’s Yellen now?

 Who’s Yellen, who’s Yellen now?

 VERSE 1

 Doves on the left

 Hawks on the right

 Crosstalk in the flock tryna fight mid-flight

 But here comes Yellen with that inside voice

 Never mind the mild manner, policies make noise

 She’s 5-foot nothing, but hand to God

 She can pop a collar, she can rock a power bob

 Bay Ridge represent!

 Brooklyn’s in the cabinet!

 Damn, Janet, go and get it —

 Fifth in line for president!

 She knows the kinda stimulus it takes to pass a buck

 I heard she called the housing crisis 

 She’s qualified as ffff —

 It only took a couple centuries

 The first female secretary of the treasury

 BRIDGE

 Don’t want no tax evasion

 Forgers faking

 In her treasury

 Trying for higher wages

 For the nation

 Less disparity

 VERSE 2

 Watch your step, there’s busted glass

 Janet broke another ceiling

 You can bet your brass

 That the Lego guy is leaving

 Last check to cash

 — ‘Scuse me, Janet has a briefing and a flight to catch

 And Janet

 She’s the first that’s led

 The Council of Economic Advisers, Tresh and the Fed,

 She needs a three-sided coin that always comes up heads

 To put the triple crown down when she goes to bed

 Call the decorators

 New boss in the office

 Spenders and the savers

 Watch the confirmation process

 We got to meet her

 Now let’s let her settle in 

 And lift up your mojitos —

 ‘Cause she manages the mint

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