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The hip-hop loving Congressman Trey Radel talks about rap, his love of Rasika, various mayonnaises, and why the House would beat the Senate in a food fight

I didn’t know too much about the Freshman class of the 113th Congress except that we got a bunch of bros from North Carolina (my home state) and that there was a Congressman from Florida who loves hip-hop. His name is Trey Radel, and he’s basically awesome (new bro-crush, move over Paul Ryan).

I sat down with Congressman Radel, a fellow early 90s hip-hop connoisseur, to get the scoop on his love for music, and of course, find out he’s eating! The Congressman was more than happy to chat.

I’m always curious why Members of Congress decide to run for office. It’s not super glamorous, there are crazy long hours, even crazier long travel hours, and their pay…well, we all have the Google machine. Rep. Radel didn’t run because he had to, he ran because he wanted to.

“I ran for office because I was tired of talking about it and I wanted to do something about it,” he said, with a conviction that you can’t fake.  “[My experiences] made me fiercely patriotic, and a believer in the American dream,” he added, “And I want to be able to do what I can to make sure that we continue it.”

I like America and certainly want to continue this dream as well. Let’s check that box, leave Civics 101 and get into this hip-hop obsession. What’s the deal bro?

Congressman Radel joins the ranks of fellow statesman Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) in being a very vocal fan of hip-hop. There must be something in the Florida water right? Why does he like this genre of music so much?

“I love hip-hop, I just do. I don’t know why so many people are shocked,” the Congressman said. “I’m 37 years old, I love hip hop, I make my own beats at home, and I like to remix tunes. But what’s been really cool about sharing my love of hip hop is the way it’s been able to kind of connect me to people who may not, number one, think they are Republican or have any idea what being conservative is about, and two, people who are not engaged in the political process at all. So it’s been cool to be able to share that and find people who are engaged.”

This notion of finding common ground with fellow politicos in unusual places is something Congressman Radel focused on in our conversation. It’s concept many Members could learn from. You may disagree on agriculture funding, or taxes, but everyone listens to music, and, everyone eats. Finding mutual agreement where you can seems pretty logical to me.  And it’s not just old school hip-hop coming through the earbuds, he’s an all-of-the-above music fan.

“My musical tastes are all over the place,” he says.  “I just got Jay-Z’s Magna Carta, which apparently people like to review…I like his new album.”

He laughs about reviewing the album as he’s created quite the buzz on Twitter with posts about it.

“I’ve only heard parts of Kanye’s new album but I saw the SNL performance and I was just turned off by it. But I like a lot of Kanye’s stuff. He’s an incredible producer, and that’s unquestionable.”

I mention Kanye West’s new album sounds like a video game soundtrack, which got a good laugh. Congressman Radel continues, “So the new Jay-Z album, I like Empire of The Sun, Daft Punk, their new one, I like it, but it’s not the Daft I really, really love.”

Politics connect everything in this town, that’s obvious, but how are they connected to music? How are politics and food (apart from the farm bill—I still feel pain for agriculture staffers) connected? First I asked if Radel thought there was a connection between politics and hip-hop.

“Yes. A lot of hip-hop has been driven by politics. [When] it’s heavy handed government … that’s why I think, to this day, there is an inherently conservative message in some hip-hop to local issues. For me, I grew up in an area where foreign food was Taco Bell. So when you are exposed to things like NWA, you start to see a different world. Or if you look at Public Enemy, you hear them reference the CIA, FBI, and agencies…it’s political.

“On politics and food, one of the things I think that’s a great example is this. [Congressman] Dan Webster [R] and [Congresswoman] Debbie Wasserman Schultz [D], who do not see eye to eye on anything, have a meal once every few months. Dan has to invite Democrats and Debbie has to invite Republicans. I’ve been, and the next time I went, I picked a Democrat. This is what DC needs to be doing, breaking bread, having a drink together, and forming a relationship.  Not going at it about politics, but getting to know each other.” Traversing partisan politics to actually get to know your fellow Member again surfaced with Trey Radel and I think he got it spot on.

Politics aside, this guy is a total foodie. He admits he doesn’t have time to cook that much, but he really enjoys cooking. And when he does cook, he gets experimental.

“I love making my own crazy flavored beef for beef tacos, and I love to grill; I like to grill vegetables and steak. Love a good steak, a New York Strip, but I like to do churrasco, the thin skirt steak, and marinate it in crazy stuff. I’ve done everything from Coca-Cola to orange Fanta to just steak marinades to get different flavors out of it.”  (I’ve heard of marinating with Coca-Cola, but orange Fanta? That’s a new one!)

Out and about in DC, when not satisfying a Skyline chili craving, the Congressman knows his way around the DC food scene.

“I had Rasika for the first time recently,” he said, “We closed the place down with four different dishes: sea bass in banana leaf wrap, friend spinach, the cauliflower and this eggplant thing. Rasika was mind blowing. One thing I like is that they don’t hold back on the spice. I mean, I was sweating. Sometimes in the US, restaurants hold back on putting too much spice.”

The Congressman then listed his DC favorites for us:

“Some staple places, if I want to power down a steak, I go to The Palm, I know Tommy, and it’s a great place. More casual, Pizzeria Paridiso off Dupont Circle. Here on the Hill, staple places that are great are Sonoma, and that burger place from the famous guy, Good Stuff, but for a very specific reason: the mayonnaise. I don’t dip my fries in ketchup, I dip them in mayo. They have sriracha and Old Bay mayo which are mind blowing. Like, I will take a piece of the mayo and put it on each bite of the burger.”

I hear him on the mayo. I recommend Bistro du Coin in Dupont because the mayo there is like plaster, in the most positive way mayo can be like plaster. His chief of staff then summoned him for a meeting in the Capitol, to which he jokingly responded, “They can wait.” He put on his jacket and I asked him: Who would win in a food fight, the House or the Senate?

He laughed and said, “Dude, the House. We’ll win at anything. I mean we’re rambunctious, we’re intense, we yell at each other. The Senate are like these old pensive people.” Then he added, “except for Marco,” referring to Senator Rubio, a fellow Florida Republican.

We ended there because there were slightly more pressing matters than food and hip-hop, although I think Congressman Radel would have gladly spent hours talking about these topics.

Now we present the rapid-fire Feasting Famously Fast Five word association game:

Longworth Cafeteria – the wrap

Tupac – Biggie

Seafood – shrimp

Bacon – bacon

Lobbyist – bacon

So there you have it folks, Congressman Trey Radel, a hip-hop loving conservative who thinks everyone can bond over something (especially spicy food at Rasika) and may have a small mayonnaise addiction. We’ll forgive the “lobbyist – bacon” comparison, and just stick to printing our 2024 Radel for President stickers.

Share your sick beats with the Congressman on Twitter. In the spirit of Congressman Radel’s philosophy, try having a meal with someone of a different political persuasion this weekend. Who knows, you just might hit it off!