US President Donald Trump fired off a Twitter salvo against rapper Jay-Z yesterday, angrily hitting back at allegations of racism just two days before there would be a more conciliatory tone and a unifying message in the president's first State of the Union speech, according to aides.
Officials spent the weekend saying that the president would use the formal occasion tomorrow to set aside his combative stance in favour of appealing beyond his base.
But he could not resist rising to the bait after the hip hop star had rubbished suggestions that Mr Trump's rule had been good for black America, and disparaged the president as a "superbug".
"Somebody please inform Jay-Z that because of my policies, black unemployment has just been reported to be at the lowest rate ever recorded," he responded on Twitter, in typical bombastic fashion.
Online fact checkers were quick to say Mr Trump was correct - Federal government statistics show that African-American unemployment stood at 6.8pc in December 2017, making it the lowest since records began - but that the numbers were the result of years of decline that had accelerated under his predecessor, Barack Obama.
The flare-up risks intensifying scrutiny of Mr Trump's record on race, and restarting an ugly controversy that began when Mr Trump reportedly described Haiti and African countries as "s***holes".
Jay-Z was asked about the row by Van Jones on his CNN show at the weekend.
The rapper said that the president's comments were "disappointing" and "hurtful".
"You don't take the trash out, you keep spraying whatever over it to make it acceptable," he said, explaining that racism had now been hidden underground.
"As those things grow, you create a superbug.
"And then now we have Donald Trump, the superbug."
He said reduced unemployment among African-Americans did not make up for the president's attitude.
"No, because it's not about money at the end of the day... money doesn't equate to happiness," he said.
Once again Mr Trump's fondness for delivering Twitter punches risks distracting from the efforts of his staff to reset a presidency that has been plagued by hyper-partisan politics, poor poll numbers and the Russia investigation.
Mr Trump delivered a well-received speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Friday.
His aides say that he will continue with a pragmatic, upbeat, forward-looking message when he makes his first State of the Union address tomorrow.
The theme will be "Building a safe, strong and proud America", and briefers say that he will look to set aside confrontation in favour of compromise.
"I'd say to Congress, the tone will be one of bipartisanship," an administration official told reporters.
Mr Trump is expected to return to his argument that all Americans have benefited from his programme of deregulation and a broad tax overhaul, which he says have energised the economy.
This will be Mr Trump's first State of the Union address. It offers a prime-time window to speak directly to millions of voters and set the tone for the year ahead. The stakes are even higher for a uniquely divisive president whose approval ratings reach as low as 37pc, according to some polls.