Political hip hop
Political hip hop is a subgenre of hip hop music that was developed in the 1980s as a way of turning rap music into a call for action and a form of social activism. Inspired by 1970s political preachers such as The Last Poets and musician Gil Scott-Heron, Public Enemy was the first predominately political hip-hop group. It has helped to create a new form of social expression for subordinate groups to speak about their exclusions, injustices and lack of power. Political hip-hop is the use of hip hop music to send political messages to inspire action or to convince the listener of a particular worldview. There is no all-encompassing political hip-hop ideology; rather, there are multiple perspectives that range anywhere from Marxism to the values of the Five Percent Nation.
|Political hip hop|
|Derivative forms||Conscious hip hop|
|List of artists|
Conscious hip hop
Conscious hip hop, or socially conscious hip-hop, is a subgenre of hip hop that challenges the dominant cultural, political, philosophical, and economic consensus, and/or comments on social issues and conflicts. Conscious hip hop is not necessarily overtly political, but the terms "conscious hip hop" and "political hip hop" are sometimes used interchangeably. Conscious hip hop began to gain traction in the 80's, along with hip hop in general. The term "nation-conscious rap" has been used to more specifically describe hip hop music with strong political messages and themes. Themes of conscious hip hop include Afrocentricity, religion, aversion to crime and violence, culture, the economy, or depictions of the struggles of ordinary people. Conscious hip hop often seeks to raise awareness of social issues, leaving the listeners to form their own opinions, rather than aggressively advocating for certain ideas and demanding actions.
History of political and conscious hip hop
Origins and early development
Before the emergence of political hip hop, the Black Power Movement and the emphasis on black pride arising in the mid-1960s and blossoming in the early-1970s inspired several commentaries that incorporated Black Power ideological elements. Songs expressing the theme of black pride include: James Brown's "Say it Loud (I'm Black and Proud)" (1969), and Billy Paul's "Am I Black Enough for You?" (1972). The proto-rap of Gil Scott-Heron is an early influence on political and conscious rap, though most of his earlier socially conscious and political albums fall within the jazz, soul, and funk genres. Following Ronald Reagan’s election as President in 1980, conditions in inner-city African-American communities worsened, and hip-hop political commentators began to increasingly address worsening social problems such as mass unemployment, police brutality, incarceration, inadequate public schools, political apathy, and oppression. One of the first socially conscious hip-hop songs was "How We Gonna Make The Black Nation Rise?" by Brother D with Collective Effort. The first majorly successful hip hop song containing conscious rap was Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's "The Message", an influential political and conscious hip hop track, decrying the poverty, violence, and dead-end lives of the urban poor of the time. Furthermore, the complex socio-political issues before hip hop and during all of its stages severely influenced its birth and direction.
Early gangsta rap often showed significant overlap with political and conscious rap. Pioneers in the gangsta rap genre such as: Ice-T, N.W.A., Ice Cube, and the Geto Boys blended the crime stories, violent imagery, and aggression associated with gangsta rap with socio-political commentary, using the now standard gangsta rap motifs of crime and violence to comment on the state of society and expose issues found within poor communities to society as a whole. These early gangsta rap artists were influenced in part by the bleak and often "revolutionary" crime novels of Iceberg Slim as well as hip-hop groups such as Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions; groups that mixed aggressive, confrontational lyrics about urban life with social-political commentary and often radical political messages. The controversial debut album Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A, released in 1988 brought gangsta rap to the mainstream, but it also contained harsh social and political commentary, including the confrontational track "Fuck tha Police." Ice-T's work would sometimes focus on other topics: for example, he rapped about free speech on his third album, and about drunk driving, domestic violence and Nelson Mandela on his fourth album.
After his departure from the group N.W.A in 1989, Ice Cube embarked on a solo career and released socio-political and conscious rap with gangsta rap elements in his 1990 debut album Amerikkka's Most Wanted and the companion EP Kill at Will; the 1991 album Death Certificate; followed by the 1992 album, The Predator. Ice Cube's first two albums were produced by the hip-hop production team the Bomb Squad, known for their work with the socio-political rap group Public Enemy. Furthermore, Ice Cube produced and appeared on the controversial and radical political rap/gangsta rap album Guerillas in tha Mist by Da Lench Mob in the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. Though Ice Cube would continue to sporadically insert political and social commentary into his music throughout his career, he once again focused on conscious and political rap with his 2006 album Laugh Now, Cry Later and 2008's Raw Footage, featuring the single "Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It", a song dealing with the perceived correlation between music and global issues (e.g. the Iraq War, school shootings, etc.).
The artists who consistently produce conscious rap are largely underground. However, mainstream artists are increasingly including elements of conscious hip-hop in their songs. There are hundreds of artists whose music could be described as "political" or who identify as political rappers: see the List of Political hip hop artists page for a partial list.
Examples of conscious and political hip-hop music throughout the decades include: Whodini's "Growing Up"; Kurtis Blow and Run-D.M.C.'s "Hard Times"; MC Lyte's "Cappucino"; much of Saul Williams' discography, as well as nearly all of Dead Prez's discography; All of X-Clan’s discography; Big Daddy Kane's "Lean On Me"; much of Mos Def's discography; most of Public Enemy's discography, including notable tracks such as "Give It Up", "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos", "Rebel Without a Pause", "Fight The Power," "911 Is a Joke", "Burn Hollywood Burn," and "Night of the Living Baseheads"; much of the Roots' discography, including the track "What They Do" and albums such as Things Fall Apart, Game Theory, Rising Down, Undun, and ...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin; Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise"; most of the Coup’s discography; much of Kendrick Lamar's discography; David Banner's The God Box; much of J.Cole's discography; much of Immortal Technique's discography; much of Logic's discography; much of KRS-One's discography, including the tracks "Move Ahead" and "Know Thyself"; Boogie Down Productions' albums Criminal Minded and By All Means Necessary; Eminem's "Like Toy Soldiers" and "White America"; much of Talib Kweli's discography; much of Lupe Fiasco's discography, including "Conflict Diamonds"; much of rapper Common's discography; Main Source's "Watch Roger Do His Thing"; much of 2Pac's discography, including "Changes"; Joyner Lucas' I'm Not Racist; Childish Gambino's This Is America.
Hip hop in politics
Hip hop's outreach to the political world is widespread. The response that hip hop has received from mainstream politics has been vast and has resulted in the spread of ideas, opinions, and the formation of an informal dialogue surrounding largely controversial topics.
From the onset of hip hop in the 1980s throughout the 1990s, the culture was either ignored or criticized by politicians on both sides. "In the 1990s... there was one cultural idea that seemed to have bi-partisan support: that rap music was a symptom of the destruction of American values." This opinion, however, fails to recognize the historical oppression and injustices experienced by blacks and other minority groups which rap music and the hip hop scene sought to bring attention to. In 1992, Vice President Dan Quayle called on Interscope Records to withdraw 2Pacalypse Now because it was a "disgrace to American music". The catalyst for Quayle's outrage was an incident when a Texas youth shot a state trooper and referenced the album as his motivation. In 2Pacalypse Now rapper Tupac Shakur raised issues of institutional racism, teen pregnancy, and police brutality. He tells a fictional story of how a police officer slams him on the ground for no cause, but before he gets arrested the police officer is shot. His lyrics read "how can I feel guilty after all the things they did to me?"
Today, hip-hop music has grown to be such a large part of mainstream culture that The Washington Post wrote "The politician's guide to how to be down with hip hop.", which draws reference to the use of hip hop culture in politics. The criticism of hip hop that was considered patriotic or even moral one generation ago, can make a politician seem "out of touch", especially with younger voters. Politician Mike Huckabee was viewed as being "out of touch" when he referred to Beyoncé as "mental poison" in his book: God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy. In 2008, during Barack Obama's Democratic primary campaign against then-rival Hillary Clinton, he referenced Jay Z by doing his "Brush the dirt off your shoulder" motion in a rally and the audience erupted with support. The embrace of hip-hop has not occurred on party lines. Republican Senator Marco Rubio is a vocal fan of Tupac and Gangsta rap. Rubio said "In some ways rappers are like reporters... You had gang wars, racial tension, and they were reporting on that." The 2016 Republican Party nominee for president, Donald Trump, has also leveraged hip-hop to his advantage. He occasionally quotes that rapper Mac Miller wrote a song called "Donald Trump", and that it has over 100,000,000 views.
Ideology and views of political rappers
Anti-racism, black liberation and nationalism
As hip-hop is a music genre dominated by African-Americans, political rappers often reference and discuss black liberation. In particular, the Five-Percent Nation, an Islamic group that focuses on black liberation theology, has a high membership of popular rappers and has had an integral influence on hip hop culture. There are numerous hip hop songs expressing anti-racist views, such as the popular The Black Eyed Peas song "Where Is the Love?", however, artists advocating more for radical black liberation have remained controversial. Artists such as Public Enemy, Tupac Shakur, Ice Cube, Game, and Kendrick Lamar have advocated black liberation in their lyrics and poetry. Many[who?] refer to these artists as black nationalists. Tupac Shakur's poem, "How Can We Be Free" Tupac prose the sacrifices of Black political prisoners and the rejection of patriotic symbols. In recent years, Killer Mike and Kendrick Lamar have released songs criticizing the War on Drugs and the prison industrial complex from an anti-racist perspective. Hip hop music continues to draw the attention and support of the struggles of minority groups in a modernist method of communication that attracts a young crowd of activists. Kendrick Lamar and many other rappers have been credited with creating discussions regarding "blackness" through their music.
Anti-poverty, class struggle and socialism
Particularly with the advent of gangsta rap, many hip hop artists happen to come from underclass backgrounds. Aforementioned artists such as Tupac Shakur, Ice Cube, and Killer Mike have made just as much reference to class oppression as racial oppression. Tupac Shakur used his lyrics incorporated Revolutionary Nationalism. In "Words of Wisdom" from the album 2Pacalypse, Shakur's lyrics underscore the refusal to accept economic inequality and inadequate employment opportunities. Other political rappers, such as Public Enemy, The Dope Poet Society, Dead Prez, The Coup, Paris and Immortal Technique, have advocated explicitly communist views —mostly leaning to Maoism—, whereas some rappers such as Lupe Fiasco and the lesser-known Emcee Lynx, P.O.S, and Sole have advocated anarchist positions. Political references have long been made in hip hop culture; some proving to be effective in spurring constructive discussion and others, such as The Coup's originally planned album cover for Party Music—which depicted the destruction of The World Trade Center to signify the fall of capitalism—receiving negative criticisms (although the album art was designed before the September 11 attacks and was changed prior to its November 2001 release).
Conspiracy theories have been referenced in hip hop lyrics for some time. Elements of the Five-Percenter philosophy that has fundamentally influenced hip hop culture revolve around conspiracy theories. Artists such as Professor Griff, Jedi Mind Tricks, and Hopsin have become infamous for their support of New World Order, Illuminati, and Satanist conspiracy theories, often alleging mainstream hip hop artists, such as Jay-Z, are "involved" in such conspiracies. Other political rappers, such as Tupac Shakur, have been heavily critical of conspiracy theories.
Views on religion
Rappers often reference their religious views. However, outside of Five-Percenters and Black Muslims, they rarely translate into political views. Killer Mike, however, has been heavily critical of organized religion in many of his more political songs. Chicago-raised rapper Kanye West's Life of Pablo album release is another that offers an outlet for religious expression and self-assessment. Rap and hip hop music are outlets for whatever creative inner dialogue their creators wish to express, and religious beliefs are no exception.
On a global scale, hip hop's public reputation and exhibition is varied. For instance, Canada's most prominent political hip hop act is The Dope Poet Society, who are known for anti-racist and anti-war activism, as well as denouncing both liberal and conservative politicians. Their politics could be described as third-worldism, or black internationalism. For example, in "Bombay to Zimbabwe," lead rapper Professor D states "from Bombay to Zimbabwe I study sharply: Bob Marley, Marcus Garvey, Mahatma Gandhi, Black Panther Party." Possibly on purpose, these influences seem ideologically contradictory in some ways (e.g. for instance, Marley's subtle socialism vs. Garvey's anti-communism, and non-violence vs. violence) but taken together they represent different approaches to the shared goal of linking anti-racist and anti-colonial struggles in the Americas and the rest of the world. Professor D and The Dope Poet Society also seem to represent this ideology on their album by featuring American political rappers like dead prez and others with rappers from around the world including Nigeria and Columbia. Other examples of hip hop around the world offer opposite perspectives. For example, Lowkey and Iron Sheik have expressed anti-Zionist views in their music, whereas Golan and Subliminal have expressed pro-Zionist views. In France, some political artists such as Suprême NTM, the rapper Casey or Assassin are well known since the early-1990s. Today, rappers like Kery James, La Rumeur, Rocé or Médine are influential; their lyrics speak about colonialism, poverty, French history and sometimes conspiracy theories.
Political hip hop scenes
Latino political hip hop scene
Political rappers of Latino descent include Aldo Al2 El Aldeano Rodriguez Baquero, Bian El B Oscar Rodriguez Gala, Randee Akozta, Silvito El Libre, Papá Humbertico, Calle 13, Racionais MC's, Olmeca, Tohil, Immortal Technique, Rebel Diaz, Manny Phesto, MRK, Portavoz, Facção Central, Psycho Realm, Ana Tijoux, Bocafloja, Zack de la Rocha, Los Chikos del Maiz (from Valencia, Spain) and Canserbero.
UK political hip hop scene
Within the United Kingdom hip hop and urban scene, political, conscious rap is common, with artists including Lowkey, who focuses on the Israel-Palestine conflict and other issues regarding the Middle East, Akala, I & Ideal, Mic Righteous, Riz MC and English Frank.
During the interview, JME explained that many young voters don't feel as though politicians have their best interests at heart. He says they often feel that voting makes no difference anyway. He goes on to tell Corbyn that he is the first party leader he feels he can trust, because he is “so genuine it feels like I’m about to meet my mum’s friend”.
Australian hip hop scene
Australian hip hop artists Urthboy, Jimblah, The Herd, Horrorshow and L-Fresh the lion are all part of the Elefant Traks record label, and often have politically motivated songs. Their main focuses are racism and xenophobia but The Herd also focuses on issues of climate, gender inequality and war. A number of artists have also vocalised their feelings in songs about domestic violence.
Music created by Norwegian rappers are within the public discourse making them part of the political process, this includes songs, lyrics and performances within the Hip Hop genre. They also disclose how Hip Hop music can be seen as an integral part of the democratic public sphere processes.
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