Monday, December 16, 2013

Who Are The Conscious Rappers of 2013?

I came across this fascinating video by Killer Mike, that eloquently described the concept of Reaganomics and the effect the era had on the black community. Using cartoon visuals and actual Reagan footage, it simplifies this piece of history in ways that I've never seen before. It's completely accessible and easy to grasp while being portrayed in an artistic and revolutionary way. I was exposed to this video last night and it got me thinking. Hip hop's pioneers and early emcees were certainly some of the most political artists to date, with groups like Public Enemy and Dead Prez bringing light to revolutionary concepts. And rappers like KRS-One, Mos Def and Talib Kweli all took stands in their music reacting to the systemic racism infused in every institution of this country.

There was a time when hip hop and politics went hand and hand. Rappers spoke knowledge and articulated problems in the streets giving plight to issues in black communities that the media either completely ignored or countered on a regular basis. Nowadays you've got to have a magnifying glass when examining the lyrics of emcees in hopes that a double entendre is slipped in that actually stands up for the people. So I got to thinking, who are the conscious rappers right now?

The first that comes to mind is the Peruvian born American rapper, Immortal Technique, who's lyrics never stray from controversial issues in global politics. His lyrics serve as his commentary on war, institutional racism, classism, poverty, government, sexism, and religion. Immortal Technique utilizes his music as a platform of social activism. Although he's clearly brilliant, his music is purely factual, leaving very little room for art and flow.

El-P, inspired by techniques Public Enemy coined, he also went on to collaborate with Killer Mike and provide conscious, profound hip hop that was aggressive and complicated.

Brother Ali is not new to the game, but recently he's become radical with his music. One of his most popular songs, "Uncle Sam Goddamn," introduces the track with powerful words "welcome to the United States, land of the thief, home of the slave, Grand Imperial guard where the dollar is sacred and proud."

Common is an interesting cat. When he's not in Gap commercials or corny movies, his music is political, most notably on his album Be with tracks like "Testify" and "Real People." He spits, "I wonder is the spirits of Bob Marley and Haile Selassie, Watch me as the cops be tryna and pop and lock me."

Nas has made provocative music since his debut and his most recent album, Life Is Good, includes his usual balance of lyrical superiority and political story-telling, particularly on "Accident Murders." Although with tracks in his discography like "N.Y. State of Mind," "If I Ruled The World," "I Can," "Black Republican" and "Revolutionary Warfare," Nas is without a doubt one of the leading and consistently conscious rappers in hip hop.

Lupe Fiasco has been extremely vocal both in and outside of his music on his political philosophies. Perhaps it all began when he first remixed Kanye West's "Diamonds in Sierra Leone" into his track "Conflict Diamonds" which highlighted the atrocities of the diamond business.

When Kanye West first emerged as a solo artist, his debut album, The College Dropout, hosted the hip hop classic "All Falls Down," which discusses the materialism of the american culture and how the government uses that concept to control and continue to keep people of color down. Kanye has ventured into other topics throughout his career until recently. Yeezus restored some of his conscious ideals but he portrayed them in a much more radical way. "New Slaves" returns to the concept Ye explores in "All Falls Down" but in an angrier and evolved stance nine years later. In a few tracks later, Kanye samples Nina Simone's "Blood On The Leaves," which is the famous poem turned song, originally by Billie Holiday, revealing the truth about lynchings in the South. Throughout the album, he is constantly incorporating political lines, most brilliantly with his term "Chi-raq," which expresses the unbelievable mass murders plaguing the black community in Chicago, comparable to the genocide in Iraq.

When Freddie Gibbs first broke into the scene, he was reminiscent of 2Pac, born and raised in one of the toughest neighborhoods in America and utilizing his music to express his anger with the government and this country. Representing "the low class" as he articulates on "Serve or Get Served," Gibbs made revolutionary music and today, he continues to comment and take stands on issues of racism in this country.

J. Cole explores consciousness on the surface with tracks like "Truly Yours" and "Crooked Smile." But recently, he's taken more a of political stance with his music videos. The "Crooked Smile" video depicts the story of 7 year old Aiyanna Stanley-Jones who was killed back in 2010 during a police raid in her home.

Jay Z has dabbled into social commentary briefly in the past year, dealing with his own aggravation with the government during his trip to Cuba. "Open Letter" was his response record and later that year he dropped "Somewhere In America" on Magna Carta...Holy Grail and it offered a more revolutionary Hov than we've ever experienced.

Ab-Soul, one of the most prolific emcees of T.D.E., released Control System, and his sophomore album featured "Terrorist Threats" with the hook "Wish I could see out of Selassie' eye, maybe my sovereignty would still be mine, if all the gangs in the world unified, we'd stand a chance against the military tonight."

Dizzy Wright blazed the 2013 XXL's Freshmen Class due to the people's choice vote. Although he's still pretty underground, this 22 year old spits political truth. "That's why I'm in my Trayvon hoodie with a smile, And I'm here to let the world know...Ayo fuck the media they twisting turning the truth."

When reflecting on conscious rap, we most often allude to older emcees as hip hop decades ago was much more concentrated with political philosophies and provided the platform for artists to speak out against racism, poverty and other social issues that were plaguing the black communities in this country. As I examine more contemporary music, there are some artists who are releasing tracks that are inspired by their political beliefs, but it is nowhere comparable to the groups and emcees who prided their artistic identity on battling the racist institutions that were founded on and maintain in keeping black people down.

Have we really made that much progress? Or has hip hop become more of an every man for themselves complex due to the fact that monetary success is achievable? Despite the ideal that current white politicians like to assert, that we live in an era of "colorblindness," we all know that is utterly untrue. And we still need artists to use their voice for social change and to combat the media and government through art. Hip hop was founded as the voice of the people, expressing the daily struggles of African Americans and other minorities. As fans we need to welcome and celebrate the brave artists who put their mainstream careers on the line to express anger and political issues that wouldn't see public light otherwise. We salute you.

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