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Beyond Music: HipHop Artists That Are Also Book Authors

Hip Hop artists are creative. That creativity takes them beyond songs and into books. These publications range from biographies to novels to how-to books about song writing.

Godfather of Hip Hop, Afrika Bambaataa of the Hip Hop collective Zulu Nation outlined the pillars of hip hop culture, to which he coined the terms: MCing or “Emceein”, DJing or “Deejayin”, B-boying, Knowledge and Graffiti Writing. There’s a good evidence to support the notion that writing is another important element. It’s rhyming words, certainly, but it’s also putting feelings down on paper, or at least into the computer. For songwriters, it’s simply another way of connecting with their audience and their culture.

Next time you hear a great track from your favorite songster, consider looking into his other literary efforts. To start you off, here is a list of 9 of the best books by Hip Hop artists. Why 9? Because Rakim said let Knowledge be born (9).

 

ruminations KRS-One

KRS-One wrote Ruminations in 2003, an interesting combination of manifesto, self-help and metaphysical questioning. He looks at many aspects of the culture, including religion, music and its industry, government, the future of hip hop and what it takes to succeed in the business of music.

It’s not a surprise that he wrote the book. His name, KRS-One, means Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone. He was keynote speaker at the 1999 Rock and roll Hall of Fame conference “Hip Hop: A Cultural Expression.”

 

rza-tao-of-wu-book1 The Rza (Wu-Tang Clan)

The Rza, founder of the Wu-Tang Clan, wrote The Tao of Wu, in 2010. Part memoir, part spiritual guide and part lessons for getting ahead, it recounts his amazing journey from Staten Island projects to Hip Hop superstar. The book takes the form of his personal seven pillars of wisdom, each based on an event in his life. Some fans called it an updated, nonfiction Siddhartha for the people of the Hip Hop generation.

The Rza also wrote The Wu-Tang Manual, with Chris Norris. It his history of what he calls Hip Hop’s first dynasty, the Wu-Tang Clan. It is a complex compendium, full of warrior codes, Eastern ethics for a spiritual life and numerological systems. It has four books, each of which is divided into nine chambers, corresponding in some way to the nine core members of the Wu-Tang clan.

 

tupacroseconcreteTupac Shakur

Tupac Shakur wrote the best selling The Rose that Grew from Concrete in 2000. It is the poetry he wrote before he became famous, in the years 1989 to 1991. They are angry, full of passion and compelling. He included drawings with a number of them.

One especially prescient poem is titled “In the Event of My Demise.” The singer was murdered at age 25.


ll-cool-j-s-platinum-360-diet-and-lifestyleLL Cool J

Want to get rid of those extra pounds? LL Cool J’s Platinum 360 Diet and Lifestyle: a Full-Circle Guide to; Developing Your Mind, Body and Soul is a good place to start. Written in 2011, it gives his tips to develop your physique, as well as attain success and a stress-free life. LL Cool J, known for his buff appearance, embodies what he preaches.

The book has numerous photos and comes with instructions on how to do over 100 exercises. He lists workout plans that help you get stronger. His advice is geared to stepping up your metabolism and get you performing at your peak. The book also has menu plans and recipes, laid out on a weekly basis, filling the nutrients you need to feed your workouts.

LL Cool J has also written I Make My Own Rules, a memoir; Platinum Workout and Sculpt Your Best Body Ever with Hollywood’s Fittest Star, both fitness books; and Hip Kid Hop and the Winner Is, a book for youngsters.

 

51pU05CBCdL._SX333_BO1,204,203,200_ Ma$e

Revelations: There’s a Light After the Lime by Ma$e came out in 2003. In it he records his journey from Hip Hop to religion, which culminated in his leaving the music business in 1999. Before that, Mu$e had released the well received albums Harlem World and Double Up. His fans were astounded when he decided to stop recording.

In the book, he talks about the differences between Mu$e, the man he is as a singer, and Mason Betha, the man who became a pastor. He ended up returning to Hip Hop in 2004, but many readers of the book felt strongly moved by his journey.

 

50cent50 Cent

Hip Hop superstar 50 Cent wrote his autobiography in 2005, called From Pieces to Weight. Born in Jamaica, Queens, he had a rough upbringing in the center of a drug culture. Before becoming a star, he had been shot nine times–he definitely did not have a quiet life.

The book, which became made The New York Times bestseller list, lists names and reports incidents in his life in detail. Told with spirit and energy, it recounts a rocky adolescence and journey to the top of the Hip Hop charts.

He also wrote The 50th Law with Robert Greene. It is a philosophical recounting of his path to success, with an emphasis on the challenges he has overcome. His coauthor wrote the famous 48 Laws of Power.


cmurderC-Murder

Death Around the Corner is C-Murder’s gangsta novel. He was actually in jail in New Orleans when he wrote most of it. Not only that, he was in jail when Hurricane Katrina blew in. Though the novel is packed with action, it would seem it couldn’t get more exciting than the author’s real life.

The book is about a young boy who sees his father arrested for murder. He later takes to a life of crime, but starts hearing voices. These are friendly voices out of the mists, not schizophrenic ones. They gently guide him back to a stable, less violent path. Readers said it made them realize how real C-Murder’s music is.

 

eminemEminem

Superstar Eminem wrote his memoir Way I Am in 2008. Another New York Times bestseller, it relates his time in Detroit’s underground music scene and on to great success. It has over 200 photos detailing his journey to the top. The book is dedicated to his best friend, Proof, who was murdered.

He speaks candidly about family and Hip Hop battles. He also explains how he writes his intricate rhyming patterns.

 

 

sticmanartofrhymingStic.Man

Stic.Man, one-half of the brilliant and incendiary rap group Dead Prez, wrote The Art of Emceeing (Emcee-ing): an Easy to Follow Step-by-step Guide for the Aspiring Hip-hop Artist in 2005. In the book Stic shares his over twenty years of experience and expertise. It also provides a very basic introduction into lyric writing.
It’s no surprise that artists with a gift and talent for writing poetry have also branched out into writing prose. With the rise of self-publishing, I am optimistic that in the future we’ll see more Hip Hop artists express themselves through books.

 

 

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Malcolm X Manifolded: A Rhythmic Cultural Movement

Malcolm was our manhood, our living, black manhood! … And we will know him then for what he was and is – A Prince – our own Black Shining Prince!

krs and malcolm x

(source: geniushiphop.com/blog )

In honor of Black History Month, we’re going to take a look at Malcolm X, and his continuing influence in Hip-Hop. A preacher, an activist, a Muslim, a teacher, a father, an African-American; all these words describe the man known as Malcolm X. Just like everyone else, Malcolm experienced realizations and drastic changes all around him. However, one thing Malcolm always fought for was human rights in the black community. During his time with Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, Malcolm expressed his feelings and thoughts about how the black community needed to rise up to become equals and even how he supported the ideas of armed self-defense, self-reliance, and black nationalism. After leaving the Nation of Islam, converting to Sunni Islam, and a visit to Mecca, Malcolm’s views and philosophy changed in tone from its original counterpart. Though he still focused most of his message and time on the black community, the idea of peace between all different races of the world began to become a part of his overall message as well as attempting to make the strict code and conduct of the Nation of Islam more lenient. Though Malcolm X may not be with us anymore, the history he made and his messages continue to live on through others who were influenced by him.

 

People began to express their own idealism and thoughts on race equality and their communities through the only means they could; through music. Hip-hop and rap artist throughout the years have stated that Malcolm X’s philosophy and the Black Power movement have influenced them greatly; this includes Tupac Shakur, members of Wu Tang, Public Enemy, KRS-One, Kendrick Lamar, and many more. A major factor that seemed to open artist’s eyes was that both Malcolm, and the Black Power Movement he was a part of, held a firm belief that the harder they push for change, their voice will be heard eventually and not be silenced. Not limited to just equal rights for the black community, many artists have brought other social issues to the limelight that effect many urban communities such as gender equality, poverty and the homeless, race equality for all, single parent households, and substance abuse. Though more prominent, in terms of a certain subject being the main focal point back in the early days of hip hop and rap, today’s mainstream rap and hip hop touch said subject differently by exhibiting wealth and riches to give the general public the idea of how successful they have now become compared to the poor or unfavorable upbringing they experienced before.
Yasiin Bey aka Mos Def has went on record as to say how Malcolm X is one of is favorite thinkers and speakers. The song “Mathematics” is a perfect and clever example of addressing social issues by using numbers and the encouragement to “Do your math” to realize how the communities differ in terms of how sever the social issues are, as well as using an underline meaning with the “Do your math” quote to also encourage kids to finish their studies in high school to avoid said issues in the song.

 

pacspeaking

Tupac Speaking

Probably considered the most important figure in all rap music, Tupac Shakur has also publicly stated many times on how much Malcolm has influenced him. The boost in self-esteem and confidence that Malcolm gave to many African-Americans can easily been seen within Tupac, and within the many motivational speeches and lyrics of Makaveli. Tupac spoke highly about change in the black community, including equality between races as well as the treatment and gender equality of women. One of his most recognized songs “Dear Mama” shows just that by confessing his love and appreciation for his mother, and addresses his upbringing as well as his respect for his mother despite the bad memories such as his mother’s cocaine addiction. Another popular hit is “Changes”, which addresses police brutality that surrounds him, racism that he has observed, and drugs and gang violence that happens way too often. Activist Huey P. Newton of the Black Panthers is mentioned as well, until finally encouraging the listener that has a whole we need to change the way we live to finally live in peace.

 

A more current hip hop artist that expresses certain issues in a similar but also different way is Kendrick Lamar. The song “Hiii Power” seems to expresses the need to “open one’s eyes” to conspiracies and other horrible events that occur around all of us. Out of all the songs used as examples of social realizations, this song mentions the most important black activists such as Malcolm X, Martian Luther King Jr., Huey P. Newton, Bobby Seal, Marcus Garvey, and Fred Hampton. A push for Self Determination, which Malcolm advocated strongly,  seems to be what the lyrics are trying to get across and how people should create their own legacy following in the footsteps of our ancestors. On top of the lyrical content, the music video also further elaborates on the eye opening theory by showing archive footage of the horrors of the world’s history.

Exposing racism, police brutality, government corruption, and fighting for human rights all expressed in music is something that could not have been done if it wasn’t for Malcolm X making his own stand and doing something about it. The USA would be a very different place if it wasn’t for the bravery and the risks Malcolm X had took just to make us all at an equal playground as humans and as a species; one person can make a difference, and make a revolution happen.

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Changing Hearts And Minds: Music Fueling Social Change

This is the followup article to our other research piece: A Brief History of Socially Conscious Protest Music

Written by By Brett Stewart

 

Message In The Music

staples_singers_protestMusicIn 1963  in Montgomery, Alabama, word had gotten around of a new pastor in the area. The Staple Singers, headed by their father, Pop  Staples, had already begun to make a name for themselves in the music industry. These soulful crooners were tapping into the best elements of gospel, making the genre exciting and accessible for audiences around the nation. That evening in Montgomery, however, was about to change the trajectory of the Staple Singers.

 

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Pop  Staples hit it off from the moment they met. Upon returning home, Pop  announced to the family that he was compelled by the Reverend’s message, and if King could preach that message, they could most certainly sing that message. Thus, the Staple Singers embarked on a journey through the United States, and history, with Dr. King. They helped raise funds, they drew attention to the movement, and above all, they ‘took us there.’

 

How did  the Staple Singers take us there? Well, their involvement with Dr. King sparked a tonal shift for the group. They consciously diverted away from gospel and directed their efforts toward soul with a very important message – Dr. King’s message. Songs like  ‘I’ll Take You There,’ ‘March Up Freedom’s Highway,’ and ‘Why Am I Treated So Bad’ lent a constructive and anthemic voice to the civil  rights movement.

 

This is my  favorite example of music inciting social change. Music is an entity that can’t write legislation. It can’t make laws and force people to abide by them. It can, however, change hearts and minds. Dr. King understood this, and so did  the Staple Singers. In order to even get within reaching distance of changing laws, you first had to change the way the country felt about race. The songs of the Staple Singers humanized the black movement, providing a stark contrast to more aggressive voices the likes of Malcolm X or the Black Panthers. ‘I’ll Take You There’ brought both black and white under one umbrella. That’s some powerful stuff.

 

The impact of the Staple Singers has lived on far beyond their tenure as some of the greatest American musicians. Mavis Staples, the lead of the Singers, has been taking audiences there for over sixty years. She packs Lollapalooza and major festivals at the age of seventy-six singing those songs. That’s because those songs have resonated like  a call to action through each and every generation that followed. From the Band, to Bob Dylan, to modern acts like  Wilco, Mavis Staples captures the best of creativity and musician’s hearts.

 

dylan_baez_conscious_protestThat’s why the Staple Singers were such an important part of Dr. King’s movement. They bridged the gap between white and black, finding commonality through music. The same can be said for another aforementioned hero of the civil  rights movement,

Bob Dylan. Dylan understood how to change hearts and minds, too. That’s why a twenty-one year old  white Jewish boy  from Minnesota penned some of the finest civil rights ballads ever. Even though he wasn’t persecuted himself, he understood and bled for the plight of the movement.

 

(In fact, Dylan’s musical understanding of the civil  rights movement was so full, it drove

Sam Cooke wild, the previous generation’s ‘voice.’ Cooke wanted to be the one  to write

the civil  rights song of the era,  and  Dylan ended up doing that with ‘Blowing in the Wind.’ Fortunately, Cooke wrote his rebuttal into an equally fine  civil  rights era track, ‘A Change Is Gonna Come.’)

 

Bob Dylan and the Staple Singers, while perhaps the most enduring, weren’t the only voices of social change in the 60s.  The Beatles tried their hand with ‘Blackbird,’ Pete Seeger unified audiences with ‘We Shall Overcome’ and ‘If I Had A Hammer,’ and the Impressions penned the pinnacle ‘People Get Ready.’ That song has been revitalized and repurposed through every single social movement since its release. The 1960s were a time of change, and that change wouldn’t have come without that music. That music changed hearts and minds, and that’s the most important aspect of inciting change.

 

60’s-70’s: War, Violence, Protests

The 1960s is pretty easy fodder for social change within music as a result of the civil rights movement. So, let’s take a decade by decade look at the roots of social change via music. The 1970s continued the trend of the 60s, though the songs were centralized around different issues. The very late 1960s into the early 1970s saw a massive musical shift toward anti-war music. Everyone from Creedence Clearwater Revival to Buffalo Springfield penned tunes about Vietnam and unnecessary war.

 

In the grand scheme of the late 60s and early 70s, it’s important to note the reason this music became so influential. For the first time, music was more accessible than it had ever been. Countless television programs and specials showcased bands and artists. More so, that same media allowed the American public to actually see  what war and racism looked like. Songs like  ‘For What It’s Worth’ became the soundtrack to that.

 

Toward the mid 70s, music stagnated a bit in regard to its social relevance. This is widely because of the singer songwriter movement. The country was so burnt out of war, violence, protests, and the like,  that musicians had the same mentality as their generation: let’s go home and tend our gardens. Thus, the songs were introspective in nature, which is a huge contrast to the commentary-infused songs of the previous decade. This is when artists like  John Denver and James Taylor reigned king.

 

Now, with that said, there were still songs latched onto social commentary. Bob Dylan continued to drive it home with tunes like  ‘Hurricane’ and even artists like  Rod Stewart tried their hand at making a social point with tunes like  ‘The Killing of Georgie.’ Hell,

‘The Killing of Georgie’ is a commentary that remained relevant all the way up until our legalization of gay marriage just this year. (And it will  remain relevant as long as we  deal with gay-hating. But let’s get into that later.) Onto the late 70s!

 

The late 70s were fortunate in that the singer songwriter, meandering introspective era was beginning to be worn thin. Thus, it was time to address some other social issues. In comes punk and new wave. For punk, pioneer acts like  the Sex Pistols arose from the flames of the late 70s.  For new wave, acts like  the Talking Heads were re-purposing civil rights era tunes like  ‘Take Me To The River.’

 

Sex Pistols

Let’s talk about the Sex Pistols. This article has been primarily focused on the United States, but let’s direct our gaze overseas toward Great Britain. In the latter part of the 70s, the Conservative Party began their longstanding reign in the United Kingdom. The Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, was Prime Minister over a decade. This era is a bit of a double edged sword – the UK was tough on the Soviet Union and proved a valuable ally to the States, but the Conservative Party was widely hated for its part in the decimation of the country’s lower class.

 

Thus, the Sex Pistols emerge. In 1977,  ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols’ was released. The only record to ever be put out by the Sex Pistols, this album reigns supreme as one of the most controversial albums ever. Songs like  ‘God Save the Queen’ incited social change throughout the UK. The lower class was sick  of the monarchy and they were sick  of being exploited economically.

 

“You don’t write a song like  ‘God Save the Queen’ because you hate the English race. You write a song like  that because you love them, and you’re fed  up with being mistreated.” That’s what Johnny Rotten said in regard to the record. The Pistols weren’t the only band to express these sentiments. Elvis  Costello hammered into his hatred for the Iron Lady with ‘Tramp the Dirt Down’ and the Clash turned into what the Sex

Pistols would have been if they had stuck around a few more years. Thus, the entire landscape of popular music in the UK was shifting around a social message: the proletariat was done being mistreated.

 

Now, I may be late in this preface, but in order to analyze the impact music has on social culture, I would need a book’s worth of pages and a very large pot of coffee. Or four. So with that said, I’m digging into the most notable examples – the civil  rights movement, the anti-Conservative UK movement, and now another, Jamaica. Let’s talk about Jamaica.

 

Let’s Talk About Jamaica

bob-marley-joined-the-hands-rivals-michael-manley-edward-seagaIn 1973,  one of the best records of all time was released as a soundtrack. ‘The Harder They Come’ was the music for the film of the same title. On this record, Jimmy Cliff wrote now-standards such as ‘Many Rivers to Cross’ and ‘The Harder They Come, The Harder They Fall.’ In Jamaica during this time, there was civil  unrest of a massive magnitude. War, economic turmoil, and complete distress plagued the country. The music that helped incite good vibes to turn that around? It was Jimmy Cliff’s.

 

It wasn’t just Jimmy Cliff’s, though. The Black Jamaican Bob Dylan reaches his prime in the same year: Bob Marley. Songs like  ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ and ‘Redemption Song’ became anthems of the disenfranchised. In fact, Marley was the one man who was able to bring the leaders of both political parties together in peace. It wasn’t like  the United States where we  shake hands and glare into each other’s eyes – they were more likely to shoot one another than shake hands.

 

The music Jimmy Cliff and Bob Marley were peddling was reggae. Now, why is reggae so good for inciting social change? Well, it’s actually quite amazing. Reggae is the folk music and the gospel music of Jamaica. Rastafarianism is a religion, and reggae taps that religion in its music. More so, that music reflected the social injustice and chaos of Jamaica, just like  folk  music in the 60s.  One could most certainly argue that music was the most instrumental (no pun intended) force in uniting Jamaicans and creating peace in the country.

 

Punk

Sex_Pistols

Sex Pistols

Now, we  talked about the Sex Pistols in the late 70s and their impact on social change in their country. It’s important to note that the band opened the floodgates for punk. Punk, a phenomenon that remains prominent to this day, was essentially started by the Sex Pistols. Communities stateside embraced the genre to the extreme, especially in areas like  New York and Washington DC. Bands like  the Replacements and the Ramones became a voice to a new generation, an angry voice at that. These bands laid the foundation for punk, grunge, and even some rap.

 

80’s-90’s: Giving Voice To A New Generation, an Angry Voice


PE_CobainThroughout the 80s, punk became the primary catalyst for socially and politically conscious music. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you had the idiocy of hair bands and music the likes of Bon Jovi and KISS. Sorry Bon Jovi fans, but the music you enjoy has never been accused of being overly socially relevant. Or relevant at all. 
(#notsorry.)

Punk harnessed the feeling of a generation sickened by that kind of music. It was rebellious music that youth moved toward, like all rock and roll, really.

 

Then in the late 80s, early 90s, grunge began to appear on the heels of bands like  the Pixies. You could argue that 1989’s ‘Doolittle’ was one of the major catalysts for grunge. Grunge was born out of a generation that felt discontent for the world they were inheriting. The tail end of Generation X embraced punk acts as a salvation from sensationalism.

 

One of the most enduring lines of John Lennon’s career is ‘give me  some truth.’ The line, and the song, remain as poignant today as they were when Lennon penned them. In his later years, Lennon felt frustration with both American and British politicians and their inability to be honest and authentic. That’s how the grunge generation felt about their elders: they just wanted some truth. Lennon was the man to give  truth to his generation. For grunge, that was Kurt Cobain.

 

The fact the Kurt Cobain is immortalized as a songwriter and performer is very telling in regard to his relevance. He was objectively as important as John Lennon, and just like Lennon’s death shattered the world in 1980,  Cobain’s did  in 1994. Why is Kurt Cobain, an angsty twenty-seven year old  rocker, equally as important as John Lennon? Well, let’s dig into what his music meant.

 

There’s a reason Nirvana was and is still the most important grunge band of all time. Cobain was real – he was giving truth. The songs are about pain, heartbreak, drugs, internal demons, mental illness, and so on. They connected with their generation because they echoed the concerns and plight of that generation. Cobain was writing relatable songs about things that kids were struggling with. That’s real and can never die,  and thus why Nirvana will  always be the pinnacle grunge group, and the group that incited the most social change within the genre.\

 

You Are Not Just DOING Hip-Hop…

krs-one-quote-hip-hop1aBefore we  jump forward to modern day, what would an article about social change in music be without hip hop and rap? In the late 80s, the same problems that plagued the nation in the 60s rearose. Race riots, police brutality, and violence became commonplace once again. Hip  hop rose out of those ashes, with groups like  Public Enemy and NWA writing about the social plight of the black man in America.

 

There’s a misconception, typically among white people, that gangster rap, or rap in general, is endorsing a gangster lifestyle. In fact, it’s somewhat the opposite. This music was a reflection of the neighborhoods these artists lived in and the problems that were destroying them. Neighborhoods like  Compton in the late 80s looked more like battlegrounds than suburbs. NWA in particular harnessed this frustration, especially

in regard to the police with tunes like  ‘Fuck the Police.’

 

In 1989,  Spike Lee released a film called ‘Do The Right Thing,’ with music by Public Enemy. The film was a commentary on the racial conflict in neighborhoods like  Watts or Compton, and the big hit single, ‘Fight the Power,’ arose from it. That

anti-establishment message was one of dismay and frustration in the black community. They wanted a country that cared about the tragic landscape of their communities. Songs like  these became the anthem of that movement, exposing the harsh realities of the conflict to the rest of the country.

 

Hip  hop has been particularly exceptional about exposing social injustice over the years. From Grandmaster Flash to Kanye West, it’s been a genre so chock-full of social commentary over the last thirty years, that it may even reign as the most important modern expression of social change through music. Hip  hop in a modern perspective is very similar to its roots, too.

Perhaps the reason hip hop has come full circle to its roots is because the catalysts for that music have come full circle as well. Over the last few years, our country has been divided by the mistreatment of innocent black citizens. From the killing of Trayvon Martin to the killing of Eric Garner, brutality within the police force and between whites and blacks has expedited.

 

Where Do We  Stand Now

kendrickforfreeJust this year, Kendrick Lamar put out a superb record commentating on these issues:

‘To Pimp A Butterfly’. Even Public Enemy felt the need to return to the studio to pen songs about these injustices, which resulted in this year’s ‘Man Plans God Laughs.’ Last year at the Oscars, ‘Glory’ won the Oscar for best original song for a motion picture. John Legend and Common articulately and eloquently utilized that song to draw remarkable parallels between the civil  rights movement and Ferguson. Macklemore won a Grammy the year before for an album featuring ‘One Love,’ a song humanizing and embracing the gay community.

 

So, where do we  stand now? Well, each of those songs, and every single other song I’ve referenced in this article, have lead the charge of social change. In 2008  we  elected our first black president. Politics aside, that’s progress that was most definitely incited by the songs discussed here. Let’s bring it back to the root of this article: Dr. King’s changing of hearts and minds. Songs like  ‘One Love’ helped change hearts and minds about the LGBT community. ‘Glory’ drew undeniable parallels between past and present that made us sickened at our own turmoil.

 

Music is entirely universal. Since it’s universal, it’s always the basis for changing those hearts and minds. Without those songs, Jim Crow laws may have never fallen. Without those falling, we  never would have had the society we  have today. Social progress is very slow change, and for every step we  take, we  take a half-step back. Music is the undeniable constant in all of that – through gospel, blues, folk,  punk, rock, hip hop, rap, and every other genre. As long as musicians keep doing what Dr. King taught, that’ll never change. The next Staples Singers, the next Sex Pistols, the next Bob Dylan, and the next Chuck D are all around the corner. And their job,  just like those before them, will be to keep changing hearts and minds.

 

 

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The use of Metaphor in Rap Lyrics

“Time is money and money is time,So I keep 7 o’clock in the bank
and gain interest in the hour of God… ”
-Saul Williams
Some people think of a metaphor as nothing more than the fancy speech in poems and songs. In fact, all of us speak, write, and even think in metaphors every day. As defined, a metaphor is a figure of speech in which a comparison is made between two different things that have something in common. For example, calling a person an “early bird” or a “night owl” are common metaphoric phrases. We can also find metaphors in advertising slogans such as “Life is a journey, travel it well” by United Airlines, or “Life is a journey. Enjoy the ride” by Nissan. In the poem “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost, he makes several metaphoric references. When we think of life as purposeful, we think of it having destinations and paths towards those destinations which makes life a journey.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

The word “metaphor” comes from the Greek word metapherin, which literally means “to transfer.” It transfers meaning from one word to another. People use metaphors every day in normal speech. If someone says, “Bob is a pig when he eats”, they would be using this expression to say that Bob transforms himself into a pig when he has food but actually saying that Bob has common characteristics associated with pigs when he eats. Therefore, Bob is greedy and messy with food. A metaphor is a figure of speech which can make an implicit or implied comparison between two things.

 

In a recent article on www.corrections.com, the idea that metaphors or the use of metaphor’s as motivational tools have been used for centuries. Ironically, motivational metaphors are exclusively designed for battle just like rap. It’s a learned trick to know which words stimulate the subconscious mind. Eloquent words can trigger the mind and the soul. In sentences, we also find metaphors: “He was a speeding bullet”; “A sea of trouble”; or “Drowning in debt.” Two nouns that are compared or contrast each other: “I am a rainbow”; “The world is a stage”; and “Her eyes are diamonds.” It is a type of analogy by which we begin to understand something that is difficult to interpret. Metaphors can function positively or negatively. They help us to create meaning and understanding. The power of metaphors is in the way that they change the subject by bringing new thinking and ideas, extending and changing the way that a person thinks about something.

 

Similes can also be found just about anywhere. Unlike metaphors that compare two different things, similes compare two things that are alike in some way. To distinguish a simile from a metaphor, the words “like” or “as” are typically used. Similes can certainly make language more descriptive. They are known to add humor, creativity, and even seriousness. The use of similes can also be confusing, because they will interpret the words literally. This is why metaphors are used more often in hip-hop music. Metaphors are stronger than similes or analogies, as the vehicle holds more weight than the subject it replaces. Some common similes are:

 

Cute as a button, comparing the way someone looks to the way a button looks.

Busy as a bee, comparing someone’s energy level to that of a fast bee.

As blind as a bat, indicating that a person cannot see any better than a bat.

 

Although there are five common types of metaphors, the two major types are extended metaphors and mixed metaphors. Extended metaphors are those that claim similarity between two things, but also goes forth and compares the various aspects of both things. It can be considered as a metaphor within another metaphor. For example, from “Mean and Vicious” by Lupe Fiasco:

“I’m just runnin’ with a barrel full of black powder / With a hole init holdin’ it wheezin’ deep breathin’ / Runnin’ from the fire on the trail I keep leavin’ / I can’t shake it I swear it’s heart seekin’ / I keep seekin’ somewhere to hide from it, duck and drive from it / But it keep keepin’ up just when I think that I’ve done it / It keep sneakin’ up / On leakin’ barrel of black powder how that flame keep reachin’ us.”

Mixed metaphors involve the joint appearance of unrelated metaphors or that of a metaphor and a simile. Some common ones are:

“He’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

“I am watching you like you were a hawk.”

“She wouldn’t touch it with a ten foot pole.”

“A loose tongues spoils the broth.”

“I can read him like a book.”

“It’s time to grab the bull by the horns and look him in the eye.”

 

Rap is generally considered to have been pioneered in New York’s South Bronx in 1973 by Kool DJ Herc. At a Halloween party, Herc used an innovative turntable technique to stretch a song’s drum break by playing the break portion of two identical records consecutively. Rap itself – the rhymes spoken over hip-hop music – began as a commentary on ability while the DJ played records. Going back even further, rap stems from rhyming games. African American slaves used this as a way to pass the scrutiny of suspicious overseers. Rhyming games allowed slaves to use their creative intellect to foster inspiration and entertainment. For example, by characterizing the slave as a rabbit and the master as a fox, these disguised stories of outwitting their masters and escaping plantations. Hip-hop journalist Davey D connects this African oral tradition to modern rap: “You see, the slaves were smart and they talked in metaphors. They would be killed if the slave masters heard them speaking in unfamiliar tongues. So, they did what modern-day rappers do – they flexed their lyrical skills.”

 

Rappers use many different rhyming techniques but mostly metaphors. They make storytelling a key component of their art, and emphasize the spirit of competition once central to poetry. Metaphors can be a wonderful added feature on its own and carries over once the song is over. Many rap artists are able to offer listeners fresh observations through marginalized voices. Their metaphors are generally specific to the subculture that either adopts them from the dominant culture or forces them to address their own cultural needs. The rapper Scarface uses the metaphor of the block to describe impoverished, urban African-American neighborhoods; ones that are frequently referenced as “the projects,, “the crib”, and “the bricks.”

 

“My metaphors are Meta-FIVE” -Ras Kass

The metaphor is important because it enables rappers to express ideas and meanings that are difficult, if not impossible to express in literal speech. This is what separates the metaphor and simile. It also distinguishes one rapper apart from another. The metaphor is the creative tool that defines their persona. They can vividly describe a mood, place, or possession. They also give people new understandings of their collective experience and new meanings to their past, their daily lives, and their beliefs. New metaphors create a new reality for both the listener and the rapper; they cause both to understand their experiences in a different way.

 

Rappers embrace the qualities of rhythm and rhyme, making ample use of similes and metaphors. They want to create a scene that gives the listener a small portrait of what they are saying. Metaphors allow that feeling to take place are therefore a more persuasive tool. Metaphors carry more power than a simile, because it is more direct. And that’s why it works. Using “like” or “as” to make an open comparison can often diminish the strong visual they are trying to paint in the listener’s mind.

 

tupac_me_andmygirlfriendThe late rapper Tupac never allowed his intelligence to disconnect him from his audience. He rarely used metaphor as part of his lyrics. The one outlier is  “Me and My Girlfriend”, where the entire song is an extended metaphor to compare his gun to a girlfriend. “Me and my girlfriend, hustling, fell in love with the struggle / Hands on the steering wheel, blush while she bail out busting.” Tupac’s “girlfriend” (gun) “bails” (jumps) out of the car, meaning that his is shooting bullets through the window.

After Tupac’s death, the “conscious rapper” was not embraced right away. They were least threatening but eventually welcomed in the streets due to their remarkable use of similes and metaphors. Rappers such as Common, Outkast, Mos Def, and even Kanye West emerged with brilliance because they capitalized off creating contrast with their rhymes. Recently, Kendrick Lamar burst onto the scene who focused on human nature. Andre 3000, from Outkast, stated in his track, “A Day in the Life of Benjamin Andre”, “yeast was the street.” The bread theme comes in when Andre tells of his decision to give up alcohol and change his musical style.

In Common’s track “1-9-9-9”, he says “street ministry, my poetry’s a penitentiary…” It was a grammar lesson for other rappers who talk about similes but actually mean metaphors. Another use of metaphors is Common’s track “I Use to Love H.E.R.”, describing a woman as a metaphor for hip-hop. He claimed that it was an acronym for “Hearing Every Rhyme” which is a direct call to hip-hop heads, insisting that they listen very carefully and critically. Common uses the extended metaphor of the woman to allude to the trends of misogyny and violence. Common compares hip-hop to this time to an increasingly degraded woman is clear. The first verse of “I Used to Love H.E.R.”:

Common_used_to_love_her“I met this girl, when I was ten years old

And what I loved most she had so much soul

She was old school, when I was just a shorty

Never knew throughout my life she would be there for me on the regular

Not a church girl she was secular

Not about the money, no studs was mic checkin her

But I respected her, she hit me in the heart

A few New York brothas had did her in the park

But she was there for me, and I was there for her

And just cool out, cool out and listen to her

Sittin on a bone, wishin that I could do her

Eventually, if it was meant to be, then it would be

Because we related, physically and mentally

And she was fun then, I’d be geeked when she’d come around

Slim was fresh yo, when she was underground

Original, pure untampered and down sister

Boy, I tell ya, I miss her”

Mos Def is another socially-conscious rapper that makes excellent use of metaphors. In his song, “Hip Hop”, he says “luxury tenements choking the skyline / It’s low life getting treetop high.” Though the real-life image of skyscrapers are built among New York’s lower income neighborhoods is a product of outside money. In a metaphoric sense, hip hop stars are equally to blame with themselves becoming the sky scrapers, the “low life getting treetop high” and allowing their own environments to be overlooked.

In a rap by Young Jeezy featuring Kanye West, he uses metaphors and figurative language to compare attracting a woman, having a big car, money/hustling to things such as napkins, fast food servings, celery & asparagus and birthday cake. Nas’ song “Fried Chicken” is talking about self-destructive appetites and behaviors, especially those related to diet and sexuality. So, it’s a song about self-shaming that comes from liking the things that you like when you know they are bad for you. The song goes from giving the impression it’s about a woman to giving the impression it’s about the food. Then, pulling those thoughts apart and looking at the social problems. The most recognized socially-conscious rapper KRS-One views capitalism as a metaphor when he speaks about audits by the pimp (the Internal Revenue Service). He explains that the song “Who Are The Pimps?” is about the “IRS Capitalism is a pimp and ho system…The IRS don’t care if you’re white or black.”

 


Chino_XL_

Chino XL at Toads Place, New Haven, CT, March 2012” by Jimdabomb New Haven, CT Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons

Chino XL’s “Wordsmith” is another track that has clever use of metaphoric symbolism. In this song, he says “I was burned at the stake / Metaphor Mephistopheles…” and is referring himself as the metaphorical version of Mephistopheles, a demon featured in German folklore and sometimes believed to be the devil himself. He also compares himself to Michelangelo with “I’m the Michelangelo of syllable.” Throughout, Chino XL makes comparisons with he rhyming ability and the female organs. He points out that not only does the word umbilical sounds like biblical but suggesting that it’s almost an unbelievable concept.

“Fed through an umbilical don’t that sound Biblical

I’ve been a terror since I teareth out of the u-ter-us”

This double meaning stretching the word “uterus” is making it sound like “You tear us.” All the references to him being a wordsmith compared to the female organs is creative. The entire track is has significant and creative wordplay.

 

 

Rapper Jay Z compares himself to Superman in his track, “Kingdom Come”: “Now I’m enlightened I might glow in the dark/ I been up in the office you might know him as Clark / Just when you thought the whole world fell apart / I take off the blazer loosen up the tie / Step inside the booth Superman is alive.” In constructing rhymes, rappers are cognizant of their community’s concerns about every day issues. Some are focused on specific topics ranging from feminist issues, police brutality, and nationalist themes. Lauryn Hill prompts her audiences to listen to the “Mixture where hip-hop meets scripture. Develop a negative into a positive picture” in the song “Everything is Everything” (1998).

 

Kendrick Lamar provided us with an amazing single, “Swimming Pools” that received a lot of radio attention. The track speaks heavily about alcohol – the highs and lows of consuming it. He also points out how people in his 25 year old age group seem to be focused on drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. An excerpt from the lyrics hone in on the theme:

“Why you babysittin’ only 2 or 3 shots?

I’ma show you how to turn it up a notch

First you get a swimming pool full of liquor, then you dive in it

Pool full of liquor then dive in it

I wave a few bottles, then I watch em all flock

All the girls wanna play Baywatch

I got a swimming pool full of liquor and they dive in it.”

The hook of the “Swimming Pools” track points out the flaw in his audience’s mindset about alcohol. He delivers a very subtle message to his fans critiquing how no one seems to casually drink anymore and that the people who fill the clubs and parties across America are typically bent on drinking to get wasted. Blackalicious’ track “Eve of Destruction” gives us several metaphoric references such as, “Rap is like an insect crushed that I be steppin in”, “I’m coming at ya busting at ya like a sawed off bit.” In the second verse, “Fit condition lyricism like Jack Lalanne / My main point is to show you I’m the jiz-oint.”

 

Rap is more interesting with the use of metaphors. If a rap song was pizza – if there were no pepperoni or spices, the pizza would taste bland. Adding toppings and a variety of spices, however, gives your “food” some flavor. Metaphors can cause the listener to do some research. They encourage the listener to use their own imagination or interpret words in their own way. Metaphors can also be used when a rapper feels as if there is no other way to express what they want to say. It’s a way to be creative and not say the same thing repetitively.

 

Metaphors can be used as a verbal attack in rap. With real lyricists, you may have to hear it several times before you catch every metaphor. They give way to the punchline. In “Word of Mouth”, the “playground emcee” is described who’s original proving grounds were they “freestyle battle and live in the street performance” making the punchline “indispensable to getting a crowd open.”

 

Metaphors can be prophetic. Metaphors can show beauty or ugliness. However, they allow rappers to be redefined, limitless, and fearless. Reciting lyrics in a indirect way is a mark of intelligence. This is particularly important for socially-conscious rappers. It’s not easy! But it’s the thing that differentiates one MC from all the others. Another important element to hip-hop lyrics is the connection of material to things of interest. Some may say that you cannot replace proper grammar and English with rap lyrics. This may be true. However, metaphors allow all of us to make our own references to what we know to be reality.

K-Rino Deprogrammed conscious hiphop song
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Genius Hip-Hop Review – K-Rino’s ‘Deprogrammed’

Artist: K-Rino

Song: Deprogrammed

Themes: Storytelling,Negative Media Influences, Social Commentary, SciFi

Best Line: ‘The ratchetness defeated my ability to fight it / I know that it’s atrocious but somehow I’ve grown to like it.’

When you hit the play button on K-Rino’s latest effort, “Deprogrammed”, you immediately feel like you have entered a zone where no man has gone before. The track from the Houston rapper’s most recent album of the same title, kicks off with a super dope down south beat produced by Red. Automatically, the average rap/hip-hop connoisseur is hooked and can’t help but want to continue on the journey that K-Rino is taking them on. You feel like you have stepped into another dimension and you never want to leave until you have explored every possible area. This is why K-Rino is one of the top conscious artists, and why this song was our top Conscious Rap Song of the year.

consciousrap_ krino_deprogrammed

Conscious Rap – K-Rino Deprogrammed

“Deprogrammed” is the epitome of what hip hop was built on—storytelling. It depicts a tale of a Dr. K-Rino, who specializes in curing his patients of their disease of being brainwashed, as their heads are filled with the negativity of constantly being exposed to mind-numbing, repetitive garbage music, and other worthless influences that have taken over their being. His latest patient, who has willingly come under the doctor’s care, describes his problem of being consumed by the “ratchetness” that he has somehow found himself becoming to like because it is such a familiar aspect to his world. Although he knows that his problem is allowing him to have diabolical thoughts, the patient can’t seem to shake the sickness of his own mind. So he has decided to come to the true master to rid him of his ailment. But, this guy is a special case. He is a true challenge for the good doctor. The harder the doctor tries to cure him, the harder the patient fights against being cured even though it is what he initially wanted. So, K-Rino pulls out all the stops for him as he raps: “It was obvious his mind was rejecting cause he was choking/Three seconds after he took it his body started convulsing/I’ve been doing this for years, I’m trained, I’m not a novice/So I recognized quickly an exorcism was in progress”. These haunting lyrics over that southern heavy-hitting beat, undoubtedly, gives the listener goosebumps and chills. You don’t know where this tall rap tale is going to take you, but you’re definitely not going to get off this ride until it stops.

consciousrap_ krino_deprogrammed

Conscious Rap – K-Rino Deprogrammed

K-Rino fans will certainly appreciate “Deprogrammed”. K-Rino, who is a soldier and one of the great pioneers of the rap music world for nearly three decades, makes sure to deliver lyrics that are crisp and precise with a great amount of depth that is sure to satisfy true rap fans. “Deprogrammed” is a great piece of music that is entertaining as well as informative and educational. It will definitely make you aware of what you are allowing to enter your conscious and subconscious mind through commercialized music, media, and other socially-charged outlets.
There is no doubt that K-Rino’s “Deprogrammed” is in constant rotation in many playlists around the world. This is socially-conscious music that does not possess any mundane characteristics. It successfully keeps the listener engaged from start to finish with mind-blowing lyrics, which guide you through an awesome adventure of good versus evil.

Jasiri X - Ascension
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Genius Hip-Hop Review – Jasiri X’s ‘Ascension’

Artist: Jasiri X

Song: Ascension

Themes: Death (and the metaphor of death), God, Social Commentary

by GHH Guest Staff Writer Brett Stewart 

Since the independent scene is inundated with hip hop acts, it’s rare to find an act
that’s as socially conscious and active as Jasiri X. In recent years, the performer has
made a national name for himself touring colleges, appearing in publications and on
television, and penning songs centralizing around the social turmoil of the country.
(His tribute, ‘Trayvon’ received significant attention in 2012.) He’s also involved as a
founding member of the anti-violence group ‘One Hood,’ and he’s created ‘1Hood
Media Academy,’ a resource for young African-American boys to learn how to analyse
and create media. Thus, Jasiri X has his fingers in quite a few different pies, and he’s
making a measurable difference while he’s at it.

jasiri-x-ascension
Jasiri X’s tune, ‘Ascension,’ is a bitter-sweet track written from the point of view of
someone who dreams they’ve died. (This message is also coupled with a music video of
a man being murdered.) He details his path to heaven, but before the song arrives
there, it notes some intriguing social observations. Jasiri digs deep into some serious
issues that plague countless communities: poor schooling, violence among youth,
guns, and absentee parents, to name a few pressing dilemmas.

jasiri-x-ascension
What happens to your soul when you’re dead?’ Jasiri croons over a simplistic, yet
effective production. As aforementioned, the song has some conflicting emotions as
Jasiri’s character embarks on his afterlife journey. They’re mostly positive, though,
because Jasiri confronts God and gets a nice, endearing pep talk. ‘Come look at all this
light that I’ve found,’ he raps as a weight is lifted off his shoulders. Jasiri’s dreamt chat
with God is inspirational, a poignant message well worth holding onto.

jasiri-x-ascension
Jasiri X’s music video for the song, as I previously remarked, showcases a man’s
murder in a motel. Hence, the song has a somber feel to it when accompanied by the
video. Yes, he’s now pumped up with inspiration and fearlessness by the good Lord,
but he also got strangled in a Motel 6 bathroom. Needless to say, the dichotomy
between the lyricism and the visual representation of ‘Ascension’ is incredibly
compelling.

jasiri-x-ascension
‘Ascension’ doesn’t necessarily provide answers or a solution for the social problems it
ponders. It is, however, oddly refreshing and carefree. ‘By the end credits I’ll have the
heart of a king,’ Jasiri rhymes. There’s something inherently beautiful about the last
few verses of his work here, something that most certainly ties into the causes and
endeavors he supports. Check out the song, it’s one that’ll send any listener into a
contemplative state, debating Jasiri’s message and meaning.

-by Brett Stewart (BrettStewart.net)

PLEASE SHARE THIS ARTICLE. IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO POST IT ON YOUR SITE, PLEASE CONTACT US FIRST.

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Kendrick Lamar “For Free? (Interlude)” Video

Kendrick Lamar drops a video for the ‘For Free?’ interlude.

In a month that saw people distracted by social media beefs involving Nicki Minaj, Meek Mill and Drake, Kendrick Lamar drops this video for ‘For Free?’ off the ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ album. Rapid complex lyrics see Kendrick speaking on  a one-sided relationship as a metaphor for the historic oppression and racism. you have to listen to it more than once to fully digest it.

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A Brief History of Socially Conscious Protest Music From the 1950’s to Present Day

Though it may seem counter-intuitive, the modern rap scene is dominated by acts based on music of protest. With all the events currently going on in the world to divide us, music has continued to stand the test of time as a way to connect with each other and protest against social wrongs that have been perpetrated far too often. This music has deep roots, namely its creation as a form of protest during the civil rights era that has continued to provide value to the lives of people facing struggle. With plenty of soul and social consciousness, these artists have transformed the discussion on equality. While these topics are heavy, they have nevertheless been tackled and changed by trendsetters that had a distinct brand of cool. Conscious Rap has its roots in groups like the Freedom Singers, to popular artists like Isaac Hayes, James Brown,MAVIS STAPLES, Nina Simone and Marvin Gaye.

Early Pioneers

Some of the early pioneers of the movement include the Freedom Singers, a group formed with the expressed notion of educating communities about civil rights in the form of music. This was a unique idea, and the group quickly found a following. Another aspect that added to the group’s appeal was the age of the original members: Cordell Reagon, Rutha Mae Harris, Charles Neblett, and Bernice Johnson Reagon were all under the age of 21. Their youth allowed them to reach out and connect with people of all ages. The group had many transformations over years, including several different lineup changes. It was strongly connected with associations that staged student sit-ins, a peaceful and productive protest. Through the various iterations of the group, they have continued to spread a message of peace and equality. There are still several surviving original members who receive recognition for their part in history. Several members of the Freedom Singers performed for Barrack Obama in 2010 to celebrate music’s role in the Civil Rights Movement.

 

"Lastpoetsalbum" by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

“Lastpoetsalbum” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

As the Freedom Singers were advocating for equality in a less confrontational manner, groups like the Last Poets and The Watts Poets aligned with the radical values of the Black nationalistic movement. The Last Poets themselves were actually a varied group of poets and musicians. However, there was an original group that was later known as The Original Last Poets formed in East Harlem. This group itself went through several iterations before releasing Right On, a commercial hit. The Original Last Poets sought to separate itself from other Last Poets acts by incorporating a unique style and achieving mainstream success. History has been kind to the group, remembering it as a much needed wake-up call to America. It was also one of the first groups to bring this radicalism to the American mainstream. The group continued success through the 70’s before losing some mainstream recognition. Members of the group have had a resurgence in recent years after being featured on the Common song The Corner, and other modern hip-hop songs. This is a message and a sound that is truly timeless.

 

Research has found that there are several reoccurring themes in protest music. While it is often political in nature, it does not always seek to be confrontational. The origins of urban sound have continued for over a half-century and show no signs of slowing down. Many young people come to hear these songs from modern artists who pay homage to the past. This continues the tradition of using trendsetters to spread a message. In 2010 Kanye West lent jazz poet Gil Scott Heron’s voice to an entire song called Who Will Survive in America. Hip-hop has always put an emphasis on changing the system and modern hip-hop artists are happy to continue this tradition. Scott’s voice spoke of things that are less familiar to this generation including capitalism, imperialism, the class system, anarchism, and unique social dynamics. More importantly, these messages still resonate with the people of today. Recent events over the last year show that progress has been slow and oftentimes ineffective to deal with the challenges that many Black Americans face.

 

Hip Hop’s Golden Age

PublicEnemyItTakesaNationofMillionstoHoldUsBackThe 1980s brought a distinct change in hip-hop culture that came to be known as political or conscious hip-hop. Like the soulful artists of the 60’s this form of rap sought to ignite the youth for positive change. Public Enemy was one of the earliest and most prominent of the conscious hip-hop rap groups. With anthems like Fight the Power Public Enemy burst onto the mainstream rap scene and gathered a large following. The movement would soon find itself overlapping with the more contentious gangsta rap music, which spread messages of rebellion as well. While the line between the two genres was thin, there arose some distinct differences between the two music forms.

 

Around the mid to late 1980’s one of the most prominent voices that came on the scene was that of a rapper known as KRS-One. KRS came onto the scene as a duo under the moniker Boogie Down Productions. Unfortunately, his partner was killed as a result of street violence. KRS-One used his death as motivation to be a voice in the non-violence movement. After becoming one of the most notable MC’s from the Bronx, KRS-One continued to pursue his craft and eventually built his reputation as one of the most noted socially conscious rappers of the last two and a half decades.

 

It is impressive how hip-hop has kept its edge throughout these past several decades. The timeline from the past to present is also clear, especially given how all these artists have influenced each other. The 1990’s saw another shift to a more socially aggressive movement. Some have traced this to the Rodney King incident, but others felt that it was just a natural byproduct of what was going on in the country at that time. The 1990’s brought the arrival of the rapper Paris, who drew inspiration from the Black Panthers and other Black nationalist groups. Best known for the single The Devil Made Me Do It, Paris was lighting rod that brought attention back to the plight of Blacks in America. Paris has continued to stir controversy by taking on complex topics such as the war on terror and police brutality. This was s sharp deviation from the direction socially conscious hip-hop had been headed for the last decade.

 

Continuing Legacy

FergusonByWCurtisNYTimesIn reality hip-hop got its roots from the Civil Rights Movement, when soulful songstresses such as Odetta started the movement off by singing folk songs. Odetta herself used her voice to change an entire genre of music, and was dubbed by Martin Luther King Jr. “The Queen of American folk music.” Yet even though on the surface the music looks unrelated, it’s clear that even a socially conscious rapper like the modern Immortal Technique, Talib Kweli and Tef Poe owe much to these pioneers. Tef Poe is a breath of fresh air to the socially conscious rap scene. It’s not a surprise that Poe originates from the area that was home to one of the most racially charged incidents of the last decade: the Mike Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. Poe himself has used his status as a platform, calling on President Obama to do more to further the spread of equality in America. Poe’s lyrics are brutally honest, painting a world that is out of sight from most of mainstream America. He does this work beautifully to relay the message of what is actually happening. With each of these artists it is possible to draw nearly a direct line. Whether you are talking about Odetta from the 1950’s or Tef Poe from modern times, each of these artists have the common link of protesting the injustices that they faced. This process is ultimately for the betterment of society and the world as a whole.

 

*Part 1, more to come…

Hip Hop Quote by KRS-One
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What is: Positive/Conscious Rap Music?

Positive/Conscious Rap Music

Brief History of Rap

To begin with, there is some confusion over the difference between what is rap music and what is hip-hop music. The simple answer is that rap is a music genre that is part of a hip-hop lifestyle. Rap music is embedded in the culture.

There are two broad types of rap music that are popular – the largely commercialized rap such as the so-called ‘gangsta rap'(for lack of a more distinguishable term),  and the lesser-known positive, or conscious, rap music. Conscious rap really did not evolve from the rap genre but separated itself over time when it was often part of gangsta rap hits. Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” is generally considered to be the breakout hit that brought conscious rap out into the open as a sub-genre, distinct from gangsta rap.

One problem for conscious rap is that the major music organizations commercialize the more violent and gangsta-like rap, which mutes the effect and popularity of conscious rap. The political and social messages are important and need to be heard by the public, which would give more credibility to the hip-hop culture. Continue Reading →