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"Revolution comes when human beings set out to destroy decadent
- H. Rap Brown, African-American activist
The state of our Union is a vision
growing darker. Ruling plutocrats promised a better America. Where is it?
Leaders completely corrupt the spoken word through their lies. They take the podium to give empty speeches. Economic despair is a selling point.
Poverty waits as millions die.
Prisons swallow populations
whole and never spit them out again.
Our budget's depleting. America can't come clean about its menacing reality (Common Dreams). Banks get bailed out, bankrupt citizens get thrown in jail.
Real gangsters pulling America's strings know it. Even our economy is crooked. Cities are crumbling under the weight of debt.
Some revolutions have warriors at the frontlines. Other vanguards have musicians and poets. Social catalysts made rap, a spoken word paired with politics.
Hip-hop was radicalized from its roots. It gave Black people of all classes a powerful voice.
Street poets stood up to police brutality and
hopelessness by building on legacies like the Last Poets, the Watts
Prophets and Grandmaster Flash.
What made rappers invisible would begin a national rebellion against supremacy. This is what rap means to do: expose life in American underclass, with art and unapologetic attitude.
Here are powerful messages in rap.
Simmons is a legendary figure in the hip-hop world. He's the driving force behind rap's biggest names. Simmons' label Def Jam hosted two political acts: Run-DMC and Public Enemy.
Public Enemy was originally the Bomb Squad on
Def Jam, but eventually switched DJ Shocklee and Stephney out
for Professor Griff.
They also moved from more violent songs. 'Sophisticated Bitch' and 'You're Gonna Get Yours' from Yo! Bum Rush the Show.
By the late 80's, their tune evolved into an angry call to action. PE confronted class and racial struggle with consistent anti-status quo attacks.
It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back revolutionized rap's sound in their second record. Public Enemy charged and integrated audiences.
"Make every track political," Stephney had
demanded. "Statements, manifestos, the whole nine."
Public Enemy saw rock as its closest ideological
twin. "Rap and
rock both grew out of black music and they have the same
aggressive, questioning attitude."
"Cost of the holocaust, I'm talkin' 'bout the one still goin' on
I know where I'm from, not dum-diddie-dumb
From the bass motherland,
the place of the drum!
Invaded by the wack diddie wack
Fooled the Black."
'Rebel Without a Pause', like all of Public Enemy's tracks, doesn't hide from truth either. 'No matter what the name - we're all the same pieces in one big chess game'.
Public Enemy's commentary galvanized the world with a new objective: "Fight the Power', a fitting soundtrack to Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing. The trio redefined what political rap would be.
Almost 30 years ago, Chuck D advocated for
something better: "My ideal America is where everybody accepts
each other on equal terms, but that is a fantasy until we
restructure a system that has been designed to take advantage of
In 2013, Chuck D spoke on the underlying threat to
"I also think governments have always had a historical tendency to split people up, categorize them, and put them in compartments."
Fighting the power is still on Public Enemy's
"Public Enemy changed everything about Black America. They made Farrakhan popular,” Def Jam founder Russell Simmons admitted. “They helped make the Million Man March...They were amazing.” (All Hip-Hop)
Now Chuck D joins with Prophets of Rage in a
newly formed politi-rap group on Tom Morello's Firebrand label.
Straight Outta Compton's a town near you. Gang life, crime, poverty, drugs, misogyny and violence surrounded N.W.A, rap's original punk squad. The track hit hard by pointing out a growing grimness behind white picket fences.
They were surviving in South Central's urban jungle! Each rapper used their experience of Black genocide to spread awareness.
Instead of shooting guns, N.W.A. fought injustice with rhymes--lyrical Molotov cocktails on a national level. "Fuck Tha Police" showed the entire world what America really looked like.
White America is the cameraman.
Their sound is thrash and urban rap hardcore, and a raw metal perspective on current problems.
It's no bullshit with Body Count. Ice-T formed the band after leaving N.W.A. in 1989.
The band combines brutal imagery and shock tactics for their big message. But it's hard to define what that is. Body Count was gangsta rap at its grittiest.
Their frontman is right on one account: "Body Count is grindhouse. We’re ultra-violent, ultra-graphic sexually, but to the point of humor."
There's not much to laugh about when you dig deeper. Body Count's lyrics can jump from gangbangers and checking systemic abuse to police corruption.
"Cop Killer" is their biggest controversy. Even the President had words for it.
It's understandable, every Body Count song should get under our skin. They show American's true dark side.
In '92 Los Angeles, police had only just disbanded the anti-gang program that actually heightened community violence: CRASH (if an interesting direction to head in).
Rodney King had been brutally attacked by several officers. Although the Dead Kennedys' "Police Truck" and Black Flag's "Police Story" have similar action plans, neither had the racial politics of 'Cop Killer'.
He's threatening terror, but there come the terrorists
The news said the theory even if it's a lie.
Queen Latifah has been kicking chauvinism in rap's ass since her arrival with the album All Hail the Queen in 1993.
Her hit debut 'Ladies First' reintroduced Black feminism to a new hip-hop generation.
In the video, strong heroines like Winnie Mandela and Angela Davis get their props.
We are the ones to give birth
To the new generation of prophets
'Cause it's ladies first!
"I'm divine and my mind
expands throughout the universe
A female rapper with the message to send
Queen Latifah is a perfect specimen" (Genius)
When Black Feminism Faces the Music, and the Music Is Rap (New York Times, 07-29-90)
Tupac Shakur was a political and outspoken visionary. His songs testify to the Black American struggle.
His mother is Afeni Shakur, famed Black Panther who beat a conspiracy trial in 1971. Assata Shakur is his aunt: another strong Black revolutionary woman from the BPP and a political refugee.
Tupac never pulled punches about his perspective. He was a citizen journalist and radical leader through rap.
"I have not brought violence to you. I have not brought ‘thug life’ to America. I didn’t create ‘thug life’, I diagnosed it..." (The Independent)
"We gotta go show 'em who the real killers
This country was built on gangs, you know" (Genius)
"Keep Ya Head Up"
"You know, it's funny, when it rains it pours/
They got money for wars but can't feed the poor" (Genius)
2Pac prophetically said before his death in 1996: "Every time I speak, I want the truth to come out.
Every time I speak, I want a shiver. I don’t want them to be like they know what I’m gonna say because it’s polite.
I'm not saying I’m gonna rule the world or I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee you that I will spark the brain that will change the world." (The Independent)
Five Other Tupac Shakur Interviews You Should Hear (Complex, 03-18-15)
Tupac Shakur: Liberation Theologian for Our Times (Sojourners, 07-12-10)
"The stuff that we rap about, the stuff that we talk about, the stuff that outrages us, Sanders’s policy deals with that."
Killer Mike brilliantly breaks down the abandonment of social programs and support for education.
"If we could figure out ways for kids to exit college without having the burden of debt...
"They declared the War on Drugs like a War on Terror/
But what it really did was let police terrorize whoever...
Thanks to Reagonomics, prisons turned to profit 'cause free labor
Is the cornerstone of U.S. economics"
Brother Ali is lethal on the microphone, with an incredible edge. His fiery rhymes on 'Uncle Sam Goddamn' prompted Homeland Security to freeze his bank account.
The MC effortlessly dissects U.S. imperialism, capitalist corruption, passive politics and highbrow society.
"Welcome to the united Snakes/
Land of the thief, home of the slave/
Grand imperial guard where
the dollar is sacred/
Smoke and mirrors, stripes and stars
Stoner for the cross in the name of God
Bloodshed, genocide, rape and fraud
Written to the pages of the law, good lord"
'Letter to my Countrymen feat. Cornel West'
"This is not a practice life/
This is the big game, we got to attack it right/
Each one of us is headed for the grave
This old crooked world won't be saved by the passive type
CW: My dear Brother Ali, I think you know deep down
in your soul that something just ain't right.
You don't want to be just well adjusted to
injustice and well adapted to indifference...
I understand. I want to be like that too."
"We [U.S.] will bomb anybody for pretty much anything—especially if it’s a country of color, and they’ve got natural resources." (Mercury News)
"There are far fewer voices representing a Black political agenda in rap now because record companies don’t endorse those types of messages." (San Francisco Bay View)
He created his own record label, Guerrilla Funk Records "as a safe haven for artists".
"It’s a musical statement of solidarity – and a much needed united front – against oppression and institutional racism in an age almost devoid of political and social commentary in urban entertainment." (SF Bay View)
Bay Rapper Paris Maintains Firebrand Approach to Hip-Hop (Mercury News, 01-12-16)
Oakland has been home to revolutionaries since the Native American tribes resisted colonialism in the Bay and surrounding area.
The Black Panthers had their home base there. Hip-hop's relationship with radical politics is no more clear than The Coup.
They hold their own alongside California gritty gangsta rappers. The lead visionary, Boots Riley, doesn't mince words when it comes to America's true game of hardball.
"Economics is the symphony
of hunger and theft/
Mortar shells often echo out
the cashing of checks/
In Geography class, its borders,
mountains and rivers/
But they will never show the line between the takers and givers"
"The purpose of the military is to protect corporate interests. Any military for any government is gonna serve whoever runs that system.
Here in the US, it's the capitalist, the ruling class and the multinational corporations. The military are the guns that allow these companies to keep making their money.
For example, the FRAPH organization and Emanuel Constant in Haiti was funded by Nestle and the Spaulding baseball company.
The terrorism that the US perpetrates all over the world has to do with profits." (Davey D)
"They got the TV, we got the truth/
They own the judges/And we got the proof
Now keep it banging like a shotgun
We in a war before we fought one
Now if you're tired of working from day to day
A common enemy, we got one" (Song Lyrics)
Riley's Rhymes and Revolutionary Philosophy (Truth-Out,
Political Hip-Hop Band The Coup Refuses to Hold Back (Madison, 11-23-12)
Rap is in corporate interest to control, and the ruling plutocrats actively discourage MC's who rival the status quo. Rap returns to its original purpose because a new world's coming.
How will it take shape? Time will tell.
Will change follow a wave of violence and suppression? It may. Is the next leaders's political weapon rap?
Music and spoken word are the strongest tools of revolution. It is time to use them and break the chains.