Conscious Rap: Political Hip Hop that speaks against Discrimination
In our second installment on weed in hip-hop culture, we take a look at how conscious rappers have helped shape the genre.
The term ‘conscious rappers’ will get used often – sometimes in a correct way, sometimes not. You can decide if it’s a term that people overuse. In this article, we discuss what conscious hip hop is, as well as mention some of our favorites that meet the definition or have at some point in the past.
What is Conscious Hip Hop Rap?
Socially conscious hip hop is also sometimes referred to as the political hip hop, which is a subgenre of the style that has a message it wants to convey. It was initially a call for social or political action through music. The best conscious hip hop gives a voice to people who are excluded from mainstream society and experience socio-economic injustices. The essence of conscious hip hop is for the listener to hear the message, and then form their own opinions from there. If the listener decides to change their opinion or take some action, great. If not, at least you heard the message.
What is Conscious Rap Song?
Any rap song that has a message, story or lesson about life or society is a conscious rap song. It has been around since the beginning of rap and has been evolving ever since. It will never go away and there will always be new conscious albums. Conscious rap can really be anything that has meaning or a message. Common themes in conscious rap include Depression, Police Brutality, Racism, Discrimination, Drug abuse, and the list goes on and on. Many albums have talked about the above-listed subjects. Depression is one of the most popular subjects for conscious rappers but police brutality and discrimination is what brought conscious rap into the origin. “Straight Outta Compton” is a popular rap album seen talking about police brutality and discrimination throughout the entire album. Another popular topic for conscious rap is drug abuse. Danny Brown’s “XXX” is an example of an album basically revolved around abusing hardcore drugs. Basically, there are many different kinds and variations of conscious rap but they all are similar in terms of how and what they touch.
Conscious Hip Hop Origins
Younger cats these days might not realize that hip hop actually started off as a vessel for the underprivileged and to give a voice to the voiceless. We discussed hip hop’s origins in part one of this series, so be sure to read that right here if you haven’t already. Some people think that conscious hip hop got its start circa the early 90s, but it actually started way before that. Rappers like Public Enemy and Grandmaster Flash and his crew were highly influenced by 1970s political preachers such as The Last Poets and musician Gil Scott-Heron. Public Enemy might be the most prominent and well-known conscious rappers, but Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five did it in 1982. They were one of the first to do it – basically before anyone else. The track was groundbreaking for its time and had a lot to say.
‘A child is born with no state of mind
Blind to the ways of mankind
God is smilin’ on you but he’s frownin’ too
Because only God knows what you’ll go through
You’ll grow in the ghetto livin’ second-rate
And your eyes will sing a song called deep hate
The places you play and where you stay
Looks like one great big alleyway’
What kind of mainstream rappers is writing lyrics like that nowadays?
Some hip-hop fans might even be too young to remember that P. Diddy (then known as Puff Daddy) and Mase “covered” the Message. Kind of more like they bit the chorus, but let’s not go there.
Other Important Artists in Conscious Hip Hop
Some of the other artists that are important when it comes to conscious hip hop include KRS-One (Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Everyone), A Tribe Called Quest, Common, The Roots, Nas, Wyclef, and many others I am sure I’m missing. While weed definitely plays a part when it comes to conscious hip hop, not all conscious rappers feel the need to mention the herb – especially the old-school ones.
Most conscious rap songs contain positive, uplifting messages, often delivered over smooth, ear-grabbing beats. Grandmaster Flash & The Furious 5’s “The Message” and Slick Rick’s “Hey Young World” are grand examples of early conscious hip-hop tracks.
It’s not all about the men doing conscious hip-hop either. Lauren Hill did it years ago. Noname says she’s tired of being compared to Lauren Hill or being called the anti-Cardi B and Nikki Minaj. And who can blame her? No one wants to be typecast. But that’s exactly the kind of sound hip hop is starved for nowadays, in my opinion.
Top 5 Hip Hop songs about Discrimination
YG (feat Nipsey Hussle): ‘FDT’ (Still Brazy, 2016)
“FDT” (“Fuck Donald Trump”) is a protest song by YG featuring Nipsey Hussle, and it is the second single from the album Still Brazy. The song strongly criticizes Donald Trump, the 45th U.S. president and Republican presidential candidate in the 2016 US presidential election.
Common (feat Stevie Wonder): ‘Black America Again’ (Black America Again, 2016)
Common’s eleventh studio album is Black America Again. It was released on November 4, 2016 by ARTium Recordings and Def Jam Records.
Black America Again was accompanied by two singles: “Love Star” and “Black America Again”. In the US Billboard 200, the album debuted at number 25.
“Changes” by Tupac
“Changes” was written and produced by 2Pac. The song refers to the war on drugs, the police’s treatment of black people, racism (explicitly reconciling black and white people in America), poverty and the vicious-cycle value system in urban African American culture, and the difficulties of living in the ghetto.
Interlude: Tina Taught Me by Solange
I think it’s one of the most incredible moments of the album because she so eloquently breaks down black pride. And the fact that black pride does not mean anti-white.
“Alright” by Kendrick Lamar
The song is a song by American rapper Kendrick Lamar from his third studio album, To Pimp A Butterfly (2015). The song features uncredited vocals from co-producer Pharrell Williams during the chorus. Some publications, including Rolling Stone, People, and Complex, have referred to “Alright” as the “unifying soundtrack” of Black Lives Matter.  In 2019, it was named the best song of the 2010s by Pitchfork.
Mainstream Conscious Hip Hop
We’ll dip into indie hip-hop in our next installment in this series, right now we are mainly focusing on rappers who were in the mainstream’s eye. 2Pac had a lot of his own conscious messages to say himself, especially early on in his career. His classic track Keep Ya Head Up is a perfect example of that. Pac didn’t exactly live what he said on that track later in his life, but that level of attention and success could go to any young man’s head. There were some heads that argued Pac was more of a performer and a poet than an MC, but we won’t get into that here.
Consciousness is Often Best Experienced on Weed
What other ways to experience some of the best hip hops than with a phattie? What are some of your favorite conscious rappers? We want to hear what you think! Drop us a line!
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Shout out to Mali Maeder for the dope-free image.