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November 25, 2008

Paper 2

The history of hip-hop music is very complex and extensive. To this day, people still argue about who started it, who made the first real hip-hop song. Regardless of these inquiries, one form of hip-hop has been present since its birth, and this is political hip-hop.

Political Hip-Hop Matt Carter
The history of hip-hop music is very complex and extensive. To this day, people still argue about who started it, who made the first real hip-hop song. Regardless of these inquiries, one form of hip-hop has been present since its birth, and this is political hip-hop. While looking over the conditions and ideas that hip-hop was formed on, it is obvious that many artists in this tradition would choose to talk about political ideas. Hip-hop started as a voice of the black culture, just like jazz, and shares many of the same elements. It was a sort of rebellion, white culture feared it, and it expressed the feelings of a race that has been historically oppressed. This form of expression is where hip-hop leaves the leagues of jazz. Instead of expressing themselves through more complex music and singing, hip-hop pioneers started to use fast paced words and stronger beats to create a more powerful form of expression. This more powerful form of expression can be directly related to what was going on in the seventies and eighties in the places hip-hop was forming. The Vietnam War, political unrest, the war on drugs and the struggle of the inner city were all reasons to be angry, especially for those who felt the problems the worst, the oppressed inner-city minorities. These are the same types of issues that have given political hip-hop its power and keeps it going today.
To look at the history of political hip-hop, you must first look at the overall history of hip-hop in general. No matter who created hip-hop first, it is clear that is was born in the Bronx. The culture formed in the mid sixties with the start of graffiti art, a form of self expression that many artists saw as a rebellion against white culture. Taggers, as these artists were called, put their artwork in public places and on public things that represented American society. Subways, trains, even police stations were starting to be covered with graffiti into the seventies, and eventually people started forming crews of people that felt the same way about the current society and living conditions in major cities such as New York and Philadelphia. Although graffiti was not associated with hip-hop at its start, they both represented the same ideas and morals that led graffiti to be to image of hip-hop throughout the next few decades.
During the late sixties and early seventies, many notable figures living in the Bronx such as Afrika Bambaataa and DJ Kool Herc started to pioneer the new art of DJing. By mixing and looping records, these early DJ’s were able to invent a whole new way to create rhythm and beat. In the late seventies, Grand Master Flash improved and invented new techniques of cutting, back spinning, and phasing on turntables. Much of the music being used for sampling by these DJ’s came from early funk, reggae, and jazz albums, which is why these styles of music are often credited as the roots of hip-hop
In October of 1979, a record company under the name of Sugar Hill Records released a single titled Rappers Delight. Although it is clear that this is not the first hip-hop recording, it marked the first time a national audience started to take notice of this new style of music. On January 5th, 1980, Rappers Delight entered Billboards Top 40, peaking at number 38 and staying on the list for two weeks. Finally the new hip-hop style was being heard and was having commercial results. Some hip-hop historians consider this “the time that marked the end of hip-hops beginning.? (Light pg.15)
Hip-hop was created as a direct descendent to the Black power and arts movement. Essentially, hip-hop was a “unifying force for young people of all races and ethnicities who had two major things in common: an experience with Black expressive culture and an experience with the brutal crutches of poverty.? (Price pg.64) South Bronx, the home of hip-hop, was going through hard times during the birth of hip-hop. A bad economy, empty warehouses, dying projects, and tense relationships with the cops were the reality that hip-hop came of age in. The early eighties also marked the Regan Era, filled with insensitive politics and tougher regulations that hit the inner-cities extra hard. It was only natural for the people living in these inner-cities to create a new world of their own, which is where hip-hop came in. Hip-hop started to become an outlet for the hardships of life as a minority, and an outlet for violence and drugs. It has become a common saying in the hip-hop community that hip-hop saves lives because it allowed people living in inner-city communities to put their mind towards music and not the street. As Chuck D from Public Enemy called it, rap was “black America’s CNN,? (Light pg.168) and while some rappers, or MC’s as they are often called, chose to rhyme about glorifying the streets, violence, women, and money, many MC’s chose to rap about what gave birth to the hip-hop culture, the politics and affairs that were causing the inner-cities to be what they were. Like most of the early MC’s, many MC’s today still go down the route of social consciousness and political-awareness, which is what created political hip-hop as we know it today.
The first hip-hop group to truly fit into the category of political hip-hop was Public Enemy. Many hip-hop artists made huge impacts on hip-hop, but no one made as important of an impact as the group from Long Island headed by Chuck D and the humorous Flava Flav. What Public Enemy was able to do unlike any other group, was that they “forced the world to take hip-hop seriously.? (Light pg.166) Public Enemy had no time for fun and games, as much as Flava Flav made it seem at times. Their mission was to educate, promote, and rebel, and their music portrayed this mission as much as their crazy style did. They met at Long Islands Adelphi University in the early 80’s, and it is said that they “stayed up till all hours talking about hip hop and its untapped creative, commercial, and political potential.? (Vibe pg.166) Rick Rubin, the founder of Def Jam Records, heard one of their tapes and made every effort to sign them. After being signed and opening for the Beastie Boys on a national tour, Public Enemy started to gain lots of popularity. The second album they released, titled It Takes a Nation of Millions to hold us Back, was packed with political lyrics tackling big issues such as drugs, the prison system, poverty, and Black Nationalism. Even though some of their songs had degrading lyrics, such as Bum Rush’s “Sophisticated Bitch,? Public Enemy, with help from fellow Long-Islanders De La Soul, made it cool to be socially conscious. Political hip-hop would not be what it is today without Public Enemy.
By the turn of the century, to be labeled a ‘conscious’ or ‘political’ rapper by the music industry was to be condemned to preach to a very small choir. (Chang pg.449) The reason for this is because the less socially conscious rappers made more money and were better off in the industry. Main stream rappers like Jay-Z, although he may have had songs with political aspects, his raps were more about promoting his rich lifestyle, and even promoting his own clothing line and shoe line. Hip hop was also starting to see much more gangster rap, which, unlike the early hip hop artists whom actually help decrease gang violence, promoted guns and violence. In 1994, the Senate Judiciary Committee had a hearing on gangster rap. The following was stated in regards to today’s inner-city youth:
Because of lack of positive influences, their minds will be fertile and receptive ground for internalizing to violence glorified in gangster rap. Children such as these, our most neglected population, will become a social time bomb in our midst. Being coaxed by gangster rap, they will trigger a crime wave of epidemic proportions that we have never seen the likes of. Regardless of the number of jails built, it will not be enough. Neither will there be enough police or government programs to contain the explosion of crime. We as a Nation must act now and we must act decisively. (Potter pg.143)
Because of statements like these, hip-hop found a new meaning to the word activism and many bigger corporate rappers started forming groups aimed at stopping the violence, voting, and promoting strong families and peace. No longer was it not cool in the eyes of hip-hop to be political, and so a new wave of political hip-hop artists came with more passion and energy than that of the first wave of political hip-hop.
One of the leaders of this new political hip-hop movement is California native Michael Franti who formed The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy (DHH) in 1990. DHH hardly strayed away from politics on their first CD, Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury, released in 1992, which contained songs titled “Television, the Drug of the Nation? and “Socio-Genetic Experiment.? The tracks on Hypocrisy sound similar to those of Public Enemy, a little faster and with a little more edge than traditional hip-hop. Franti’s style of rapping is also more sharp shooting and complex, allowing him to say more and ultimately politically express himself to the fullest. Around the same place and time Hypocrisy was released, another group was starting their career in political hip-hop, the Coup.
The Coup was formed in Oakland by Raymond “Boots? Riley, E-Roc, and the female producer Pam and Funkstress. Just like Franti, Riley is known to be a strong political activist who criticizes capitalism and American politics. However Riley is a little more radical than Franti, considering himself a Marxist. “I think that people should have democratic control over the profits that they produce. It is not real democracy until you have that. And the plain and simple definition of communism is the people having democratic control over the profits that they create.? (Pollard interview with Riley) An average Coup song consists of strong bass, electronic noises, and cynical, humorous, and sometimes violent political lyrics. Just to get an idea, one of their songs is titled “5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO? and another “BabyLetsHaveABabyBeforeBushDoSomethingCrazy.?
Every death is an abrupt one
Every cop is a corrupt one
without no cash up in the trust fund
Every cat wit a gat wanna bust one
Every guest want a plus-one
Every tenement's a penitent
Every tried man is innocent
Time served should be the cent spent
Everybody wanna hear the lick
Every one a y'all is getting pimped
Every time i spit i'm feelin ripped
Every cancer is a homicide
Every boss better run and hide -The Coup “Everythang?

Political hip-hop artists don’t avoid saying things just because they may be extreme or too intense for the average listener. Most political hip-hop artists are never able to sign to major labels, so they are allowed to speak their mind with no constraints. Because of this and the fact that rapping enables the MC to fit so many more ideas in their songs than that of other genres (it has been proven the average hip-hop contains more words than that of rock or pop music), it is easy to get a clear picture of how these artists feel by listening to their recordings.
fuck the constitution
are we part of the solution or are we part of the pollution
sittin' by and wonderin' why,
things ain't the way we like to find them to be, to be
for you and for me the people over there and the ones in between
check our habitation are we a peace lovin' nation?
peace lovin' nation? –Michael Franti “Rock the Nation.?

Most of the political hip-hop artists, past and present, are minorities. Recently white MC’s such as Sage Francis and Brother Ali have been able to tackle politics through their music and they have been very excepted in the world of hip-hop. Although many of the political rappers deal with the topic of race, white political rappers and still able to express many things about the political state of America today. Beyond race, there is no age limit for these political MC’s. Because of all the groups around the country that promote hip-hop in the lives of youth in order to keep them off the street and involved in art and expression, political hip-hop has also become the ground for very young MC’s. Probably the oldest person in the political hip-hop game is Chuck D from Public Enemy who still records and turns 50 next year.
The audience of political hip-hop has no limits either. Because of the open-mildness of political hip-hop, it is pretty much assumed that everyone is welcome to listen and enjoy the music. However there defiantly are certain people who appreciate it more than others. These people would be those who may be minorities and have experienced the same sort of oppression at some point of their life. Besides that, political hip-hop is meant for anyone who feels the same way about what’s going on in this country and shares the same liberal views about how it can be fixed. If you are rich or poor, old or young, women or man, gay or straight, you can still appreciate what these artists have to say as long as you can agree with their political views. This is easy to understanding seeing as how though many of the political hip-hop artists promote unity and togetherness in their songs.
To call political hip-hop “counter-culture? would be too much because hip-hop is defiantly present in mainstream culture and the political views expressed in political hip-hop are agreed with by a good percentage of Americans. However, because of the sometime radical views and graphic language, it is hard to see some political hip-hop ever being in the mainstream. Some MC’s who often deal with political topics such as Common and Talib Kweli have been able to sign to major labels, but not without sacrificing the freedom to say whatever and feel however about the problems of this country.
To this day political hip-hop still has a huge fan base just as it did in the days of Public Enemy, and it is safe to say that as long as there are problems with this country, political hip-hop will continue to flourish. The artists associated with this tradition take pride in their political awareness and the fans take pride in the fact that these MC’s are saying things that pertain to everyone in this country, not just to those who sport guns and chains. Although sometimes the lyrics can be intense and aggressive, political hip-hop promotes a positive message of social change and activism that can be agreed with by everyone who has the same outlook on this country and world. The political hip-hop genre exemplifies hip-hop to the fullest showing that it isn’t all about money and drugs, and that is can actually be used as a medium to express a socially conscious message.

Works Cited
Bogdanov, Vladimir, Chris Woodstra, and Stephen Thomas Erlewine, eds. All Music Guide to Hip-Hop : The Definitive Guide to Rap and Hip-Hop. New York: Backbeat Books, 2003.
Chang, Jeff. Can't Stop, Won't Stop. New York, NY: St. Martins P, 2005.
"Everythang." By The Coup. Party Music. 75 Arc Records, 2001.
Franti, Michael. "Rock the Nation." By Michael Franti and Spearhead. Stay Human. Six Degrees Records, 2007.
Light, Alan, ed. The Vibe History of Hip Hop. New York: Three Rivers P, 1999.
Pollard, Mark. "Interview with Boots Riley." Interview with Boots Riley. 10 Sept. 1991. .
Potter, Russell A. Spectacular Vernaculars : Hip-Hop and the Politics of Postmodernism. New York: State University of New York P, 1995.
Price, Emmett G. Hip Hop Culture. Danbury: ABC-CLIO, Incorporated, 2006.