Political hip hop

Political hip hop is a subgenre of hip hop music that was developed in the 1980s as a way of turning rap music into a call for action. Inspired by 1970s political preachers such as The Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron, and Public Enemy was the first predominately political hip hop group.[1] Political hip hop is the use of hip hop music to send political messages to inspire action or to convince the listener of a particular worldview. There is no all-encompassing political hip hop ideology; rather, there are multiple perspectives that range anywhere from Libertarianism to the values of the Five Percent Nation.

Conscious hip hop

Conscious hip hop, or socially conscious hip-hop, is a subgenre of hip hop that challenges the dominant cultural, political, philosophical, and economic consensus,[2] and/or comments on social issues and conflicts. Conscious hip hop is not necessarily overtly political, but the two are sometimes used interchangeably. The term "nation-conscious rap" has been used to more specifically describe hip hop music with strong political messages and themes.[3] Themes of conscious hip hop include afrocentricity, religion, aversion to crime & violence, culture, the economy, or depictions of the struggles of ordinary people. Conscious hip hop often seeks to raise awareness of social issues, leaving the listeners to form their own opinions, rather than aggressively advocating for certain ideas and demanding actions.[2]

History of political and conscious hip hop

The proto-rap of Gil Scott-Heron is an early influence on political and conscious rap, though most of his earlier socially conscious and political albums fall within the jazz, soul, and funk genres. One of the first socially conscious hip-hop songs was "How We Gonna Make The Black Nation Rise?" by Brother D with Collective Effort.[4] The first big hit hip hop song containing conscious rap was Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's "The Message", an influential political and conscious hip hop track, decrying the poverty, violence, and dead-end lives of the urban poor of the time. Furthermore, the complex sociopolitical issues before hip hop and during all of its stages severely influenced its birth and direction.[5]

Examples of conscious and political hip-hop music throughout the decades include Whodini's "Growing Up", Kurtis Blow and Run-D.M.C.'s "Hard Times", MC Lyte's "Cappucino", much of Saul Williams's discography as well as nearly all of Dead Prez's discography, Lupe Fiasco's "Conflict Diamonds", Big Daddy Kane's "Lean On Me", Mos Def's "Mathematics", most of Public Enemy's discography, including notable tracks such as "Give It Up", "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos", "Rebel Without a Pause", "Fight The Power," "911 Is a Joke", "Burn Hollywood Burn," and "Night of the Living Baseheads"; much of The Roots' discography, including the track "What They Do" and albums such as Things Fall Apart, Game Theory, Rising Down, Undun, and ...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin; Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise"; much of Kendrick Lamar's discography; much of KRS-One's discography, including the tracks "Move Ahead" and "Know Thyself"; Boogie Down Productions' albums Criminal Minded and By All Means Necessary; Eminem's "Like Toy Soldiers" and "White America"; much of Talib Kweli's discography, much of Lupe Fiasco's discography, much of rapper Common's discography; Main Source's "Watch Roger Do His Thing", and much of 2Pac's discography, including "Changes".

Early gangsta rap often showed significant overlap with political and conscious rap.[6] Pioneers in the gangsta rap genre such as Ice-T, N.W.A., Ice Cube, and the Geto Boys blended the crime stories, violent imagery, and aggression associated with gangsta rap with socio-political commentary, using the now standard gangsta rap motifs of crime and violence to comment on the state of society and expose issues found within poor communities to society at large.[7] These early gangsta rap artists were influenced in part by the bleak and often "revolutionary" crime novels of Iceberg Slim as well as hip hop groups such as Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions, groups that mixed aggressive, confrontational lyrics about urban life with social-political commentary and often radical political messages. The controversial Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A. brought gangsta rap to the mainstream, but it also contained harsh social and political commentary, including the confrontational track "Fuck tha Police." Ice-T's work would sometimes focus on other topics: for example, he rapped about free speech on his third album, and about drunk driving, domestic violence and Nelson Mandela on his fourth album.

After his split from N.W.A, rapper Ice Cube released sociopolitical and conscious rap with gangsta rap elements in the 1990 album Amerikkka's Most Wanted and the companion EP Kill at Will; the 1991 album Death Certificate; and the 1992 album The Predator.[8] Ice Cube's first two albums were produced by the hip hop production team the Bomb Squad, known for their work with the socio-political rap group Public Enemy. Furthermore, Ice Cube produced and appeared on the controversial and radical political rap/gangsta rap album Guerillas in tha Mist by Da Lench Mob in the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.[8] Though Ice Cube would continue to sporadically insert political and social commentary into his music throughout his career, he once again focused on conscious and political rap with the 2006 album Laugh Now, Cry Later[8] and 2008's Raw Footage, featuring the single "Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It", a song dealing with the perceived correlation between music and global issues (i.e. the War in Iraq, school shootings, etc.).

The audience for artists who consistently produce conscious rap is largely underground.[9] However, mainstream artists are increasingly including elements of conscious hip-hop in their songs.[10] There are hundreds of artists whose music could be described as "political": see the List of Political hip hop artists page for a partial list.

Hip Hop in Politics

Hip Hop's outreach to the political world isn't a one-way street. The response that Hip Hop has received from mainstream politics has varied largely, primarily based on time period.

From the onset of hip hop in the 80's throughout the 90's the culture was either ignored or criticized by politicians on both sides of the aisle. "In the 1990s... there was one cultural idea that seemed to have bi-partisan support: that rap music was a symptom of the destruction of American values."[11] In 1992 Vice President Dan Quayle called on Interscope Records to withdraw 2Pacalypse Now because it was a "disgrace to American music". The catalyst for Quayle's outrage was an incident when a Texas youth shot a state trooper and referenced Tupac's album as his motivation.[11] In 2Pacalypse Now rapper Tupac Shakur raised issues of institutional racism, teen pregnancy, and police brutality.[12] He tells a fictional story of how a police officer slams him on the ground for no cause, but before he gets arrested the police officer is shot. His lyrics read "how can I feel guilty after all the things they did to me?".

Today, Hip Hop music has grown to be such a large part of mainstream culture that The Washington Post wrote "The politician's guide to how to be down with hip hop."[13] The criticism of hip hop that was considered patriotic or even moral one generation ago, can make a politician seem "out of touch", especially with young voters.[13] Politician Mike Huckabee was viewed as being "out of touch" when he referred to Beyoncé as "mental poison" in his book: God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy.[14] In 2008 during Obama's primary campaign against then-rival Hillary Clinton he referenced Jay Z by doing his "Brush the dirt off your shoulder" motion in a rally and the audience erupted with support. The embrace of hip hop has not occurred on party lines. Republican Senator Marco Rubio is a vocal fan of Tupac and Gangsta rap. Rubio said "In some ways rappers are like reporters... You had gang wars, racial tension, and they were reporting on that.[11]" The 2016 Republican candidate for president, Donald Trump, has also leveraged hip hop to his advantage. He occasionally quotes that rapper Mac Miller wrote a song called "Donald Trump", and that it has nearly 100 million views.[13] Political Hip Hop's influence on the political system has varied with time, but going forward, the political environment seems to be growing more Hip-Hop friendly.

Ideology and views of political rappers


Anti-racism, black liberation and nationalism

As hip hop is a primarily African-American genre, political rappers often center around black liberation. In particular, the Five-Percent Nation, an Islamic group that focuses on black liberation theology, has a high membership of popular rappers and has had an integral influence on hip hop culture.[15] There have been many hip hop songs expressing anti-racist views, such as the popular The Black Eyed Peas song "Where Is the Love?", however artists advocating more radical black liberation have remained controversial. Artists such as Public Enemy, Tupac Shakur, Ice Cube, and Kendrick Lamar have advocated black liberation in their lyrics. Many refer to these artists as black nationalists. While this may be true, there are no or few explicit references to black nationalist visions in their lyrics. In recent years, Kanye West and Killer Mike have released songs criticizing the War on Drugs and perceived prison industrial complex from an anti-racist perspective.

Anti-poverty, class struggle and socialism

Particularly with the advent of gangsta rap, many hip hop artists have come from underclass backgrounds. Aforementioned artists such as Tupac Shakur, Ice Cube, and Killer Mike have made just as much reference to class oppression as racial oppression. Other political rappers, such as The Coup, Dead Prez, Paris and Immortal Technique, have advocated explicitly Marxist-Leninist views, whereas some rappers such as Lupe Fiasco and the lesser-known Emcee Lynx and Sole have advocated anarchist positions.

Conspiracy theories

Conspiracy theories have been referenced in hip hop lyrics for some time. Elements of the Five-Percenter philosophy that has fundamentally influenced hip hop culture revolve around conspiracy theories. Artists such as Professor Griff, Jedi Mind Tricks, and Hopsin have become infamous for their support of New World Order, Illuminati, and Satanist conspiracy theories, often alleging mainstream hip hop artists, such as Jay-Z, are "involved" in such conspiracies. Other political rappers, such as Tupac Shakur, have been heavily critical of conspiracy theories.

Views on religion

Rappers often reference their religious views. However, outside of Five-Percenters and Black Muslims, they rarely translate into political views. Killer Mike, however, has been heavily critical of organized religion in many of his more political songs.[16]


Occasionally political rapper KRS-One identifies as a libertarian and has voiced support for Ron Paul.[17] Big Boi has also identified as a libertarian, and stated he intended OutKast's "B.O.B." as a libertarian, anti-war song.[18] Despite this, he has voiced support for social democrat Bernie Sanders[19] during the 2016 Presidential election.


Worldwide, political hip hop can be extremely varied. For example, Lowkey and Iron Sheik have expressed anti-Zionist views in their music, whereas Golan and Subliminal have expressed pro-Zionist views.[20] In France, some political artists such as Suprême NTM or Assassin are well known since the early 90's. Today, rappers like Kery James, La Rumeur, Rocé or Médine are influential; their lyrics speak about colonialism, poverty, French history and sometimes conspiracy theories.


Main article: Jihadism and hip-hop

Although many jihadists view hip hop in a negative light, some, particularly those associated with the terrorist organization DAESH, have taken to creating jihadist hip hop songs as a way to indoctrinate Western youths by making the ideology seem cool and countercultural.

Political hip hop scenes

Latino political hip hop scene

Political rapper of Latino descent include Racionais MC's, Olmeca, Tohil, Immortal Technique, Rebel Diaz, Manny Phesto, MRK, Facção Central, Psycho Realm, Ana Tijoux, Salvaje Decibel, Bocafloja, Zack de la Rocha and Canserbero.

UK political hip hop scene

Within the United Kingdom hip hop and urban scene, political, conscious rap is common, with artists including Lowkey, who focuses on the Israel-Palestine conflict and other issues regarding the Middle East, Akala, Logic, I & Ideal, Mic Righteous and English Frank [21]

Australian hip hop scene

Australian hip hop artists Urthboy, Jimblah, The Herd, Horrorshow and L-Fresh the lion are all part of the Elefant Traks record label, and often have politically motivated songs. Their main focuses are racism and xenophobia but The Herd also focuses on issues of climate, gender inequality and war. A number of artists have also vocalised their feelings in songs about domestic violence.

See also


  1. Political Rap. Allmusic. Accessed July 2, 2008.
  2. 1 2 Adaso, Henry. "What is Conscious Hip Hop?". About.com. About.com. Retrieved 14 November 2015.
  3. Decker, Jeffery Louis (1993). "The State of Rap: Time and Place in Hip Hop Nationalism". Social Text No. 34. doi:10.2307/466354. Retrieved 13 Feb 2016.
  4. Abramovich, Alex. "Alex Abramovich: Agitate, Educate, Organize". LRB blog.
  5. Chang, Jeff. Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation.
  6. Lamont, Michele (1999). The Cultural Territories of Race: Black and White Boundaries. University of Chicago Press. p. 334. Retrieved 18 January 2015.
  7. Adaso, Henry. "Gangsta Rap". About.com. About.com. Retrieved 14 November 2015.
  8. 1 2 3 Erlewine, Stephen. "About Ice Cube". MTV. MTV. Retrieved 14 November 2015.
  9. Thompson, Amanda (May 6, 2004). "Gender in Hip Hop: A Research Study" (PDF). Humboldt State University. Retrieved June 9, 2006.
  10. Forman, Murray (2010). "Conscious Hip-Hop, Change, and the Obama Era". Retrieved March 17, 2013.
  11. 1 2 3 Hughes, Dana. "Hip-Hop in Politics". ABC News. ABC News. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
  12. Steiner, B.J. "2Pac Shakur Drops '2Pacalypse Now'". XXL Magazine. Retrieved 30 November 2015.
  13. 1 2 3 Schwarz, Hunter. "The Politician's Guide to how to be Down with Hip Hop". The Washington Post. The Washington Post. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
  14. O'neil, Lorena. "Most Iowa Republicans Agree that Beyonce is Mental Poison". Billboard.com. Billboard. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
  15. Ju, Shirley. "The Five Percent Nation: A brief History Lesson". HNHH. HNHH. Retrieved 3 November 2015.
  16. "Listen: Killer Mike Talks 'Burn,' Religion With CNN". Prefixmag.
  17. "KRS-One to Rock the Ron Paul Revolution Tour". Portland Mercury.
  18. "Big Boi, Of Outkast, Explains Voting For Gary Johnson Over Obama (VIDEO)". The Huffington Post. 12 January 2013.
  19. "Sorry, Ms. Clinton: Outkast's Big Boi Backs Bernie Sanders".
  20. Dimitri Ehrlich (4 June 2004). "A Zionist Hip-Hop Stance Comes to Lollapalooza". The Forward.
  21. Omar Shahid. "Lowkey, Logic and a new wave of political British hip-hop MCs". the Guardian.


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