conscious hip hop by Chorouk Akik June 2, 2020
Conscious lyricism and sound have always had a home in hip hop culture. With many early soul, jazz, and hip hop tracks detailing the life and struggle of Black communities. Many early artists’ careers were solidified in the collective consciousness through their emphasis on speaking out against the powers that be.
Since then a genre appropriately called “conscious rap” has risen in contrast to hip hop and rap that is decidedly more focused on other areas of life. During this time of revolutionary unrest, it’s only fair we bump the right anthems. So here’s your tracklist of albums and bops that are decidedly for the movement.
As mentioned earlier there’s a long history of revolutionary music and music’s role in inspiring the masses for change. These few tracks are from the era of the Civil Rights Movement and still ring true in the spirit of changing the circumstances of our lives and calling for a new day. You might have heard these at your grandma’s house and they’re still worth playing today.
The 1972 song “Little Ghetto Boy” follows the many problems that a young Black child will endure growing up. But it also beautifully motivates that child to grow up and fight and change those circumstances for a better tomorrow.
“Little ghetto boy
When, when, when you become a man
You can make things change if you just take the stand
You gotta believe it yourself in all you do
You’ve gotta fight to make it better
Then you will see how others will start believing to
Then, my son, things will start to get better”
Released on Cooke’s album Ain’t That Good News in 1964, it was admitted into the Library of Congress in 2007. The song is an oldie and a goodie for uplifting hopeful revolutionary spirits.
“It’s been too hard living, but I’m afraid to die
‘Cause I don’t know what’s up there, beyond the sky
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will”
Alright, if you’ve watched literally any historical hip hop docs like Hip-Hop Evolution on Netflix, or The Defiant Ones on HBO you’ve probably learned about some of these iconic tracks or artists. And of course the spirit of revolution and anti-police brutality and anti-racism has always existed in their eras of musical thought. These are the tracks we’ve chosen to highlight for our current struggle.
First released as a single by Sugar Hill Records on July 1, 1982, The Message is one of the biggest outspoken songs of its time. Hip Hop was always big on social commentary, and “The Message” was the first prominent hip hop song to focus on the stress of inner-city poverty including police brutality and overall oppression. The Obamas were even seen rapping along to the following lyrics during Taking the Stage, an event honoring the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
“Don’t push me, ’cause I’m close to the edge
I’m trying not to lose my head”
One of the most recognizable songs out there on the struggle is “Fight The Power” by Public Enemy released the summer of 1989. Also popularized by Spike Lee‘s film “Do the Right Thing,” the song “Fight The Power” is clear about getting ready for fighting racial injustice.
Off his album Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z., Pac was known for his revolutionary and thoughtful politics. He married both street knowledge and higher knowledge of the struggle bringing several lyrical pieces of art to life. “Keep Ya Head Up” is for Black women specifically who are so often forgotten in the movement and Black struggle, but are always at the forefront of fighting for change. So as an updated approach, to all you overlooked groups from women to queer and genderqueer Black and Brown protestors “Keep Ya Head Up” out there.
From their huge project Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), the iconic collective released “Bring Da Ruckus.” Wu-Tang is known for it’s social issue-based organizing so it’s not wrong to use their track to bring some pride behind your civil disruption for the cause. So make sure to “Bring Da Ruckus” at your next rally.
A Tribe Called Quest has always been vocal about social issues, and even after an 18-year hiatus their record We got it from here … Thank you 4 your service had HUGE success. The whole album is a great revolutionary tracklist, but “We the People…” really encompasses the intersectionality of the struggle.
Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin Bout A Revolution” is that oldie you should bring back in the rotation. You probably know her from “Fast Car” but she’s one of the best revolutionary folk music artists.
These are the tracks to keep you calm before you go out to protest or bring you down after a long day of fighting the power. It’s important to turn down and chill, so here are some tracks that are still cause-appropriate.
“I really do this, peace like a Buddhist
But I can really show my temper for them niggas acting stupid
talking bold on the computer”
Of course Nipsey Hussle is a requirement on your protest playlist. Our highlighted track is Face the World from his Crenshaw album.
This one speaks for itself.
From the album Immigrants which has many tracks about social injustice, we chose
“Who Hurt You” and “Immigrants (featuring M.I.A and Meek Mill)”, just check out these lyrics from Meek’s part in the latter:
“Yeah, lock us behind a wall like we was Mexicans
Broad-day shootouts in front of pedestrians”
Another obvious choice. Definite tracklist requirments are “The Blacker the Berry” and “Alright.”
The track follows J. Cole talking about his experience in a white neighborhood and the racism of his neighbors.
“I can’t sleep ’cause I’m paranoid
Black in a white man territory
Cops bust in with the army guns
No evidence of the harm we done
Just a couple neighbors that assume we slang
Only time they see us we be on the news in chains, damn”
The entire album is perfect for the current climate but our track suggestions include “FOR THE PEOPLE,”
“This for my people, tryna stay alive and just stay peaceful
So hard to survive a world so lethal
Who will take a stand and be our hero, of my people, yeah?”
and “TEMPTATION” and of course “Y U DON’T LOVE ME? (MISS AMERIKKKA)”
The album has a few relevant tracks but “The Art of It” has a clear call to action,
“I promise, you don’t know how to lose you ain’t ever gon win no
How you ever gonna really live if you’re so afraid to die
Promise you will never understand cause you’re too afraid to try”
Need some inspo or motivation? Here’s a good place to start:
“I feel I think I don’t know shit sometimes
I feel survivors guilt, but I don’t feel alive
Often wonder why”