The prevailing opinion is we have to look to the past for the days when hip-hop stirred the political pot. But a new generation of rappers has plenty to say—and we need to listen up.
“Remember when hip-hop had something to say?” You mean… a week ago?
We love to look back at when hip-hop “meant something.” The block parties that birthed hip-hop were intended to bring black youth together under a banner of unity and creativity, and the uber-classic hip-hop single “The Message” was released all the way back in 1982, but socially conscious rap music didn’t become consistently visible until the late 1980s, when acts like Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions were discussing everything from the prison industrial complex to the hypocrisy of the war on drugs in their songs. Against a backdrop of Reagan and Bush, the murder of Yusef Hawkins and the Rodney King beating, rappers raged on wax, and it gave voice to a lot of the frustration that was felt in the community. Hip-hop stars like Chuck D, Ice Cube, and 2Pac were often asked by the media to offer commentary on what was going on—giving credence to Chuck D’s famous adage that hip-hop of the time was “CNN for black people.”