Citation
Hip hop's politics

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Title:
Hip hop's politics
Creator:
Madrid, Maria De Los Angeles
Publication Date:
Language:
English
Physical Description:
v, 198 leaves : ; 28 cm

Subjects

Subjects / Keywords:
Hip-hop -- Political aspects ( lcsh )
Genre:
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

Notes

Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 167-198).
General Note:
School of Public Affairs
Statement of Responsibility:
by Maria De Los Angeles Madrid.

Record Information

Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
|Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
518051134 ( OCLC )
ocn518051134
Classification:
LD1193.L64 2009m M32 ( lcc )

Full Text
HIP HOP'S POLITICS
by
Maria De Los Angeles Madrid
B.A., University of Colorado Denver, 2006
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado Denver
in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the degree of
Master of Arts (M.A.)
Liberal Arts and Sciences
2009


This thesis for the Master of Arts
degree by
Maria De Los Angeles Madrid
has been approved
by
Date


Madrid, Maria D. (M.A., Political Science)
Hip Hop's Politics
Thesis directed by Professor Jana Everett
ABSTRACT
This thesis asserts that Hip Hop is political and examines the political discourse
within Hip Hop. Hip Hop, a musical genre, is a contemporary forum for identity
politics where not only is blackness formulated, but mainstream politics are discussed
by the Master of Ceremonies' (MC) individual manifestos. Hip Hop distinguishes
itself as separate from white culture, while it is simultaneously willing to work within
the established systems. Albums by Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, The Roots, and
Kanye West are examined for political discourse in a content analysis. The individual
MC's political discourse includes critiques made of government, the black
community, the Hip Hop Community, and actions to be taken according to the
individual MC. The data demonstrate that Hip Hop is political and the themes found
are diverse and correlated to current politics. The data also indicates that (1) the
individual MCs have similar political themes in their discourse and (2) MCs can
radically change their discourse from political to commercial or vice versa. Hip Hop
is political, but it does not follow the traditional forum of politics, as Hip Hop is both
a subculture and part of mainstream culture. Traditionally black nationalism has been
the primary political ideology in Hip Hop. The data demonstrates this pattern
continues to be true. There is an emphasis on the improvement of black people by
promoting self help. Hip Hop provides a new face to black politics.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidate's thesis. I recommend
its publication.
Signed


TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER
1. AN EXAMINATION OF HIP HOP AS POLITICAL..........................1
Hip Hop's Origins.........................................3
Methods...................................................6
About the Acts............................................8
Common..............................................8
Mos Def............................................10
Talib Kweli........................................11
The Roots..........................................13
Kanye West.........................................16
Thesis Limitations.......................................17
Review of Chapters.......................................19
2. HIP HOP STUDIES................................................20
Hip Hop as "Political"...................................20
A culture of opposition or innovation?.............20
Hip Hop's Political Action.........................29
Political Ideologies and Hip Hop.........................45
Black Nationalism..................................46
Beyond Black Nationalism...........................49
Conscious Rap v. Gangsta Rap.......................51
Conclusion...............................................54
3. ANALYSIS: HIP HOP'S POLITICAL DISCOURSE IN CONSCIOUS
RAP............................................................57
Table 3.1................................................59
Major Political Ideologies in Hip Hop....................61
IV


Government, the Hip Hop Community and Black Community.70
Action to be Taken According to the MCs..........75
Conclusion.......................................78
CONCLUSION..................................................80
APPENDICES..................................................87
A. CONTENT ANALYSIS OF FINDINGS..................87
B. TERMS DEFINED................................164
REFERENCES
167


CHAPTER 1
AN EXAMINATION OF HIP HOP AS POLITICAL
"Hip Hop, the language of the Underground Railroad, in its purest form. Yeah, true Hip Hop
is just like the Underground Railroad. If the message is not for you, it can sit on your nose
and your brain remains froze." -Lonnie Rashid Lynn
In this thesis I argue Hip Hop is a contemporary forum for identity politics
where not only is blackness formulated, but mainstream politics are critiqued by the
Master of Ceremonies' (MC*) individual manifestos. Hip Hop is an urban culture
comprising rap music, graffiti art, and break dancing. Hip Hop houses various genres
of rap music including conscious rap and gangsta rap'. Conscious rap is also called
political rap, politically-oriented rap, message rap, and socially-conscious rap.
Gangsta rap is rap music with lyrics focused on violent lifestyles of inner-city youth
and pursuit of material wealth (Boyd, 2003, p. 21). Gangsta rap is also called
commercial rap, mainstream rap, and corporate rap. Conscious and gangsta rap are
perceives as opposing expressions. The two expressions are both complex
expressions. On one hand, conscious rap is viewed as upholding Hip Hop's original
intentions and objectives. Conscious rap wants to remain in a subculture status. On
the other hand, gangsta rap is viewed as upholding ideals on consumption and pursuit
of capital gain. Gangsta rap is the dominant image of Hip Hop in mainstream media.
* Words with this symbol are defined in Appendix.
1


This thesis examines conscious rap. The lyrics in conscious rap can be read as
political manifestos of individual conscious rap acts providing a critique of current
government, governmental action, and sociopolitical conditions of the black
community and other racial minorities in the U.S. Conscious rap provides a set of
values to set forth innovation and positive change within the Hip Hop community
(Dyson, 2007). The messages provided in the individual manifestos are re-enforced
by the style in which the lyrics are performed (Hebdige, 1979). The acts' lyrical
delivery style is an extension of their lyrical thesis. Style further constructs and
continues the political dialogue.
In the Hip Hop community, conscious rap and gangsta rap are viewed as
opposites although both are concerned with authenticity and focus on what they
perceive as Hip Hops objective. As a culture, Hip Hop distinguishes itself as separate
from white culture, while it is simultaneously willing to work within the established
systems of government and culture. This noticeable contradiction within Hip Hop has
been labeled as a "duality" (Boyd, 2004). The "duality" speaks of Hip Hop's musical
ability to capture contradictory themes in the life of black youth while simultaneously
exhibiting rejection and acceptance of mainstream politics and culture. Analysis of
Hip Hop can be used to examine questions about contemporary state of race in the
United States. What are the race relations in contemporary politics? Is there a
continuation of perceived innate racial differences and embracement of the perceived
racial difference? What politics are of concern to the Hip Hop community?
2


Hip Hop in its attempt to maintain its uniqueness, an identity primarily racial,
displays a repudiation of perceived conformance to white values of aesthetic. This
expression is said to be recognition of a continued perceived vulnerability of a racial
status (Boyd, 2003; Boyd, 2004; Dyson, 2001; Kitwana, 2002; Ogbar, 2007; Perry,
2004: Rose, 1994). Hip Hop culture and specifically rap music reminds us that
mainstream politics and mainstream culture have not actively included minorities
entirely and continue to serve and tend to the specific needs and desires of the white
population (McPherson, 2005).
Hip Hop's Origins*
Hip Hop originated in the late 1960s in the Bronx, New York, as part of a
wider sub-cultural movement that includes deejaying' (tumtabling), rapping (MCing),
break dancing, graffiti, and other cultural practices. In the late 1980s and 1990s Hip
Hop attained a wide-spread popularity as rap, break dancing and the other aspects of
Hip Hop culture caught public attention.
The first major DJ* was Clive Campbell also known as "DJ* Kool Here." He
used two turntables to meld percussive fragments from old records with popular
dance songs, later this would become called "sampling," to create a continuous flow
of music. Break dance contests developed where break dancers created a dance style
whose repertoire included acrobatic and occasionally airborne moves. A well-known
break dance move is the "helicopter," whereby dancers spun on the tops of their heads
+ Information from this section was acquired from Encyclopedia Britanica (2009) and the Encyclopedia
of New York State (2009).
3


with their feet up in the air. In the meantime, deejays* developed new turntable
manipulation techniques such as "needle dropping." Needle dropping included the
prolonged short drum brakes by playing two copies of a record simultaneously and
moving the needle on one turntable back to the start of the break while the other
played. Another technique developed was the "scratching" in which a rhythmic effect
is created by sliding the record back and forth underneath the needle. The Sugarhill
Gang's song "Rapper's Delight" (1979) was rap's first national release in the U.S.
Within weeks of its release, "Rapper's Delight" became a chart-topping phenomenon.
In the mid-1980s a distinct wave of MCs came about furthering the growing
market for rap music. Run-DMC fused rap with hard rock and defined a new style of
dress by becoming staples on MTV as they brought rap to a mainstream audience.
Def Jam Records featured LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys, and Public Enemy. LL Cool J
became rap's first romantic superstar. The Beastie Boys broadened rap's audience and
popularized digital sampling. Public Enemy, building on the social consciousness of
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's "The Message" (1982), invested rap with
radical black political ideology.
Rap music's classical period (1979-1993) includes the fundamental musical
and cultural contributions that compose Hip Hop culture today. Female MCs such as
Queen Latifah and Salt-n-Pepa emerged and offered an alternative perspective to the
predominant male viewpoint. In addition, artists began to be associated with specific
geographical areas of the country with New York as the most prominent. The biggest
4


challenge to New York rap came from California with N.W.A. West Coast rap
became increasingly prominent in the early 1990s giving rise to a new genre in Hip
Hop, gangsta rap. The hegemony of New York City in the Hip Hop world eroded
with the rise of gangsta rap in the West Coast. Unlike East Coast rap, West Coast rap
provided graphic and violent tales of the inner city life. After the emergence of
gangsta rap, an emphasis was placed on to a hook-laden version of commercial rap.
By the beginning of the 2000s, Hip Hop became a staple of popular music
charts and is performed in many styles across the world. Twenty-first century rap
encompasses a variety of genres and has established itself as one of the best-selling
genre of popular music in the U.S. While Hip Hop increased its mainstream
popularity, the "underground*" scene also amplified, allowing for Hip Hop to become
part of mainstream culture and remain a subculture simultaneously. Hip Hop is an
influential cultural force worldwide, influencing the direction not only of popular
music, but areas as disparate as fashion, language, and politics. The commercial rap
sector in Hip Hop has focused on the production of a cohesive culture by emphasizing
on the creation of fashion. The fashion is based on an urban, non-formal aesthetic.
The language used in Hip Hop is slang and every MC regardless of the genre uses
variable amounts of slang in their songs. In Hip Hop, conscious rap has made the
personal political. The everyday life experiences are viewed as part of the political
ideology of the individual which shapes the life and the community around the
individual.
5


Methods
In this thesis I explore the conscious rap genre of Hip Hop music to make the
case that Hip Hop is a contemporary form of identity politics. My research questions
are as follows: (1) what are the major political ideologies in conscious rap? (2) What
are the critiques made of government, the Hip Hop community, and the black
community? (3) What are the actions to be taken according to the MCs? The
methodology applied is a content analysis of albums by conscious acts: Common,
Mos Def, Talib Kweli, The Roots, and Kanye West. Content analysis is used to
examine both episodic record and running records, in this analysis mass media
material is used (Johnson, Joslyn, & Reynolds, 2001). Content analysis allows for
deriving numerical measurement from a non-numerical written record as well as
interpretive documentation (Johnson, Joslyn, & Reynolds, 2001).
The conscious rap acts selected and the units of analysis are a purposive
sample. I exercised considerable discretion over what observations to study as the
goal is to study a diverse, and yet limited number of observations rather than to
analyze a sample representative of a larger target population (Johnson, Joslyn, &
Reynolds, 2001), for example MCs and rappers' across all Hip Hop genres.
Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, The Roots, and Kanye West were selected because
they are well known prominent conscious rap acts in the Hip Hop community. They
have reached a national level of recognition by their work reaching positions in well
known music charts such as the Billboard.
6


The units of analysis are the earliest and the latest albums of each act. The last
album release cutoff date is December 31, 2008. Albums released after this date are
not included. The albums analyzed are: Can I Borrow a Dollar? (1992), Universal
Mind Control (2008), Black on Both Sides (1999), True Magic (2006), Quality
(2002), Eardrum (2007), Organix (1993), Rising Down (2008), The College Dropout
(2004), and 808s & Heartbreak (2008). Interpretive content analysis enables
examination of the recordings of the conscious rap acts to provide qualitative
interpretations. I provide an interpretive documentation of the political discourse in
the ten albums by the selected acts. First, I listened to the albums until I completed
the lyrics of albums. Next, I took the lyrics of each album and I reviewed them for
content concerning my research questions. The reviews of the albums consisted of
listening to every song while looking at the lyrics. The songs that addressed critiques
of government, the Hip Hop community, and the black community are considered as
containing political discourse. The critiques and messages provided by the MC then
were interpreted. Once all the songs that contained political discourse were
interpreted I reviewed all the themes discussed to provide a summary of the political
discourse in the entire album. I looked at album reviews and Billboard charts to
provide a description of how the albums were received by the public. Not all the
songs had political discourse. The songs that did not have political discourse were not
interpreted. While some MC's styles include very clear references, others are obscure.
The obscure references may include usage of unknown slang, religious references, or
7


other uncommonly used reference. The MCs' individual style varies in the style that
they rap. The MC can rap at various speeds making the coding of process difficult.
When an MC raps at a slower speed, the coding is easier to complete as the words are
more understandable than when rapping at a more hurried momentum. This was
resolved by listening to the album various times until the MC's style was understood.
Qualitative methods are emphasized due to the nature of the content, as qualitative
methods permit thorough interpretation of the text.
About the Artists
Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, The Roots, and Kanye West are well known
conscious acts and have provided individual manifestos consistently in their music.
All five selected artists have reached a level of success in mainstream media while
maintaining their conscious lyrics. Their individual manifestos have reached
mainstream media, providing an opposite dialogue to the gangsta/commercial rap
dialogue that dominates in mainstream media.
Common
Common has established himself as a conscious MC for over a decade.
Common, bom March 13, 1972, as Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr., debuted in 1992 with the
album Can I Borrow a Dollar? (Wenner, 2009). Common was bom on Chicago's
South Side to Professor Dr. Mahila Ann Hines and former Chicago Bulls NBA player
Lonnie Lynn (Wenner, 2009). His parents divorced when Common was six years old,
resulting in his father moving to Denver, Colorado. Common was primarily raised by
8


his mother, but his father remained present in his life. In high school Common formed
a rap trio called C.D.R. that opened for acts such as N.W.A. and Big Daddy Kane
(Wenner, 2009). Common left C.D.R. to attend Southern University in Baton Rouge,
Louisiana to study business administration. Later he attended Florida A&M
University and dropped out to pursue his musical career (Wenner, 2009).
Common would later release an additional seven albums that have gained him
a significant underground* following as well as notable mainstream success (Wenner,
2009). In addition to his rapping career, Common has starred in various films: Brown
Sugar, Dave Chappell's Block Party, Smokin' Aces, American Gangster, Street Kings,
and Wanted. Common has been nominated for various awards including Grammy
Awards, BET Awards/BET Hip Hop Awards, Vibe Awards, Soul Train Awards,
MTV Video Music Awards, and Image Awards.
In 2007, Common launched his charitable organization named Common
Ground Foundation. The foundation seeks to foster empowerment and development
of urban youth through education (Common Ground Foundation, 2009). The
foundation also focuses on AIDS/HIV prevention programs targeting youth in the
United States and throughout Africa (Common Ground Foundation, 2009). In
addition to his foundation, Common is a supporter of animal rights and PETA
(Fulbright, 2004). Common is also part of the "Knowing Is Beautiful" movement
which supports AIDS/HIV awareness (Strong, 2004). Common is featured in the
video for "Yes We Can" a song in support of Barrack Obama's candidacy, and he
9


made public promises to vote for Obama (Richburg, 2007). Overall, Common uses
his status of an artist to promote the politics he views as important.
Mos Def
Mos Def is a well-known conscious MC with strong political views and
community activism. Mos Def was bom December 11, 1973 as Dante Terrell Smith
in Brooklyn, New York. He debuted as a solo artist in 1999 with the album Black on
Both Sides (Birchmeier, 2009). In 1994 prior to his solo debut he started his musical
career w ith the group Urban Thermo Dynamics, composed of two of his siblings and
Mos Def. In 1998, he collaborated with Talib Kweli and released the album Black
Star. As a solo artist he has also released The New Danger (2004) and Tme Magic
(2006).
Mos Def was first exposed to Islam at the age of 13 by his father (Asadullah).
By age 19 he became a Muslim after meeting Muslim MCs Ali Shaheed Muhammad
and Q-Tip (Asadullah). His exposure to Islam has continuously influenced his music.
In 2004 Mos Def and Immortal Technique released the controversial song "Bin
Laden" which blamed the Reagan Doctrine and President George W. Bush for the
attacks on September 11, 2001 (Hurt, 2005). In September 2005, Mos Def released
the single "Katrina Clap" renamed "Dollar Day" for album True Magic. The song is a
criticism of the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina (Mujahideen
Ryder, 2006). During one of the MTV Video Music Awards, Mos Def in front of the
Radio City Music Hall on a flatbed truck began performing the "Katrina Clap" in
10


front of a crowd that quickly gathered around him (Mujahideen Ryder, 2006). Mos
Def was arrested despite having a public performance permit in his possession
(Mujahideen Ryder, 2006).
Mos Def began his professional acting career at the age of 14 before his
rapping career (Sanchez, 2009). Mos Def studied experimental theatre at New York
University. He appeared in the film God Bless the Child (Sanchez, 2009). Mos Def
played oldest child in the family sitcom, You Take the Kids. He was Bill Cosby's
sidekick on The Cosby Mysteries (Sanchez, 2009). Mos Def has acted in 26 films
including Brown Sugar, The Italian Job, and Cadillac Records (Sanchez, 2009). Mos
Def has been in the public eye for over a decade, and has chosen how he will be
portrayed and what artistic expression he delivers.
Talib Kweli
Talib Kweli is known as for his innovative and intellectual lyrics. He was bom
October 3, 1975 as Talib Kweli Green in Brooklyn, New York (Sanchez, 2009).
Kweli first gained recognition through Black Star, a collaboration with Mos Def.
Prior to Black Star, Kweli made his debut with the group Mood (Sanchez, 2009). In
2002, Kweli released his first solo album Quality. Kweli has also released three other
solo albums The Beautiful Struggle (2004), Right About Now: The Official Sucka
Free Mix CD (2005), and Eardrum (2007).
Kweli was raised in a highly educated household. His mother is an English
Language professor and his father is a Sociology professor (Sanchez, 2009). He has a
11


younger brother who is a constitutional law professor at Columbia Law School
(Sanchez, 2009). Like Mos Def, Kweli also studied experimental theatre at New York
University. Kweli has a very strong friendship with Mos Def that surpasses their
musical collaborations. They purchased Nkiru, Brooklyn's oldest black-owned
bookstore, and converted it into the Nkiru Center for Education and Culture (College
of the Holly Cross, 2005). Today, the non-profit organization promotes literacy and
multicultural awareness (College of the Holly Cross, 2005). Also, they got together
on May 2005 to raise awareness about exiled political activist Assata Shakur, a
former member of the Black Panther Party involved in a shootout in New Jersey
(Crosley, 2005). They gathered at City Hall to demand the federal government drop
the one million dollar bounty on Shakur's head and remove her from the domestic
terrorist watch list (Crosley, 2005).
Moreover, Kweli has been highly involved in other projects regarding police
brutality and AIDS. In 1999 Kweli was part of a collaboration of 40 MCs that created
the album Hip-Hop for Respect after the death of Haitian immigrant Amadon Diallo
by New York City police (Buzrk, 2009). Mos Def and Common were also part of this
project (Buzrk, 2009). Kweli was featured in the AIDS benefit album Red Hot+Riot!
(Nickson).
Kweli's latest album Eardrum debuted at number two on the Billboard 200
and 60,000 copies were sold within the first week of the album's release (Sanchez,
12


2009). Kweli released Eardrum under his own label called Blacksmith. Kweli speaks
of Eardrum'.
The vast majority of my subject matter focused on black self-love,
black self-esteem, and black self-worth. That translates to other
communities because if you're a human being, it doesn't matter what
color you're talking about you've been through some sort of struggle
and you can apply it to your own life. (Talib Kweli)
Kweli eloquently described the troubles and tribulations in the world and is able to
make his message resonate to other groups of people.
The Roots
The Roots are known for their innovative beats and live band performances.
The Roots, also known as The Legendary Roots Crew, The Fifth Dynasty, The
Square Roots, and The Foundation, was founded by Black Thought and ?uestlove in
the late 1980s by performing in shows around Philadelphia and New York (Allen &
Hightower, 2009). Black Thought and ?uestlove are the primary band members,
Black Thought as the MC and ?uestlove as the drummer. The Roots has other band
members, but over time they have left the band. In 1993 The Roots recorded their
first album Organix to promote at European concerts (Allen & Hightower, 2009).
Not until 1996 when their third album Illadeph Halflife was released did The Roots
reach a spot on the Billboard charts (Vibe, 2009). Up to date The Roots have released
eleven albums as one of the few Hip Hop bands in the U.S. The Roots have been
nominated for many Grammy Awards and won in 2000 for Best Rap Performance by
a Duo or Group for "You Got Me" (JamBase). The Roots have worked with PETA to
13


promote animal compassion and a vegetarian lifestyle (JamBase). The band tours
extensively, and their live sets are frequently hailed as the best in the Hip Hop genre.
?uestlove was bom on January 20, 1971 as Ahmir Khalib Thompson in
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (JamBase). He was raised in the backstage of doo-wop
shows. His father was Lee Andrews of Lee Andrews & the Hearts, one of the great
1950s doo-wop groups. ?uestlove's interest in music began at a young age; he began
playing the drums at the age of seven and became a musical director at the age of 13
(JamBase).
?uestlove attended the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and
Performing Arts where he met Black Thought (JamBase). By the time they graduated
from high school they co-founded The Square Roots (JamBase). Later they changed
the name of the band to The Roots.
?uestlove has been involved in promoting voter registration, campaigning, and
AIDS awareness. In 2004, he joined MTV and Rock the Vote in promoting voter
registration and get-out-the-vote efforts (Appleford, 2008). In 2008, ?uestlove
transformed himself into an active "surrogate" for the Obama campaign, making
speeches and spinning records at block parties, posting flyers on both coasts and
driving vanloads of volunteers (Appleford, 2008). ?uestlove and The Roots
participate in Artist for New South Africa, a nonprofit organization working in the
U.S. and South Africa to combat HIV/AIDS, assist children orphaned by the disease,
advance human and civil rights, educate and empower youth, and build bonds
14


between our nations through arts, culture, and our shared pursuit of social justice
(Econsciousmarket; Ansafrica). ?uestlove is in the process of starting an arts program
in Philadelphia. He talks about his future activism plans:
I'm trying to start an arts program in Philadelphia that enables kids to
have something to distract them, to keep them off the streets. I took 20
students to a Broadway play last night. It's very small, but the one
thing I've learned in the Obama campaign is small activism is very
effective as it spreads. (Appleford, 2008)
Black Thought was bom October 1, 1972 as Tariq Luqmaam Trotter in
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Vibe, 2009). Little is known about Black Thought's early
childhood and parents. According to Vibe magazine, Black Thought's parents were
both killed; his father was shot and killed execution style when Black Thought was
one year old, and his mother was stabbed to death when he was 15 years old (Vibe,
2009). Black Thought is part of the Five Percent Nation which is grounded on Black
Muslim traditions (Miyakawa, 2005, p. 37).
Black Thought attended the Millersville University after graduating from
Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. In addition to his
rapping career with The Roots, Black Thought has starred in the films Dave
Chappelle's Block Party, I Think I Love My Wife, American Rap Stars, Bamboozled,
Brooklyn Babylon, Perfume, Love Rome, and Explicit Ills.
In 2001, Black Thought was part of a group of consious MCs including Talib
Kweli, Mos Def and Common that played at the World Conference Against Racism
in Durban and a series of dates in Souht Africa (Chang, 2005, pp. 448-449). Dispite
15


their efforts, U.S. Secretary State Colin Powell refused to attend the confemce, an
action reflective of the George W. Bush administration's disinterest in addressing
racism (Chang, 2005, p. 449).
Kanye West
Kanye West is known for his overall innovativeness in music whether
producing or performing. Kanye West, bom June 8, 1977, in Atlanta, Georgia as
Kanye Omari West, debuted in 2004 with his album The College Dropout. West has
released three other albums Late Registration (2005), Graduation (2007), and 808s &
Heartbreak (2008). All his released albums have received numerous awards and
critical acclaim (Birchmeier, 2009). West also manages his own record label GOOD
Music (Birchmeier, 2009). West has produced for Roc-A-Fella Records, Alicia Keys,
Ludacris, Janet Jackson, Common, and Talib Kweli (Birchmeier, 2009).
West lived with both of his parents until they divorced when he was three
years old, resulting in West and his mother moving to Chicago, Illinois (Wenner,
2009). West's mother, Donda West, was an English Professor at Clark Atlanta
University and the Chair of the English Department at Chicago State University
(Wenner, 2009). Later she retired to serve as Kanye West's manager (Wenner, 2009).
West's father, Ray West, a former member of the Black Panther Party and one of the
first black photojoumalist at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution now is a Christian
counselor (Wenner, 2009). West completed some art classes at the America Academy
of Art in Chicago, and enrolled at the Chicago State University (Encyclopedia of
16


World Biography, 2007). He dropped out and began working on his music career as a
producer (Encyclopedia of World Biography, 2007).
West launched his the Kanye West Foundation in August 2007. The
foundation's mission is to help combat the dropout rate in schools by enabling
underserved youth access to programs to unleash their creativity and reach their full
potential (Kanye West Foundation, 2009). The foundation uses Hip Hop as a vehicle
to teach participants hands-on music productions skills, expose them to Hip Hop
dance and art, and teach them important skills such as time management,
communication, commitment, responsibility, and commitment (Kanye West
Foundation, 2009).
Thesis Limitations
The first limitation is that the proposed MCs to be studied are all male and
thus from a feminist perspective this can be viewed as sexist and lacking a balanced
gendered sample of data. However, Hip Hop's music, especially conscious rap,
continues to be a male dominated arena and is not representative of the general
population or other genres in Hip Hop. This does not excuse why all selected MCs are
male, but the selected MCs provide an accurate representation of the conscious MC's
population.
Second, the content analysis conducted is subjected to open interpretation of
the data. This can be critiqued as reflecting my own personal biases about the
proposed topic. However, the interpretation of the data is restricted by the coding of
17


the data which is limited to my three research questions. Data that does not address
my three research question will not be included in the interpretation. All the data is
widely available for the reader to allow the reader to assert or reject the interpretation
provided.
Third, coded language in the form of slang and Ebonics is used in Hip Hop.
The obscure dialects allow for Hip Hop to maintain a private community. Definitions
of the coded language, slang, and Ebonics are provided to allow the reader unfamiliar
with the vocabulary to understand the interpretations and conclusions of the analysis.
Lastly, Kanye West, one of the selected MCs, is not strictly considered a
conscious MC like the other four selected MCs. He has explored various commercial
genres within Hip Hop. West, even with his mainstream access and popularity as a
commercial rapper per se, has access to artistic collaboration with the four other
selected artists which most gangsta/commercial rap artists do not. This means he has
earned a level of respect and credibility in the conscious rap genre. West, although
not strictly considered a conscious MC, has met the criteria like the other selected
MCs. He has also received public attention for his politically charged comments. In
2005, after Hurricane Katrina West announced on NBC, "George Bush doesn't care
about black people" (de Moraes, 2005). This comment reminds us that inequality can
be seen in the actions or lack thereof by government during Hurricane Katrina. In his
first album West included Emmitt Till in his lyrics bringing attention to America's
18


unfavorable racist past. Finally, West has produced and co-produced for some of the
other selected MCs making him a conscious producer of conscious rap music.
Review of Chapters
The subsequent chapters include a literature review, analysis of lyrics and
artists, and a conclusion. In chapter two a literature review includes an analysis of Hip
Hop literature from 1994 to the present. Chapter three includes an analysis of the
album by the artists.
Chapter two includes reviews of the works of the most prominent scholars in
Hip Hop studies. The scholar's arguments put forth the question "Is Hip Hop
political?" The main question surrounding Hip Hop's political identity is what is
"political." In addition to discussing whether Hip Hop is political, chapter two
discusses the political philosophies and themes within conscious rap.
The questions discussed and answered in chapter three are: (1) is Hip Hop
political? (2) What major political ideologies are present in Hip Hop? (3) What
critiques are made of government, the Hip Hop community, and the black
community? (4) What actions are to be taken according to the MCs? Here, I illustrate
how politics are more than what the eye can see. Politics do not only take the form of
policies and legislature, politics are personal. Politics is how the world is organized.
19


CHAPTER 2
HIP HOP STUDIES
Researchers inside and outside academia have considered Hip Hop a cultural
and social phenomenon as they have examined various genres within Hip Hop. There
has been great debate over whether Hip Hop is political. One strand of this debate
revolves around the question of what is considered political. A second strand of the
debate is whether Hip Hop has the potential for political action. This chapter reviews
several questions that scholars have raised: (1) is Hip Hop oppositional or innovative?
(2) Does Hip Hop comprise political action? This chapter also discusses the political
ideologies in Hip Hop and the dichotomy of conscious rap versus gangsta rap.
Hip Hop as "Political"
A culture of opposition or innovation?
One debate in the literature is on the question of whether Hip Hop should be
understood as an oppositional culture or an innovative culture. Scholars who argue
that Hip Hop is an oppositional culture ground their arguments in the works of Dick
Hebdige (1979) an influential scholar on cultural expression in the social sciences.
He argues cultural expression occurs not only through language, but also at the
surface of bodies (Hebdige, 1979). His case studies of English youth cultures describe
how subcultures attack hegemony with oppositional statements along with the clothes
they wear and the images they project (Hebdige, 1979). Tricia Rose (1994) in her
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seminal work on Hip Hop adapted much of Hebdige's ideas about subculture and
political dialogue. Her content analysis of MCs KRS-One, LL Cool J, Chuck D,
NWA, and Ice Cube describe how rap critiques all forms of domination whether
symbolically, ideologically, or materially (Rose, 1994).
Manifestation, for Hebdige (1979), harbors a hidden dialectical meaning that
dialogue is more than words and appearances, but rather a combination of those
things. The dialogue can be both obvious and concealed to mainstream society. The
same parallels are in existence within Hip Hop lyrics. Rose (1994) explains Hip Hop
in terms of a contemporary stage for the powerless where "resistive" transcripts are
performed (p. 101). This idea is a more developed concept deriving from Hebdige's
concept of style. Moreover, according to Rose (1994) the resistive transcripts are
articulated and displayed in both hidden and public domains, making them highly
visible and yet difficult to contain and confine. Hip Hop's "counter hegemonic nature"
is defined by Rose (1994) as Hip Hop's simultaneous critique of current forms of
social oppression while affirming aspects of current social power inequality. While
conscious rap critiques of government, gangsta/commercial rap has misogynistic
lyrics.
Another scholar who understands Hip Hop as oppositional is Theresa
Martinez (1997), who in her examination of late 1980s and early 1990s political and
gangsta rap, analyzes lyrics from artists: Public Enemy, NWA, Ice Cube, and Ice-T.
She found four main political topics within gangsta rap dialogue: (1) distrust of the
21


police, (2) fear of a corrupt system, (3) disillusionment with the health care system,
(4) anger at racism and lost opportunities, (5) action in the face of oppression, and (6)
a plea for recognition (Martinez, 1997). Martinez (1997) borrows from Tricia Rose
(1994) to explain disguised resistance tactics used by oppressed groups. She explains
disguised resistance tactics can range from songs, gossip, jokes among other forms of
communication (Martinez, 1997). This concept will be used in the following chapters
to discuss how political discourse and action vary in form and are not necessarily
identifiable at first hand if you do not belong to the corresponding culture or
subculture.
Quincy Norwood (2002) postulates that the political message in Hip Hop can
be traced to slave narratives. He asserts that the parallels perpetuated in the
permanence of conditions established by slavery and continued by neo-slavery can be
traced in Hip Hop. Norwood portrays slave narratives like rap narratives as acts of
resistance and opposition. In his content analysis of slave narratives and lyrics from
KRS-One, Nas, Onyx, Ras Kass, and Wu-Tang Clan, Norwood explains cultural
parallels between slave narratives and rap narratives. Unlike the previous authors
discussed, Norwood focuses on the similarities of policy that perpetuate loss or
absence of self determination, i.e., mandatory sentencing and police brutality as the
new Jim Crow. The chronological connection between slavery and Hip Hop is
indicative of specific sociopolical conditions that perpetuate oppositional dialogue.
The emphasis on the connection between sociopolitical conditions and the dialogue in
22


rap is inherent in political discourse. If there are perceived injustices by the selected
artist, then those perceived injustices will be present in the lyrics. This concept will be
later used in the following chapter to analyze the identifiable critiques of government
made by the selected MCs in their lyrics.
In sumary, Hebdige (1979), Rose (1994), Martinez (1997), and Norwood
(2002) view Hip Hop as a culture of oppositon as constituted by oppositional political
dialogue. The political dialogue takes form in various types of communication
including music and fashion. Hip Hop is seen by these scholars as the result of a
continuation of a systemic oppression of black people from slavery to present day.
On the other side of the debate, scholars Imani Perry (2004) and Jeffrey Ogbar
(2007) view dialogue in Hip Hop is as belonging to an innovative culture which does
not need an oppressor. Their position argues that Hip Hop is more complex than mere
resistance. Perry (2004) argues that the language used in Hip Hop is "coded
language" making the language an obscure dialect which remains an essential element
in maintaining a private Hip Hop community and subculture status (p. 25). I agree
with Perry's (2004) argument that the language in Hip Hop is coded language, which
adds a level of complexity to understanding rap music. One main problem is that the
vocabulary in Hip Hop can be taken literally, which is very problematic. As a mixed
medium, rap music can take any kind of artistic technique or means of expression
which determines the meaning of the vocabulary.
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So, how can one attempt to understand rap music? I suggest the following
three things: First, one should expect to be exposed to an array of narrarives,
autobiographies, science fiction or debate. As a listener, one has to identify what form
the MC is providing in the song or albums as a whole. Second, one needs to identify
the subject matter of the song/album. Once the form and themes are identified, one
can begin to understand the MC's message and dialogue. This process can take an
extendeded period of time because each MC has their own style, hence the albums
have difference methods of delivery and themes/subjects that are displayed thoughout
their work/album. Then, there is always the MC that radically changes his work,
complicating its interpretation. In such a case, one has to spend additional time
identified the form and theme of the albums and the individual songs.
Perry (2004) focuses on the tensions between art and dialogue in Hip Hop.
Her content analysis of artists across genres in Hip Hop is used to exhibit the
particularity in the tensions between art and dialogue. Perry defines rap and the stance
of MCs or rappers in Hip Hop:
Rap is a mixed medium. As an art form, it combines poetry, prose,
song, music, and theater. It may come in the form of narrative,
autobiography, science fiction, or debate...The rapper in Hip Hop is
both the subject and artist in much of Hip Hop composition; who he or
she is, constitutes a direct part of our experience of the music, and
often the artist is imagined in the popular realm as doing nothing more
than verbally expressing his or her experiences, self, and ideas. The
MC usually occupies a self-proclaimed location as representative of
his or her community or group the everyman or everywoman of his
or her hood. As a representative, he or she encourages a kind of
sociological interpretation of the music, best expressed by the concept
24


of "the real." "This is the documentary story of my world," we are told.
There exists in rap music an identity-based theological stance. The
work of the artist is not intended to be apparent so much as the
lyricism is supposed to testify to organic brilliance. Often this stance
becomes articulated via theological imagery, further obscuring ideas of
labor by imagining the subject as divine and divinely inspired. This is
not work that makes its seams visible. This stance, while clearly one
that is supposed to conjure up the image of a kind of virtuously and
confluence of art and identity, makes it more difficult to understand
definitively the location of artistry separate form social scientific
claims, (pp. 38-39)
Perry's concept of a rapper or MC as both the subject and artist in rap music is
applied in chapters three when discussing the data. By using Perry's concept it
is possible to make the connection that the MC occupies a self-proclaimed
location as representative of his or her community. In other words, the MC's
political discourse is part of the MC's personal experiences as a person,
individual, and representative. The MC is the one responsible for the
messages he provides to his audience because he is the author of the lyrics.
As the author, the MC based on his own politics and life experiences
composes the political discourse in his music.
Jeffrey O.G. Ogbar (2007) examined the "cult of authenticity" in Hip Hop by
conducting a content analysis of lyrics from artists Ice Cube, Sugar Hill Gang, Salt-n-
Pepa, Queen Latifah. Lil' Kim, Jay-Z, Da Brat, Trina, Digable Planets, N.W.A, and A
Tribe Called Quest. His research explicates the discourse within Hip Hop,
On one front, rappers direct criticism at their hyper-materialistic,
violent peers and, on other, they direct criticism at the capitalist, racist
society at large that copiously gloried overconsumption and
25


materialism and facilitates racial subjugation. In addition, hip-hop
artists attack sexism and violence in society as well as the misogynist
and destructive lyrics of their peers, (p. 107)
Ogbar's (2007) concept of the contradictions within rap music describes the
complexity of interpretating rap music. Understanding the contradictions
within rap music is key to understanding the critiques made of government,
the Hip Hop community, and black community. The discourse in Hip Hop is
affected by both the MC and the media outlets. Ogbar argues that Hip Hop is
inextricably tied to the consumer market, but rappers or MCs determine their
own perspectives along with larger institutional forces, such as labels, radio
stations, and television stations. Ogbar points out that white audiences not
only purchase the majority of gangsta/commercial rap, but they also purchase
the majority of conscious rap. This is reflective of the general demographic of
young people who are Hip Hop consumers: they are mostly white. Hip Hop's
political discourse is not only affected by the artist itself, but the media outlets
and the Hip Hop consumers. Hip Hop is more than just an artistic form, or
political discourse it is the new forum to discuss racial politics in
contemporary America. This is why Hip Hop reaches to a variety of listeners.
Perry (2004) and Ogbar's (2007) work is essential to understanting the
message(s) in Hip Hop as it places black culture in a status of creativity instead of
resulting from deprivation. In other words, the scholars who know Hip Hop as
innovative are arguing that the Hip Hop communty has emerged and expanded from
26


creativity instead of merely being a kind of confrontation with the oppressor. Hip Hop
encompasses a more extensive and more troubling range of black experience than that
of previous generations and this can be seen in the array of narratives in the lyrics
(Perry, 2004). The narratives include topics about hustling and sexual exploitation,
endurance, alienation of the impoverished, and the depression of marginalization
(Perry, 2004). For Perry (2004), to listen to Hip Hop is to enter a world of complexity
and contradiction. Emphasis on the contemporary black experience is part of Hip
Hop's innovations. The Hip Hop generation has a distinct set of concerns, and their
politics and rap are reflective of this. Perry (2004) emphasizes Hip Hop's
characteristics,
(1) Its primary language is African American Vernacular English; (2)
It has a political location in society distinctly ascribed to black people,
music, and cultural forms; (3) it is derived from black American oral
culture; and (4) it is derived from black American musical traditions.
(p. 10)
Perry puts forward the premise that Hip Hop is an undervalued art form to be re-
evaluated and focuses on Hip Hop's richness in culture and creativity. Whereas, if Hip
Hop was a culture of opposition, then only reaction to the "other or the oppressor
would be its purpose.
Regardless of whether Hip Hop is perceived as an oppositional or innovative
culture, scholars agree that Hip Hop provides political discourse. Dialogue is both a
tool and power in the hands of the individuals who know the power of words. Hip
27


Hop is both oppositional and innovative, as it is a rich culture that can sustain itself
and at the same time opposes that which is viewed as oppressive and/or wrong.
Oppositional culture and innovative culture are often viewed by scholars as
mutually exclusive based on the objective of the culture. Oppositional culture is
perceived as based on the preconception of maintained cultural hierarchies, where
there are clear boundaries defining culture that is either "normal" or "deviant." These
boundaries are maintained by the political systems in the society such as laws,
institutionalized racism, and socio-cultural traditions. Oppositional cultures' politics
are generally along the lines of single issue advocacy and particular to particular
communities. As a result emphasis is placed on the micro as the particular community
views the personal as political while struggling for a political footing. This is
descriptive of Hip Hop as a subculture in its early years. As Hip Hop has aged its
culture has entered into a complexity of being simultaneously a subculture and part of
mainstream culture. A culture of innovation focuses on the complexities surrounding
the boundaries defining culture that is either "normal" or "deviant." Consequently,
Hip Hop is viewed as combating the acknowledged demarcation of difference
between "normal" and "deviant" and the assumptions from such demarcations. A
culture of innovation is more complex than that of an oppositional culture as there is a
need to create an environment where creative thinking is central to the values,
assumptions and actions. Subsequently, Hip Hop is understood that while its message
28


may be disconcerting, it often expresses brilliant insights about existence in a society
enmeshed in difficult racial and gender politics.
Although oppositional culture and innovative culture are perceived as
mutually exclusive, I think they are different phases of culture. At its emergence, Hip
Hop was preoccupied with the maintained cultural hierarchies. The primary concerns
in Hip Hop where the clear boundaries defining "normal" or "deviant." But as Hip
Hop has sustained its presence in the U.S. and has expanded internationally, its
concerns are more multifaceted. Hip Hop is versatile and can be "either/or" and
"both."
Hip Hop's Political Action
A second question scholars have discussed is whether or not Hip Hop can be
seen as a political movement. Since the emergence of Hip Hop there has been great
debate about Hip Hop's ablity to act as a political movement. A significant portion of
the literature is dedicated to Hip Hop's inability to go beyond "politics of
recognition." Scholars Allen (1996), Neal (1999), McPherson (2005), and Lusane
(2004) view Hip Hop as politically handicapped where Hip Hop lacks the ability to
create a major political movement. Nancy Frasier (2000) explains "politics of
recognition" as politics that are concerned with the identity model in which it is
contended that to belong to a group that is devalued by the dominant culture is to be
misrecognized: to suffer a distortion in one's relation to one's self (p. 109). According
to Fraiser (2000) the politics of recognition aim to repair internal self-dislocation by
29


contesting the dominant culture's demeaning picture of the group. In this way, politics
of recognition propose that members of misrecognized groups reject established
images in favor of new images that are self-representative, discarding internalized,
negative identities and joining collectively to produce a self-affirming culture of their
own, which publically asserted will gain the respect and esteem of society at large.
Fraiser (2000) asserts that the successful result is recognition: an undistorted
relation to oneself (p. 110). The politics of recognition can have real-world
consequences in terms of alternating who governs, who suffers and who benefits from
political life in a communitythe very essence of what is meant by politics.
The first concern is whether Hip Hop can be seen as a political movement is
Hip Hop's lacking the ability to successfully develop a mass political movement.
Ernest Allen (1996) in his argument that Hip Hop is enmeshed in "politics of
recognition." Claims that Hip Hop is no more than a concerted effort by black youth
to use mass-culture to facilitate communal discourse across a fractured and dislocated
national community (p. 371). Mark Anthony Neal (1999), in his chronological
examination of Hip Hop, argues that Hip Hop is politically handicapped because MCs
and their recordings are unable to inspire a sustained political movement as a vehicle
for political change. Neal's (1999) argument has two implications: First, for Hip Hop
to be a vehicle for political change, it must be a political mass movement or at least
must affect some kind of measurable change. Neal (1999) is measuring Hip Hop by
the standards of black political change in earlier eras that engaged in mass
30


mobilization. I would agree that Hip Hop has evolved to deal with the politics of its
time. In other words, Hip Hop must be relevant to contemporary politics in order to
be a vehicle for political change, instead of reverting back to previous political
movements.
Second, according to Neal (1999) rap music is no longer providing narratives
following black nationalist ideology. In other words, rap music no longer provides
messages with black nationalist values. The black nationalist values focus on the
political belief and practice of black people as distinct people with a distinct historical
personality who should develop structures to define, defend and develop the interests
of blacks as people (Henderson, 1996). I argue Hip Hop continues to hold black
nationalist ideology and provide political discourse. Over the decades Hip Hop has
given birth to various genres including conscious rap and gangsta/commercial rap.
While gangsta/commercial rap is primarily concerned with the acquisition of wealth
as the ideal to reach the American Dream, conscious rap is concerned with the
empowerment of the black community. Analyzing the messages of empowerment
provided by conscious rap it can be determined if the messages hold black nationalist
values.
Clarence Lusane (2004), in his content analysis of lyrics (by Naughty By
Nature, Ice-T, N.W.A, Ice Cube, W.C., MAAD Circle, Queen Latifah, and Bytches
with Problems), argues that Hip Hop is a topic of concern in mainstream politics
without the sufficient power and authority to facilitate or obstruct the black
31


community. He attributes this to the fact that rap music is at a developing stage of
contradictions and opposition (Lusane, 2004). Allen (1996), Neal (1999), and Lusane
(2004) agree that Hip Hop's political discourse of discontent does not equate to
political action. Here Hip Hop is described as if it was in an emerging stage. It is
important to remind the reader that Hip Hop has passed the fad phase, as it has
sustained its presence for over three decades. These scholars' arguments ignore the
activism in Hip Hop and its political discourse that goes beyond social discontent.
[See examples of activism in Hip Hop on pages 38-39.]
These authors characterized Hip Hop's politics as the "politics of style" and
"politics of recognition." "Politics of style," according to Lusane (2004) is Hip Hop's
ability to act "as the voice of oppressed black youth and commercialization of social
discontent" without political actions (p. 351), while "politics of recognition,"
according to Frasier (2000) are politics deriving from a distortion in ones relation to
ones self (p. 109). Scholars use these concepts to characterize Hip Hop as unable to
affect the wider community. These scholars' arguments differentiate between political
messages and political actions. My understanding of political action encompasses
political messages and thus 1 deem Hip Hop's political message as political action.
Hannah Arendt (1958) affirms that to be political, to live in a polis, means that
everything is decided through words and persuasion (p. 26). Arendt (1958) explains
that politics take place in the public realm in the form of storytelling where the
32


presence of others who see what we see and hear what we hear assures us of the
reality of the world and ourselves (p. 50).
The assumption by these scholars that political action can only be in the form
of mass mobilization fails to capture the need for political action to match the politics.
Contemporary politics differ from the politics of previous generations. The main
distinction is between the focused shifted from the community to the individual. Hip
Hop is engaged in politics focused on the public realm used to show individuality. A
main distinction between politics of previous generations and this generation is the
difference in communication. I argue that demonstrations were a means of
communicating political ideas to the wider society, while today technology
communicates these ideas. The type of politics I am speaking of is a change in
consciousness that presumably affects the actions of everyday life and conventional
politics. Communication can now be achieved without actual physical interaction
between two people. Communication now is possible through email, texting, IM, and
social website such as Facebook, My Space, and Twitter. These forums have become
a virtual public realm where the individual finds himself with equals and can
demonstrate his individuality by engaging in words and persuasion. Electronics like
iPods allow people to download music, movies, and shows which becomes their news
about the world. The individual's preferences become their world news because the
individual has control over what they choose to hear on their iPod. Hip Hop networks
are created on social websites where people all over the world can to communicate
33


with one another with a touch of a button. Technology is communication in the 21st
century. This type of communication was impossible to imagine in the Civil Rights
generation where there were no cell phones, internet, social websites, and iPods.
Today, people can listen to rap music all day long on their iPod and their world
becomes Hip Hop. People relate to the world via their iPod and social website,
technology. The public realm is now determined by technology.
Journalist John McWhorter's (2008) analysis personifies the arguments
against Hip Hop. He stalwartly contends that Hip Hop is only a musical art form and
not political. Why does McWhorter view Hip Hop as only a musical form? His
definition of "political" consists of "policy planning and treaties" (pp. 79-80). With
such definition many things that are recognized as political would cease to be so.
Petitioning government, under McWhorter's definition of political, would fail to be a
political action because petitioning government does no consist of policy planning
and treaties. McWhorter speaks highly of the Civil Rights leaders and politics;
however his definition of politics makes much of the Civil Rights politics and leaders
not political. The Civil Rights primarily was established to petition government for
recognition of black peoples' civil rights.
McWhorter (2008) considers Hip Hop a nuisance and lacking meaningful
dialogue. The argument against Hip Hop as political completely disregards the
multiple musical genres within Hip Hop. McWhorter (2008) contends that Hip Hop
lacks meaningful dialogue because he perceives Hip Hop in its very nature as
34


consisting of "quick-hitting ships of thought" (pp. 79-80). Even when MCs include
pressing issues for the black community in their lyrics, McWhorter fails to see them
as meaningful. The inclusion of pressing issues for the black community in lyrics
does not constitute political action and does not lead to meaningful change according
to McWhorter. Additionally, McWhorter contrasts Hip Hop artists to the Civil Rights
politics and leaders. McWhorter accuses Hip Hop of engaging, "in calls for
revolution, specifically a second Civil Rights revolution" (pp. 10-11). He considers
this to be "no more than misleading hope" (pp. 10-11).
McWorther's critiques oversimplify Hip Hop. He fails to understand
comprehend political in terms of Arendts (1958) definition of political. It is
unreasonable and illogical to expect today's youth to use the same political actions of
previous generations or any other generation for that matter. The political action of
previous generations brought about change that altered the lives of minorities. This is
not disputable, and credit is given where it is deserved. The Civil Rights Movement
helped to bring forth citizenship status to black people, while the Hip Hop generation
has worked under integration and covert racism. Hip Hop deals with the politics of
today. The politics of today deal with race and other isms. Racism continues to be a
major part of black politics because race continues to signify deference. Black politics
of today are concerned with the improvement of black people, and that is why
education continues to be a major concern. Education is emphasized by the selected
artists and promoted as a means to self-improvement. Now that black politics have
35


surpassed segregation and the recognition of black people as citizens, black politics
focuses on improving the life of black people in all areas: healthcare, housing,
employment, and poverty to name a few areas.
Anti-rap pundits such as McWhorter use a tone of mockery when speaking
about Hip Hop. For example, McWhorter (2008) attributes the "pimp' roll" to the
Black Panthers and compares their aesthetic (the outfits, glasses, hair, and high-
powered rhetoric) the aesthetic of Hip Hop (p. 162-163). He holds the Civil Rights
Movement as an archtype for proper political actions amongst minorities. But the
Civil Rights Movement that he speaks of does not include the now perceived radical
segment of the Civil Rights movement, the Black Panthers. It is important to note that
even the non-violent segment of the Civil Rights Movement had radical views for
their time and they were going against what was perceived to be just and moral.
McWhorter writes, "I presume that some day Spike Lee will do a big film about Huey
Newton, and the costumes and hair alone will be a big feast to look at" (p. 162).
McWhorter accuses Hip Hop of being "quick-hitting ships of thought" and yet his
analysis of Hip Hop seems to be just that (pp. 79-80).
The academic critic and even the Hip Hop supporter acknowledges Hip Hop is
full of problematic expressions. To idealize Hip Hop or to stalwartly repudiate Hip
Hop will lead to biased examinations. Michael Eric Dyson (2007), dubbed the "Hip
Hop intellectual," on one hand, agrees rap music is full of problematic expressions
and needs to be called out for its lesser qualities: usage of stereotypes, offensive
36


language, retrogressive views, and hedonism. Dyson has completed extensive studies
on Hip Hop, the Civil Rights Movement as well as theology. Dyson's research on Hip
Hop includes case studies, content analysis, and interviews. Dyson uses the term
"intellectually lazy" to describe the arguments set forth by Hip Hop critics and anti-
rap pundits outside of academia. For Dyson, Hip Hop's critics and anti-rap pundits
ignore how some of the sharpest criticisms of Hip Hop come from within. According
to Dyson, the critics of Hip Hop do not go beyond attending the surface symptoms of
a culture that offers depth when taken seriously and criticized thoughtfully.
On the other side of the debate scholars Ards (2005), Boyd (2004), Kitwana
(2002), Lipsitz (1994), Trapp (2005), and Watkins (2005) view Hip Hop as having
the ability to engage in political action. They perceive Hip Hop as political with the
ability to engage in political action in addition to a political message. They point out
that Hip Hop members are politically active and the political arena in which Hip Hop
is engaged is different than that of previous generations.
Todd Boyd (2004) in his case study of Arrested Development and Ice Cube
examines the concept of "new contemporary cultural politics of difference," he
defines it as:
The new cultural politics of difference are neither simply oppositional
in contesting the mainstream for inclusion, nor transgressive in the
avant-gardists' sense of shocking conventional bourgeois audiences.
Rather, they are distinct articulations of talented contributors to culture
who desire to align themselves with demoralized, demobilized,
depoliticized people in order to empower and enable social action and,
37


if possible, to enlist collective insurgency for the expansion of
freedom, democracy, and individuality, (p. 326)
"New contemporary politics of difference" has given contemporary politics a new
face, allowing for radical political discourse to critique dominant culture and became
financially viable through the selling of oppositional discourse. Boyd also points out
that Hip Hop addresses both race and class through the use of the "ghetto" or the
'"hood" as the dominant metaphor, emphasizing the lower class. Challenges to Hip
Hop's ability to reach the status of a mass political movement comes from the
emergence of gangsta rap in the 1980s forcing dialogue with the Civil Rights/Black
Power generation. During the 1980s with the emergence of gangsta rap, dissent
became an economically viable tool to exit the ghetto. The message in Hip Hop
became more diverse and artists began choosing between exiting the ghetto by
producing gangsta rap or the less economically viable method of producing,
conscious rap. This created a divide between conscious rap and gangsta rap, the based
on perceptions of what Hip Hop's ultimate goals are and should be.
Bakari Kitwana (2002), in his content analysis of the Hip Hop generation
describes the activism present in the Hip Hop generation. He contends that regardless
of a lack of a mass political movement in Hip Hop, activism is present in the Hip Hop
community with an increased focus on particular issues and more diversified than that
of the Civil Rights generation. Angela Ards (2004) points to examples of the activism
in Hip Hop that can be seen in organization such as: Action for Grassroots
38


Empowerment and Neighborhood Development Alternatives* (AGENDA), Freestyle
Union^ (FSU), Local Initiative Support Training Education Network** (LISTEN), and
Rock the Vote's Hip Hop Coalitions+t. Ards' (2004) case study of early Hip Hop
activism demonstrates political organization is possible. Ards identifies three tenets
necessary for successfully organizing the Hip Hop generation: (1) the endeavor must
be youth lead and identified, (2) it must involve more than a race based political
analysis of the issues affecting urban youth, and (3) it must address the "irony of Hip
Hop" (p. 322). The irony of Hip Hop is the acknowledgement of vulnerability and
common oppression. The acknowledgement of vulnerability and common oppression
is both the weakness and bond in Hip Hop. This is not different than the irony of any
subjugated group that uses their subjugation as a bond. As Hip Hop matures so does
the activism. Activism in Hip Hop ranges in areas of concentration.
George Lipsitz (1994), in his case studies of the campaigns to censor Hip Hop
and Queen Latifah, contends that Hip Hop represents an expression of politics suited * § *
* AGENDA was established following the 1992 civil unrest in Los Angeles to address chronic poverty
in South Los Angeles. AGENDA is a membership-based organization that seeks to reverse the trend
of declining civic participation and disinvestment in this community. (Strategic Concept in Organizing
and Policy Education, n.d.)
§ The Freestyle Union (FSU). is an organization of hip-hop artists working to create music that respects
individual dignity and difference. FSU uses Hip Hop as a form of artistic and cultural expression, and
to promote positive images and encourage activism within the rap community (Blackman, 2009).
LISTEN was founded in 1998 to identify, prepare and support a new generation of indigenous
grassroots leaders in poor, urban communities of color. As a national intermediary, LISTEN seeks to
understand the fields of youth development and youth organizing, develop key relationships with local
communities and national circles, and define a set of strategies capable of supporting the development
of new social movements led by youth. (Wise Earth, 2009)
++ Rock the Vote uses music, popular culture and new technologies to engage and incite young people
to register and vote in every election (Rock the Vote, 2009).
39


to the post-colonial era. Lipsitz illustrates that Hip Hop as a new form of social
movement, expresses the painful recognition of cultural displacement and yet the
desire to work through rather than outside of the existing structures. Kitwana (2002)
and Ogbar (2007) identify the key concerns when speaking specifically about gangsta
rap: black cultural integrity and how the lyrics re-enforce negative stereotypes.
Concerns in the black community about by whom and how black people are
represented in mainstream media are present. The emergence of gangsta rap brought
about campaigns to censor Hip Hop's music. Critics and anti-rap pundits see Hip Hop
as morally, politically, or otherwise objectionable. This sentiment was the force
behind the campaigns to censor Hip Hop. In other words, Hip Hop became more than
a topic of concern in mainstream politics, and recognition was given to Hip Hop. The
campaign to censor Hip Hop assisted Hip Hop to acquire national attention and
recognition that Allen (1996), Lusane (2004), Neal (1999), and McPherson (2005)
argue Hip Hop lacks.
Scholars also argue that some older generations and/or conservative
individuals in the black community do not fully understand Hip Hop. An example is
the leadership roles among Civil Rights leaders and MCs. Leadership roles in Hip
Hop differ from the leadership roles of the Civil Rights generation. Erin Trapp (2005)
argues MCs are the conduits for the ideas of Hip Hop and that if MCs create and
activate movement consciousness, then they appropriately are viewed as movement
leaders. Ards (2004) points out that even when MCs do not engage in the role of a
40


political leader they can be in a role of fostering activism. Ards (2004) explains, "For
many activists, the creation of Hip Hop amid social devastation is in itself a political
act" (p. 314). In political movements or in political action even when political leaders
are present, the masses have the responsibility to carry out political action. Ards
(2004) quotes Boots Riley1* in an interv iew with Davey D§§ in 1996,
Rappers have to be in touch with their communities no matter what
type of raps you do, otherwise people won't relate. Political rap groups
offered solutions only through listening...In order for political rap to
be around, there has to be a movement that will be around that will
make people lives better in a material sense. That's what any
movement is about, making people's lives better, (p. 317)
Since this interview, Hip Hop has seen an increase of conscious MCs. Many of them
have are engaged in activism to better the lives of black people. Some join
organizations to serve as a spoke person, while others create their own organizations
and focus on an issue of choice. Apart from the organizations from the selected artist
and their foundation there are many other examples of activism in the Hip Hop
community. Entrepreneur, co-founder of the record label Def Jam, and creator of the **
** Boots Riley is a co-founder of the hip hop group The Coup, as well as the group's primary producer,
arranger and songwriter. Riley w as raised amidst political action in Oakland, California, where since
the age of fifteen he's been involved in organizing and inspiring youth. From student organizing in
Oakland's public schools, to serving on the central committee for the Progressive Labor Party, holding
the presidential position for the International Committee Against Racism, and organizing to build
California's Anti-Racist Farm Workers' Union, Riley has been an integral part of a progressive struggle
for radical change through culture. (Institute for Democratic Education and Culture, n.d.)
Davey D is a nationally recognized journalist, adjunct professor, Hip Hop historian, syndicated talk
show host, radio programmer, producer, deejay. media and community activist. He is the founder and
webmaster of Davey Ds Hip Hop Comer, which is widely considered to be one of the oldest and
largest Hip Hop sites on the web, www.daveyd.com. The writings on his website are frequently
referenced and quoted by journalists, scholars and professors and fans around the world. (Davey D,
2009)
41


clothing fashion lines Phat Farm, Argyleculture, and American Classics, Russell
Simmons is very active in the Hip Hop community as a spoke person and with his
foundation. The Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation (RPAF), founded in 1995 by
Simmons and his brothers, is a non-profit organization that is dedicated to providing
disadvantaged urban youth with significant arts exposure, access and education as
well as providing exhibition opportunities to early and mid-career artists and artists of
color. In its first 11 years, RPAF has served over 700,000 urban youth, directed
millions in funding from donors including individuals, foundations and leading
corporations to underserved youth, and established two exhibit and education
facilities, Rush Arts Gallery and Resource Center and Corridor Gallery (Rush
Philanthropic Arts Foundation, 2009). In addition, Mr. Simmons is the chairman for
the Foundation of Ethnic Understanding (FFEU), a national non-profit dedicated to
strengthening relations between ethnic communities. FFEU is committed to the belief
that direct, face-to-face dialogue between ethnic communities is the most effective
path towards the reduction of bigotry and the promotion of reconciliation and
understanding (Foundation of Ethnic Understanding, 2009).
Foundations dedicated to education are a major part of Hip Hop activism. The
Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation (TASF) was founded by Tupac's mother after his
death in 1997. TASF provides a broad range of training is offered in creative writing,
vocal technique, acting, stage set design, dance, poetry, spoken word, and the
business of entertainment (Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation, 2009).
42


Rapper Ludacris founded The Ludacris Foundation in 2001 and since its
beginning it has donated $500,000 to support education and economic development
via grassroots organizations that work to help out youth, as well as invested more
than 3,500 hours in devoted service to young people across the nation (Ludacris
Foundation, 2009). So far the programs in support of the foundation have impacted
7000 lives.
The Shawn Carter School Scholarship Foundation (SCSF), founded by rapper
Jay Z, provides scholarships to student with average grades to further their education.
The foundation coordinates and acts with any existing organization devoted toward
the furtherance of youth technological, environment and career advancement through
education. SCSF grants scholarships ranging from $1,000 to $10,000. During
Hurricane Katrina, SCSF provided food and clothing to the victims (Shawn Carter
School Scholarship Foundation, 2007).
Other foundations take on a broader set of concerns. The G-Unity Foundation,
founded by rapper 50 Cent, provides grants to nonprofit organizations that focus on
improving the quality of life for low-income and underserved communities. Since
2005 they have provided over one million dollars in grants to non-profit organizations
across the U.S. (G-Unity Foundation, 2009). The Hip Hop group The Blackeyed Peas
founded The Peapod Foundation. The foundations are a global leader in encouraging
social change by uniting people through the universal language of music. Since its
inception, the foundation has worked to support social issues affecting children
43


worldwide, including: shelter/housing, starvation, healthcare, education, poverty,
music/artistic education (Peapod Foundation, 2008).
Contemporary politics are different and Hip Hop is working in a new
political arena. The leadership, as well as the political action, has adapted to
fit the political arena of today. Trapp notes that rappers as commercially
successful figures can take a role as a commentator or leader.
Katina R. Stapleton (1998), in her content analysis of lyrics from both
political and gangsta rap artists, examines how Hip Hop culture and music are
situated among youth as a means of political action. Hip Hop as political is a means
to voice a message across, despite continuing racial discrimination. Hip Hop speaks
about social change in a post-Civil Rights voice (Boyd 2003; Kitwana 2002; Lipsitz
1994, Stapleton, 1998). Stapleton (1998) shows how pragmatic political action occurs
when individuals and groups use music to promote awareness of shared interests and
to organize collaborative action to address them in such efforts as Stop the Violence
movement, Human Education Against Lies, and Rap the Vote project.
Samuel Craig Watkins (2005) in his media content analysis of Hip depicts Hip
Hop's political impact on youth. He argues that the political impact Hip Hop has on
youth primarily come in the boundaries of popular culture; style, music, fashion, and
a sense of generational purpose (p. 148). Is style a form of political action? Hebdige
(1979) argues that an entire battle over cultural meaning takes place at the surface of
people's bodies. If culture is political and cultural meaning make up culture, then style
44


is political. Watkins (2005) does not agree with Hebdige and suggests that in order
for Hip Hop to have a greater impact in the lives of ordinary youth, Hip Hop needs to
increase its power.
All in all, Hip Hop develops and refines its political action as it matures.
While on one side views Hip Hop as politically handicapped, the other side views Hip
Hop as actively engaging in political action. There are areas where the activism needs
to be refined as Ards (2004) states. Hip Hop is enmeshed in politics of difference and
seeks to improve its community. Hip Hop organization are not only limited to
conscious rap artists or listeners, plenty of gangstaVcommercial rappers also have
their own organization and participate as spoke persons for political campaigns such
as the organizations mentioned in pages 40-42. Hip Hop's politics and political
discourse is enmeshed in rap's art mediums. Hip Hop's political discourse and
activism is via music.
Political Ideologies and Hip Hop
Scholars have identified the political ideologies in Hip Hop as black
nationalism and Afrocentrism. Scholars Henderson (1996), Allen (1996), Miyakawa
(2005) and McPherson (2005) discuss the nationalist trends in Hip Hop. They discuss
the focus in Hip Hop to consider black people as separate or distinct from major
society and thus needing cultural and political avenues that tend to those differences.
More recent research by scholars Lawson (2005) and McPherson (2005) focuses on
Hip Hop's critiques of Liberalism. Lawson (2005) and McPherson (2005) argue that
45


Hip Hop is part of mainstream society and thus Hip Hop does not have a separate
political ideology than that of mainstream society.
Black Nationalism
Hip Hop has its roots in black nationalist ideology. The majority of the
literature focuses on black nationalist ideology in Hip Hop. Errol Henderson (1996)
examined the major black nationalist trends in Hip Hop by interpreting artistic works
from the Zulu Nation, Grand Master Flash, The Cassanova Crew, Run DMC, Boggie
Down Productions, Ice-T, NWA, The Geto Boys, Treach, Tupac Shakur, and Too
Short. Henderson (1996) defines black nationalism as, "the political belief and
practice of African American as a distinct people with a distinct historical personality
who politically should develop structures to define, defend and develop the interest of
blacks as people" (p. 313). He explains that nationalism emerges and develops from:
(1) identification rooted in a perceived commonality of oppression; (2) recognition of
a convergence of political purpose, objectives, and goals; and (3) justification of a
commonality of culture.
Ernest Allen (1996) further dissects black nationalist trends in Hip Hop. He
argues the black nationalist trends in Hip Hop are: (1) Islamic nationalism; (2)
cultural-political nationalism; and (3) specific, message-oriented expressions. These
strands of black nationalism are directly connected to the Nation of Islam in which a
religious establishment is set in place enabling recognition of a convergence of
political purpose, objectives, and goals in addition to commonality of culture.
46


Felicia Miyakawa (2005), in her case study of the Five Percent Nation (FPN),
argues that conscious musical choices are made by both Five Percent MCs and
producers with an overall goal to spread doctrine in both the lyrics and album art.
Five Percent MCs view their role in Hip Hop as teachers with an overall plan to
"civilize the uncivilized" (Miyakawa, 2005, p. 72). Miyakawa's case study of the FPN
provides an understanding of the Nation of Islam's continued influence on Hip Hop's
political ideology and identity. In the next chapter, I argue that conscious MCs to
some degree organize their lyrics and performances with an overall goal of spreading
a political message. Allen (1996) argues that conscious MCs are seen as separate
from other rappers by their specific background that is socially rooted in the daily
lives of marginalized black youth and community. Whether it is as a teacher or on a
higher moral ground conscious MCs are the ones responsible for spreading the
political ideologies within Hip Hop.
In addition to identifying black nationalist ideology in Hip Hop, Henderson
(1996) argues for a return to the nationalistic focus in Hip Hop. In order to assist,
...in the creation of a standard of behavior and a new rites of passage
away from guns, violence, and sexism toward a more African centered
definition of manhood and womanhood rooted in righteous behavior
and support for liberation struggles, political prisoners, Afrocentric
community building and good entertainment, (p. 308)
My issue with his assumptions is not his predilection for black nationalism, but rather
his essentialist claim about black people. Henderson assumes that it is possible for the
Hip Hop community to remove itself from the rest of American society even when it
47


has become part of mainstream media culture, which is infused with violence.
Henderson makes a second assumption that black nationalism to some degree
guarantees a lower level of violence. This could be the case based on a heightened
sense of community and belonging, but nationalism around the world has also been
deeply influenced by and acted on violence from armed struggle to ethnic cleansing.
After all, social ills concern all people. Moreover, arguably a return to a nationalistic
focus does not and cannot guarantee a transformation in the black community or in
Hip Hop, or even a desire of black people to be portrayed in such an essentialist
prescription. Hip Hop is successful because it focuses on the individual and allows
the individual to keep his individuality while simultaneously be part of a community.
Henderson's definition of black nationalism is contradictory to the goals and
objectives of the Hip Hop community. The Hip Hop community's objective is to
accept the individual and his individuality to foster coherence based on difference.
Afrocentrism is an extension of black nationalism. Afrocentrism, as a
communitarian ideology, emphasizes the ideal of the community including
nationality, culture, language, or religion (McPherson, 2005, p. 176). Two types of
Afrocentrism found in Hip Hop include nationalist Afrocentrism and Native Tongues.
Nationalist Afrocentrism has its roots in the in the "Back to Africa" movement of
Marcus Garvey and in the Nation of Islam. Nationalist Afrocentrism "advocates
separation of whites as a defense against persistent whites as a defense against
persistent white supremacy and urges social and economic empowerment through
48


group self-help" (McPherson, 2005). Native Tongues Afrocentrism is dedicated to
racial separation or a reconstructed African identity (McPherson, 2005). These
definitions of Afrocentrism will be used in chapters three when analyzing political
ideologies in Hip Hop. The black nationalist ideological concepts in this section are
used in chapters three to analyze the political ideologies found in the coded content.
Black nationalist ideology continues to be present in Hip Hop. As Hip Hop grows
older political ideology becomes more refined and new political ideologies emerge
within Hip Hop.
Beyond Black Nationalism
New research by Lawson (2005) and McPherson (2005) focuses on Hip Hop's
political discourse critiquing Liberalism. Bill Lawson (2005) in his philosophical
examination explains that political rap challenges basic philosophical assumptions
underlying the political order. In particular, some rap represents a fundamental
challenge to liberal political philosophy. Citizenship has two important components:
the social and the legal/political. Citizenship is a crucial aspect of an individual's
identity. Lawson (2005) argues rap music challenges the widely held belief that black
people are full citizens. The challenges come from the assertion that blacks are first
and foremost African. The second aspect to citizenship concerns the legal rights and
political responsibilities of all official members of a society. The main claim in rap
music is many of the basic legal rights are still denied to blacks (Lawson, 2005).
Lawson (2005) explains conscious MCs arguments against government,
49


Political rappers contend that political oppression reduced or voids the
political obligations of African American to the state. Some rappers
have claimed that the oppression of blacks is total and hence there are
no such obligations. Blacks, according to this position, are still in
slavery, and the slave has no obligation or allegiance to the body
politics of his master, for the slave is not even recognized as a citizen.
(p.166)
Lawson (2005) argues that Mos Def and Talib Kweli have a political philosophy that
is negative about the treatment of blacks in America. This idea will be used in chapter
three when analyzing the critiques made of government. In this regard, rap music
serves a political function and is perhaps the best method to get news and information
to other urban communities.
Lionel McPherson (2005) in his philosophical analysis of various genres of
rap music described the major political philosophies in the individual genres. He
applied the Hobbesian state of nature to gangsta rap and the 'hood, and liberalism to
some conscious rap such as conscious MC Chuck D. For Lawson (2005) Hip Hop is
no longer a subculture, but rather part of mainstream American culture and where
contemporary politics go so will Hip Hop. Therefore, Lawson (2005) would argue
Hip Hop's political ideology is that of the U.S. and does not have an individualized
political identity, and thus Hip Hop is not longer concerned with black nationalist
ideologies. If this is so, in chapter three strands Liberalism will be found along with
black nationalism and Afrocentricsm.
Political ideologies in Hip Hop have customarily been ascribed to black
nationalism. New research in Hip Hop shines new light to political ideologies in Hip
50


Hop. As Hip Hop matures and expands internationally, its political ideologies will
expand correspondency.
Conscious Rap v. Gangsta Rap
Todd Boyd (2003), in his examination of Hip Hop, argues that there are two
philosophical ideologies within Hip Hop: conscious rap and gangsta rap. According
to Boyd (2004) conscious rap ideology includes "a concerted political aesthetic to be
the only fruitful path towards authentic existence in Black America represented by
conscious rappers" (p. 20). This strand of Hip Hop attempts to remain specific to the
subculture status and perceives the celebration of material wealth and material goods
to be counter to Hip Hop's overall objective. In contrast, Boyd (2004) argues that
gangsta and mainstream rap ideology include a "...pursuit of capital viewed as the
only true means to an authentic existence in America" (p. 21). This strand of Hip Hop
celebrates and embraces materialism and consumerism. Both conscious and gangsta
rap are concerned with authenticity and focus on what they perceive as Hip Hops
objective. Authenticity in Hip Hop is a very important concept as it subscribes to a
concept of the good life which is described as reality. Authenticity refers to
acceptance or certainty because of agreement with known facts or experience. The
concept of authenticity is used as a bond to establish guidelines, norms, and
expectations.
Boyd (2003, 2004) and others assert that there are parallels between slavery
and the context in which Hip Hop emerges. Oppressive systematic tenants continue to
51


exist in American culture. Messages against systematic oppression systematic tenets
in every arena in contemporary America continues to exist. The oppression is distinct
from that of slavery, but a systematic control of minorities is at work in contemporary
America. Boyd (2003) discusses the pursuit and desire to acquire money as he
grapples with the concept of young Black men with money becoming one of the
biggest sources of friction in the Hip Hop era, both within and out of Hip Hop culture.
The tension between message and money has to do with the contradiction between
critique of the oppression (message) and "imitation" of the oppressors by gangsta
rappers. As black males acquire large amounts of money and they are in a position of
power, questions about racism resurface. Boyd (2003) describes "high-tech lynching"
as a new form of racism where classism is an ally by exploring the new positions of
power found in famous black men (p. 63). Opposed to the physical lynching "high-
tech lynching" is discursive and rhetorical. In other words, "high-tech lynching" is a
way of describing the process mainstream American society uses in an attempt to
discipline and punish rich, visible, and powerful black man in today's society.
Even with the perceived differences between conscious rap and gangsta rap,
scholars argue that there are also commonalities. George Maher (2005) highlights an
ambitious fusion of black nationalist and Afrocentric identity politics within the
gangsta image which traditionally are seen as perceived as opposing ideologies within
Hip Hop. Even when conscious and gangsta rap are seen as irreconcilable, there are
instances when an artist comes along and fuses both. For example, Tupac Shakur has
52


personified the fusion of black nationalist and Afrocentric identity with the gangsta
image. Tupac created some of the most misogynist lyrics, glorafied thug life, while
simultaneously spead the message of endurance, discussed poverty, and prisoners
rights (Dyson, 2001). In his case study of Tupac Shakur, Michael Eric Dyson (2001)
explored the life of Tupac as well as the perceived dichotomy. He interviewed
conscious MCs Common, Mos Def, and Talib Kweli to discuss the perceived
dichotomy.
Dyson (2001) argues that Tupac reached a level of success in which he was
able to range freely over the lyrical landscape of Hip Hop, pursuing themes that
blended through a number of genres including gangsta and conscious rap. Today,
Kanye West has begun to attract similar competing constituencies within Hip Hop
(Dyson, 2001). In some ways Tupac is a metaphor for Hip Hop, as he encompasses
all the contradictions and myriad of problems that remain prevalent in Hip Hop up to
date. West's comparison to Tupac is very significant as he has access across genres to
work with gangsta/commercial rappers and conscious MCs. Due to West's vast
mainstream audience, he has the potential to bring more political messages into the
mainstream audience. West is one of the five MCs I have selected for study. Out of
the five selected MCs, West hold the highest level of media access as well as the
special position to work with artist from various musical genres within and out of Hip
Hop.
53


The perceived dichotomy between conscious and gangsta rap indicates Hip
Hop's political identity is more complex than identifying the differences between
genres. Hip Hop is concerned with authenticity and every genre in Hip Hop music is
attempting to live up to what is perceived as authentic. The authenticity every MC
speaks of is based on who they are and what they perceive as authentic.
Conclusion
Rap music as a form of communication comes in various mediums. Hip Hop's
messages are directly correlated with who the MC or rapper is. The MC's or rapper's
ideology will be present in their music. Hip Hop is both a culture of opposition and
innovation, and because it is both, Hip Hop is political. The debate between Hip Hop
as an oppositional or innovative culture deals with Hip Hop as a culture of opposition
or innovation. One side of the debate views dialogue in Hip Hop as an oppositional
culture creating oppositional political dialogue. In this sense oppositional means
resistance which perpetuates a sense of Hip Hop as a deviant subculture. An "us and
them" mentality is followed. On the other hand, dialogue in Hip Hop can be viewed
as innovative. Dialogue is created from a rich culture that can sustain itself without an
"other" to resist or combat. Dialogue is both a tool and power in the hands of the
individuals that know the power of words.
On one front, Hip Hop is viewed as politically handicapped. Hip Hop is
viewed as having the potential, but it has perceived limitations due a lack of mass
political movement. On the other front, Hip Hop is viewed as political and having the
54


ability to act politically. The politics the Hip Hop generation deals with are different
than the previous generations. The politics are different and Hip Hop does not look
like previous mass political movements.
What is political? The literature agrees with my position that Hip Hop is
political. Hip Hop is enmeshed in what Boyd (2004) calls "the cultural politics of
difference" where politics are not simply oppositional in contesting the mainstream
for inclusion, but rather are distinct articulations of talented contributors to culture
who desire to align themselves with demoralized, demobilized, depoliticized people
in order to empower and enable social action and, if possible, to enlist collective
insurgency for the expansion of freedom, democracy, and individuality (p. 326). Hip
Hop lacks a mass political movement, but has clusters of activist communities. That
allows for Hip Hop to be used as a vehicle for political change. It is important to
mention that research has not been conducted to clarify how much group insurgency
there is in Hip Hop. Until further research is conducted on group insurgency in Hip
Hop it is unknown how much change is possible based on the individual insurgency
of MCs.
Hip Hop has a tradition of black nationalism and Afrocentrism. New research
focuses on Hip Hop's critique of Liberalism. The literature confirms Hip Hop is
primarily concerned with racial politics. Yet political science research on Hip Hop is
very limited, the other social sciences have taken the lead in Hip Hop research. Not
only is political science research in Hip Hop imperative because Hip Hop has become
55


a major forum for race politics, but also because Hip Hop has the potentiality to be a
new configuration of politics.
56


CHAPTER 3
HIP HOP'S POLITICAL DISCOURSE IN CONSCIOUS RAP
"I address the crowd like Lincoln at Gettysburg." -Talib Kweli
In this chapter I discuss the findings of my content analysis and relate them
findings to the literature reviewed in the previous chapter. My findings address three
main questions: (1) what are the major political ideologies in conscious rap? (2) What
are the critiques made of government, the Hip Hop community, and the black
community? (3) What are the actions be taken according to the MCs? I address each
question in a major section in this chapter. A more extensive discussion of each
album is provided in the appendix 1.
The content analysis of the earliest and latest album released as of December
31, 2008 from MCs Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, The Roots, and Kanye West
confirm that Hip Hop is considerably political. The major trends found include: (1)
Black nationalism is the prominent political ideology in conscious rap. Separatism is
not promoted by any of conscious rap acts. Rather, empowerment of black people is
promoted by means of self-help. (2) Characterizations of government are
considerably negative towards the Bush administration. The references made of
Barrack Obama are positive and were made before his election of as president. The
critiques made of Hip Hop community are primarily directed at gangsta/commercial
rap to address the negative images portrayed of black people. The critiques made of
57


the black community are directly correlated with the critiques made of the Hip Hop
community. The discussion of both the Hip Hop community and the black
community are not independent of each other in the lyrics. The critiques focus on
areas that need improvement to achieve social and economic empowerment of black
people. (3) The actions to be taken involve social and economic empowerment
through self-help.
Table 3.1 lists the albums chronologically by artist, the number of songs from
each album, and the number of songs with and without political discourse. The total
number of songs reviewed are 152 songs. Out of the 152 songs 87 songs have
political discourse. The songs without political discourse are 65. A total of 57% of the
152 songs have political discourse (87 songs with political discourse/152 total songs
= 57%). The percentage of the album dedicated to political discourse ranged from a
low 8% (808s & Heartbreak) to a high 86% (Quality). Seven out of the ten albums
contains 50% or a higher percentage of political discourse in songs.
Kweli provided the highest proportion of political discourse in his albums of
the five conscious rap acts. Kweli dedicated 85% (Eardrum) to 86% (Quality) of his
albums to political dialogue. The album Quality, Kweli's earliest album, was the most
political album of the ten albums. The second most political album of the ten albums
is Eardrum. Mos Def had the second highest proportion of political discourse in his
albums. Mos Def dedicated 64% (True Magic) to 76% (Black on Both Sides) of his
albums to political dialogue. He provided more political dialogue in his earliest album
58


and in both albums he allowed more than 50% of the songs included political
discourse. The earliest albums in addition to having more songs on the album had a
wider scope of topics. The latest album was more focused on one subject, Hurricane
Katrina.
Table 3.1
Albums Artist Songs on Songs with SdagsWilh alburfi*1
m- -c album political discourse Nit dedkatedto
feBifSgiiif|g fst l i '*
* Can 1 Borrow a Dollar? (1992) Common 13 3 10 23%
* Universal Mind Control (2008) Common 10 4 6 40%
Black on Both Sides (1999) Mos Def 17 13 4 76%
True Magic (2006) Mos Def 14 9 64%
Quality (2002) Talib 15 13 2 86%
Kweli
Eardrum (2007) Talib 20 17 85%~
Kweli
Organix (1993) The Roots 17 7 10 41%
Rising Down (2008) The Roots 14 io 4 71%
The College Dropout Kanye 20 10 10 50%
(2002) West
808s & Heartbreak Kanye 12 "i if 8%
(2008) West
Totals n/a 152 87 65 57%


The Roots dedicated 41% (Organix) to 71% {Rising Down) of their albums to
political dialogue. The Roots significantly provided more political discourse in their
latest album. This pattern is very similar to that of Common. Common dedicated 23%
{Can I Borrow a Dollar?) to 40% {Universal Mind Control) of his albums to political
discourse. Both Organix and Can I Borrow a Dollar? were released in the early
1990s. These two albums were composed and released in a different political arena,
pre-George W. Bush. The other eight albums were composed and released during the
Bush administration and post-Bush era. This points to a relationship between the
percentage of political discourse in the albums and the political times.
West dedicated the lowest percentage of political discourse in 808s &
Heartbreak, 8%. In his earliest album, The College Dropout, West dedicated 50% of
the albums to political discourse. West's pattern is opposite of The Roots and
Common. West's works reveals a tension between artistic expression and message.
While in The College Dropout, West demonstrated both artistic expression and
message were equally as important, in 808s & Heartbreak West is concerned with
non-political dilemmas. West is a very different place emotionally than when he
completed The College Dropout. West completed 808s & Heartbreak after the death
of his mother and rapture with his long-time fiancee. The College Dropout was
completed when West was attempting to demonstrate he was able to go beyond
producing beats and had the skills necessary to be and MC/rapper.
60


Major Political Ideologies in Conscious Rap
The prominent political ideology in conscious rap is black nationalism. Black
nationalism was displayed by promoting social and economic empowerment through
group self-help. All five conscious rap acts based their political discourse in ideas
found in Henderson's (1996) definition of black nationalism. Henderson (1996)
defines black nationalism as, "the political belief and practice of African American as
a distinct people with a distinct historical personality who politically should develop
structures to define, defend and develop the interest of blacks as people" (p. 313).
The discourse of the five acts has in common: (1) identification rooted in a perceived
commonality of oppression; (2) recognition of a convergence of political purpose,
objectives, and goals; and (3) justification of a commonality of culture (Henderson,
1996).
Mos Def in the song "Mr. Nigga" discusses a perceived commonality of racial
oppression. His commentary includes the claim: (1) race and racism continue to play
part in American society and (2) economic success does not override race. His
example of racial profiling is one of the most obvious forms of racism in the U.S.
demonstrating the mechanics of race and class. For Mos Def race continues to be a
primary variable when looking at others. Even when a significant level of wealth is
obtained by non-white individuals, their race is the first thing people tend to see.
Economic success is irrelevant and race is the primary descriptor perceived. Mos Def
explains,
61


He under thirty years old but already he's a pro
Designer trousers slung low cause his pockets stay swoll*'
Could afford to get up and be anywhere he go
V.I.P. at the club, backstage at the show
(Yes y'all) the best crib*, the best clothes
Hottest whips* on the road neck and wrists on froze (say word)
Checks with O's o-o-o-o-ohs
Straight all across the globe watch got three time-zones
Keep the digital phone up to his dome
Two assistants, two bank accounts, two homes
One problem; even with the O's on his check
The po-po* stop him and show no respect
"Is there a problem officer?" Damn straight, it's called race
That motivate the jake (woo-woo) to give chase
Say they want you successful, but that ain't the case
You livin' large, your skin is dark they flash a light in your face
(Mos Def, "Mr. Nigga")
Mos Def argues racism surpasses the boundaries of the U.S. Racial profiling overseas
is a continuation of racism of the U.S. to the world which implicitly is a fear of black
people. Regardless of where a black man finds himself he is viewed as illegitimate,
They stay on nigga patrol on American roads
And when you travel abroad they got world nigga law
Some folks get on a plane go as they please
But I go overseas and I get over-seized
London Heathrow, me and my people
They think that illegal's a synonym for negro
(Mos Def, "Mr. Nigga")
Illegitimacy is perceived as a natural or innate characteristic all of black men. Mos
Def explains, "If white boys doin' it, well, it's success/When I start doin', well, it's
suspect" (Mos Def, "Mr. Nigga"). In other words, there is a practiced double standard
in place in the acquisition of wealth. Mos Def also refers to the acquirement of wealth
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impaired for black people and how the beneficiaries of slavery to this day continue to
be white people,
Don't hate me, my folks is poor, I just got money
America's five centuries deep in cotton money
You see a lot of brothers caked* up, yo straight up, It's new
Y'all livin off of slave traders paper*
(Mos Def, "Mr. Nigga")
Mos Defs commentary on racism affirms (1) that racism continues to be part of the
American system, (2) the acquirement of wealth for black people continues to be
impaired by the consequences of slavery, and (3) there is a lack of respect for black
people worldwide (Mos Def, "Mr. Nigga").
The most resilient example of recognition of a convergence of political
purpose, objectives, and goals is Mos Def song "Fear Not of Man." He explains,
"Twenty-first century is comin'/Twentieth century almost done/A lot of things have
changed/A lot of things have not, mainly us/We gon' get it together right? I believe
that," Mos Def is talking about black people and his trust in the ability of black
people to change in a positive manner. He goes on to say, "Listen... people be askin'
me all the time,/"Yo Mos, what's getting' ready to happen with Hip Hop?"AVhere do
you think Hip Hop is goin'?/I tell 'em, "You know what's gonna happen with Hip
Hop?/Whatever's happening with us!"/If we smoked out, Hip Hop is gonna be
smoked out/If we doin' alright, Hip Hop is gonna be doin' alright" (Mos Def, "Fear
Not of Man"). Mos Def views Hip Hop as an extension of black people and as a
universal culture. Explicit in his comments is the need for change, a change that
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promotes positive growth. The change Mos Def speaks of is an individual change that
can transforms a community. (If individuals change they will overall change their
community.) Hip Hop is viewed as universal and in whatever shape the people are so
is Hip Hop,
People talk about Hip Hop like it's some giant livin' in the hillside
Cornin' down to visit the townspeople
We are Hip Hop!
Me, you, everybody, we are Hip Hop
So Hip Hop is goin' where we goin'
So the next time you ask yourself where Hip Hop is goin'
ask yourself... where am I goin'? How am I doin'?
'Til you get a clear idea
(Mos Def, "Fear Not of Man")
West provides the strongest example of a commonality of culture. West
speaks of racism throughout The College Dropout. His first claim encompasses a
continuation of racism in American in a new form. Racism is covert for West. He
explains, "Racisms still alive, they just be concealin' it" (West, "Never Let Me
Down"). For West, the effects of racism are displayed in individuals' actions such as
low self-esteem, which is indicative of a type of self-hate. West explains,
We buy our way out of jail, but we can't buy freedom
We'll buy a lot of clothes when we don't really need 'em
Things we buy to cover up what's inside
Cause they make us hate ourselves and love they wealth
That's why shortys* hollering "where the ballas'* at?"
Drug dealer buy Jordans, crack-head buy crack
And a white man get paid off of all of that
(West, "We Dont Care")
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As systematic racism continues, the consumption of wealth has been used to disguise
the social conditions that affect the Hip Hop and black community. Material
consumption without a sense of self-worth is a new form of internal racism. To gain
wealth is to become accepted in a society that is only concerned with material gain.
However, the material gain is not sufficient because the material gain is not
supplementing any other support for the individual. West explains,
It seems we living the American Dream
But the people highest up got the lowest self-esteem
The prettiest people do the ugliest things
For the road to riches and diamond rings
We shine because they hate us, floss 'cause they degrade us
We trying to buy back our 40 acres
And for that paper*, look how low we a'stoop
Even if you in a Benz, you still a nigga in a Coupe
(West, "We Dont Care")
West, like Mos Def in the song "Mr. Nigga" explains even with the acquisition of
wealth, race continues to be a determining factor. The lyrics indicate a constant
struggle for the acquisition of wealth. The struggle to acquire wealth directly connects
the experience of black people today to slavery. Slavery in the U.S. allowed white
individuals to acquire wealth on the labor of black people. In addition to slavery,
black peoples' opportunities were hindered by the additional systemic hurtles put in
place, such as Jim Crow and segregation. West speaks of segregation and how he
connected to this history.
I get down for my grandfather who took my momma
Made her sit in that seat where white folks ain't want us to eat
At the tender age of 6 she was arrested for the sit-ins
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And with that in my blood I was bom to be different
(West, "Never Let Me Down")
While Lawson (2005) argues Hip Hop is not longer concerned with black
nationalist ideologies, the data demonstrate the opposite. The acts take on different
parts of black nationalism in their discourse. Two main components are taken from
nationalist Afrocentrism and Native Tongues: (1) social and economic empowerment
through group self-help and (2) a reconstructed African identity (McPherson, 2005).
Kweli focuses on social empowerment and reconstructed African identity in both of
his albums. In Quality, Kweli promotes social empowerment via better parents,
parenting, and for parenthood to be taken seriously. He explains parenthood,
I give them the truth, so they approach the situation, with ammunition
I keep nothing away, they hear everything,
cause they know how to listen
Teach them the game, so they know they position, so they can grow
and make decisions, that change the world, and break old tradition
(Kweli, "Joy")
Explicit in Kweli's recommendations to parents are (1) to give children the truth, (2)
to communicate, and (3) to teach them how the world works (Kweli, "Joy"). This will
allow children to grow, know their position, and change the world (Kweli, "Joy"). In
Eardrum Kweli provides advice to children, "You're not a player or a pimp, money,
stop that/Leam to master your speech and be eloquent" (Kweli, "Holy Moly"). Kweli
asks children to become educated instead of imitating the images in
gangsta/commercial rap.
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The Roots promote economic empowerment. The Roots ask, "What's your
networking plan?" (The Roots, "75 Bars"). The Roots' question implies a need for a
life plan. The Roots go on to say, "Get treated like a criminal/If crime is all you
know/Get greeted like a nigga/If a niggas all you show" (The Roots, "Criminal"). A
life plan is needed to ensure the type of lifestyle desired. Actions speak for the
individual. Negative actions will speak about the individual in a negative fashion,
while positive actions will speak about the individual in a positive fashion.
Although Afrocentrism is a communitarian ideology the MCs focus on the
individual which then extends to the community. The MCs do not promote separatism
of any type. They acknowledge black people are distinct people with a distinct
historical personality than that of major society. Their focus is placed on developing
structures to define, defend and develop the interest of blacks as people as a global
community. The MCs urge the individual to become socially and economically
empowerment through group self-help (McPherson, 2005). The MCs places emphasis
on the individual to empower the community. The changes made individual by the
individual are extended to the community as individuals better their character and
become empowered. As the individual becomes socially and economically
empowered, the community becomes socially and economically empowered.
Part of the political ideology found in conscious rap is based on the
assumption that black people have not been given the full citizenship rights (Lawson,
2005). The findings show that all five MCs have a political ideology that is negative
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about the treatment of blacks in America. Examples of this are covert racism, the lack
of actions by the Bush administration during Hurricane Katrina, and police action
towards black people. Mos Def views Bush as lacking concern about the people
affected by Hurricane Katrina. He states, "Mr. President he 'bout that cash/He got a
policy for handlin' the niggaz and trash" (Mos Def, "Dollar Day"). In other words,
Bush and his administration's treatment of black people is comparable to that given to
trash. This is a powerful statement, as it argues that there continues to be inequality
when government is dealing with black people. Mos Def further emphases Bush's
lack of concern towards black people, "Mr. President's a natural ass/He out treatin'
niggaz worse than they treat the trash" (Mos Def, "Dollar Day"). The negative
critiques made of government were extended to the Bush administration and types of
politics that do not include the interest of black people. In the song "Proud" Kweli
expresses his dissatisfaction for former President George W. Bush and his
administration,
The President is Bush, the Vice President's a Dick
So a whole lot of fuckin' is what we gon' get
They don't wanna raise the babies so the election is fixed
That's why we don't be fuckin' with politics
(Kweli, "The Proud")
The lyrics above demonstrate disgust with President Bush and Vice President
Chaney. Kweli indicates that their actions will not be progressive or good for the
people by stating "a whole lot of fuckin' is what we gon' get" (Kweli, "The Proud").
Kweli also explains the [President Bush's] election was "fixed" and indicated that
68


"we" (black people) understand this, and thus there is a lack of engagement in politics
(Kweli, "The Proud"). By using the word "fixed," Kweli contends the election was
arranged in advance privately or dishonestly.
Mos Def and Kweli focused on the Bush administration, while The Roots and
West made more general critiques government. The Roots view government as
greedy. The Roots explain,
Yo, a revolution's what it's smelling like, it ain't going be televised
Governments is hellified, taking cake' and selling pies
I ain't got a crust or crumb, to get some I'd be well obliged
(The Roots, "I Will Not Apologize)
The word "hellified" refers to a devilish or hell-like attributes or characteristics. In
other words, government has "devilish" or "hell-like" attributes or characteristics.
What are "devilish" or "hell-like" attributes or characteristics? The main characteristic
or attribute is greed. The government is viewed as concerned with the distribution of
goods and profit to allocate its goods according to maximize its profits. West focuses
on the continuation of racism and the impact on education. West describes the
problems with schools including budget cuts and the erroneous placement of typical
children in special education classes. The children with learning disabilities, such as
dyslexia, become negatively impacted by budget cuts, "You know the kids gon' act a
fool/When you stop the programs for after school/...some of 'em dyslexic/They
favorite 50 Cent song "12 questions" (West, "We Don't Care"). West uses 50 Cent as
a reference to emphasize his point of how children cannot capture the correct tile of
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the song because of their disability. 50 Cent is a gangsta/commercial rapper out of
New York and in his debut album he had the song, "21 Questions." Common's
discussion of government centers on change. Common asks, "What is
change?/Change is Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi/Shakespeare, Tupac Shakur,
Barack Obama/And you can't forget Common" (Common, "Changes"). Common's
comment of Barrack Obama is positive as he places himself in the same category with
Obama. The conscious rap acts do not go on to say they are using a black nationalist
ethos in their argumentation. The conscious rap acts' ideology is gathered by the
critiques made of government and the actions given. In this regard, rap music serves a
political function and serves as a method to get news and information to other urban
communities (Lawson, 2005).
Government, the Hip Hop Community, and the Black Community
The main trends found in the critiques made of government, the Hip Hop
community and the black community consist of: (1) Critiques made of government
are considerably negative towards the Bush administration. See examples on pages
66- 68. (2) The references made of Barrack Obama are positive. See examples pages
67- 68. (3) The critiques made of Hip Hop community are primarily directed at
gangsta/commercial rap to address the negative images portrayed of black people. (4)
The critiques made of the black community are directly correlated with the critiques
made of the Hip Hop community. (5) The critiques focus on areas that need
improvement to achieve social and economic empowerment of black people.
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The critiques made of the Hip Hop community are primarily directed at
gangsta/commercial rap to address the negative images portrayed of black people.
The first example is from Kweli. Kweli asks gangsta rappers, "What you gonna do
when you gotta face the manifestation of the words that you put in space?" (Kweli,
"Where Do We Go"). Not only does Kweli ask a specific question to
gangsta/commercial rappers, but he also reaffirms there are consequences to all
actions. He explains, "They [words] already there you can't take 'em out" (Kweli,
"Where Do We Go"). Not only does Kweli indicate rappers and MCs are responsible
for their creations as artists, but reminds the gangsta rapper of a greater implication
with the production of words and images. The productions of the words and images
created by an MC and rappers are imperative to the image of black people. If all that
is created by the MC or rapper are negative images about black people, not only do
stereotypes become re-enforced, but also new generations are assimilated and limited
to the images.
The second example is Mos Def s critique of Hip Hop as "self-absorbed and
immature" (Mos Def, "Fake Bonanza"). Part of the immaturity is enforced by its
preoccupation with "glamour, pussy*, pimp*, and hoe*" (Mos Def, "Fake Bonanza").
Self-absorbedness and immaturity lead to irrationality. Irrationally leads to an
erroneous representation of the Hip Hop community. The Hip Hop community, like
any other community, needs self-evident fundamentals to build upon. Glamour and
over-sexualized concepts and themes are not needed for a community to grow. Over-
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sexualization and glamour are part of a life style that favors the individual and hinders
the entire community. Both glamour and over-sexualization hinder the community as
they do not endorse social and economic empowerment through group self-help.
The critiques made of the black community are directly linked with the
critiques made of the Hip Hop community. The Roots argue that Hip Hop is
preoccupied with materialism, they explain, "Niggas talk a lot of shit, really need to
stop the lies/Jewels rented, cars rented, homie that ain't authentic" (The Roots, "I Will
Not Apologize"). The Roots explicate the emphasis placed on materialism comes
from elsewhere: "Don't blame the nigga, blame America, it's all business/Acting like
a monkey is the only way to sell tickets" (The Roots, "I Will Not Apologize"). The
American public pays to view a specific racialized performance which includes what
some consider a negative black image enforcing racialized stereotypes. The Roots
argue that the problem is not how the Hip Hop community portrays themselves to the
masses, but rather the essentialist view in which all members of the Hip Hop
community and black community are seen. The Roots explain,
The problem is with this everyone seems to be real confused
The niggas on the streets to the old people that watch the news
And watch BET and the crazy shit they see
They associate with you do the same shit to me
When you look at me you see just a nigga from the projects
But can't understand this nigga's mind set
(The Roots, "I Will Not Apologize")
The essentialist view in which all Hip Hop artists seen prevents people from
distinguishing between the messages provided by conscious MCs and
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gangsta/commercial rappers. The second example is Kweli's comments on parenting.
For Kweli parents are acting like children themselves and that is why they fail to be
parents (Kweli, "Joy"). He explains, "And you wonder, why we called baby-daddy's
and baby-momma's when we grow up, we can't act like adult mothers and fathers"
(Kweli, "Joy"). This critique is not only limited to the black or Hip Hop community,
it surpassed racial boundaries. Kweli explicitly is promoting better parents, and
parenting.
The critiques focus on areas that need improvement to achieve social and
economic empowerment. Kweli asks, "Am I a victim or just a product of
indoctrination?" (Kweli, "Hostile Gospel, Pt. 1"). Kweli discussed the state of the
black community. Kweli contends people are slaves to capitalism. He explains, "My
people sufferin', slave to another chain/This voyage is maiden, like my mother other
name/Is this your first trip to hell? We venture capitalists/If it's a product, then we got
it for sale" (Kweli, "Everything Man"). Kweli's argument makes use of the slave
metaphor to indicate a learned ideology of dependence on profit and consumerism. A
second example is West's critique of American society, "Yo, we at war/We at war
with terrorism, racism, but most of all we at war with ourselves" (West, "Jesus
Walks"). West indicates there is a war in all the actions in the American society, but
he primarily focuses on the individual. West provides a resolution to the state of war,
I ain't here to argue about his facial features
Or here to convert atheists into believers
I'm just trying to say the way school need teachers
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The way Kathie Lee needed Regis that's the way I need Jesus
(West, "Jesus Walks")
Conscious rap calls for the empowerment of black people. Kweli promotes
parenthood where parents are actively involved and engaged in their children's live
(Kweli, 2002 & 2007). Common, Mos Def, Kweli, and West promote education in
their lyrics as well as in activism and creation of foundations to support such cause.
The main critiques made of the Hip Hop community include the negative images
portrayed by gangsta/commercial rap: violence, guns, drugs, and misogynism. In
addition, conscious MCs discuss race relation in the U.S. and racism as cover (Mos
Def, 1999: Kweli, 2002: West 2002, The Roots 2008). Mos Def discusses the lack of
action by the Bush administration during Hurricane Katrina (Mos Def, "Dollar Day').
Kweli discusses Septerber 11th, terrosism, and war (Kweli, "The Proud"). Other
subjects discussed include global warming, the environment, crime, proverty,
personal responsibilty, love, and religion.
Ther discourse of conscious MCs is political because the discourse is (1)
pertaining to and concerned with politics, (2) pertaining to citizens, and (3) relating
to, or dealing with the structure or affairs of government, politics, or the state. I
believe part of the lack of understanding Hip Hop's discourse is due to a generational
gap. What is viewed as political, and proper artistic expression has changed over
generations. Partially, this is why anti-rap pundits and critics such as McWhorter fail
to understand Hip Hop in general. There is the use of Ebonics and slang as careful
74


coding in rap music. This makes the discourse innecsesible to older generations.
Martinez (1997) explains resistance tactics have ranged from songs, gossip, jokes
among other forms of communication for centuries. Rap music is another example of
resistance tactics. The political discourse and action vary in forms in Hip Hop and
this makes it is difficult for people outside of Hip Hop to identify what is taking
place. Hip Hop is complex and it takes more than a simple look to understand the
culture.
Actions to be Taken According to the MCs
MCs organize their albums with an overall goal to spread a message in their
lyrics. Conscious MCs focuse on their role in Hip Hop as teachers with an overall
plan to teach. The individual MCs, to variant degrees, organize their lyrics and
performances with an overall goal of spreading a political message including actions
to be taken. The actions to be taken according to the MCs have to do with: (1) God or
religion, (2) action, (3) self-love, and (4) empowerment.
The MCs promote relying on God's definition of self-worth instead of science.
Mos Def asserts that God is what gives people value (Mos Def, "Fear Not of Man").
A person's value is self-evident and not based on any societal preconceived ideas of
beauty or self-worth. He also clarifies that a person's value is present regardless of
whether people are aware of it. The dilemma arises from people not knowing their
true value and where it derives from. Personal strength comes from knowing God.
Kweli remarks,"All my confidence comes from knowin' God's laws" (Kweli,
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"Listen!!!"). The MCs do not promote one religion over another, but they do speak in
terms of their own religion.
Action is the second resolution to be taken according to the MCs, referring to
the personal initiative and responsibility to be active in one's life. What this entails is
defined by each MC. For Kweli, action is activism and active participation. He
explains, "Activism, [and] attacking the system" as a resolution to the sociopolitical
conditions black people face in the U.S. (Kweli, "Get By"). Activism involves taking
action in one's life, community and politics. Kweli explains, "Where I'm from, action
is first and talk is second" (Kweli, "Rush"). Action is needed to bring about change or
improve conditions. Mos Def promotes two things: (1) to use the power of one's mind
to get over hurdles or other circumstances that seems too big for one individual to
handle and (2) to evaluate one's actions to prevent falling into circumstances that
were the result of mere desire. The song "There Is a Way" describes Mos Defs
resolution, "When they tell you that you can't, you shouldn't, you won't tell 'em this:
There is a way, no matter what they say, don't give up, don't give in" (Mos Def,
"There Is a Way"). The lyrics in this songs are very important as they encompass the
entire song. The repetition of the lyrics is indicative of an emphasis placed on the
message. The message is simple and straight forward. West adds to the definition of
action by explaining that "determination, dedication, [and] motivation" are needed for
action (West, "Never Let Me Down"). Common explain the type of action desired
action by speaking of his own actions, "...keep climbing, won't look down until I
76


reach the top" (Common, "What a World"). Common tells the youth to strive for their
dreams and use the positive means necessary to get through hurdles (Common,
"Changes").
Love-both self and of others- is the third action to be taken according the
MCs. The Roots explain what is the most valuable, "I don't put nothin' above/What I
am, what I love: my family, my blood, my city and my hood" (The Roots,
"Criminal"). The Roots words provide a greater set of values that include an
understanding of one's identity and love for one's family and community. Self-love
and self-value comes from being created by God (Mos Def, "Fear Not of Man").
People's value does not come from material possessions or standards of beauty
created by man. Self-love comes once individuals can accept themselves with all their
flaws and virtues. Only then can individuals make the necessary changes to become
self-empowered. Empowerment comes from the combination of God/religion, action
and self-love. For Kweli part of empowerment is parenting. Parents need to (1) give
children the truth, (2) communicate, and (3) teach them how the world works (Kweli,
"Joy"). This will allow children to grow, know their position, and change the world
(Kweli, "Joy"). For Kweli, adequate parenting allows children to grow and change
old tradition. Asking parents to educate their children and have open lines of
communication allows for social and economic empowerment as children will
understand how the world works and have the tools to actively participate. Part of
empowerment of black people is to have a plan in place. The Roots ask, "What's your
77


networking plan?" (The Roots, "75 Bars"). In other words, The Roots are implying a
need for a life plan. A life plan is needed to ensure the type of life style desired.
Actions speak for the individual. Negative actions will speak about the individual in a
negative fashion, while positive actions will speak about the individual in a positive
fashion.
Conclusion
All in all, my findings address three main questions: (1) what are the major
political ideologies in conscious rap? (2) What are the critiques made of government,
the Hip Hop community, and the black community? (3) What are the actions be taken
according to the individual MCs? The prominent political ideology in conscious rap is
black nationalism. Black nationalism was displayed by promoting social and
economic empowerment through group self-help. The main trends found in the
critiques made of government, the Hip Hop community and the black community
consist of: (1) the critiques made of government are considerably negative towards
the Bush administration. (2) The references made of Barrack Obama are positive and
were made prior to his election as president. (3) The critiques made of Hip Hop
community are primarily directed at gangsta/commercial rap to address the negative
images portrayed of black people. (4) The critiques made of the black community are
directly correlated with the critiques made of the Hip Hop community. The critiques
focus on areas that need improvement to achieve social and economic empowerment
of black people. The actions to be taken according to the MCs have to do with: (1)
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God or religion, (2) action, (3) self-love, and (4) empowerment. MCs organize their
albums with an overall goal to spread a message in their lyrics. Conscious MCs
focused on their role in Hip Hop as teachers with an overall plan to teach. The
individual MCs, to variant degrees, organize their lyrics and performances with an
overall goal of spreading a political message including actions to be taken.
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CONCLUSION
This thesis has examined political discourse in conscious rap music. The
major trends found in the data include: (1) Black nationalism is the prominent
political ideology in conscious rap. Separatism is not promoted by any of conscious
rap acts. Rather, empowerment of black people is promoted by means of self-help.
(2) Critiques made of government are considerably negative towards the Bush
administration. The references made of Barrack Obama are positive and made prior to
his election as president. The critiques made of Hip Hop community are primarily
directed at gangsta/commercial rap to address the negative images portrayed of black
people. The critiques made of the black community are directly correlated with the
critiques made of the Hip Hop community. The critiques focus on areas that need
improvement to achieve social and economic empowerment of black people. (3) The
actions to be taken involve social and economic empowerment through self-help
beginning with self-love and love of family and community.
Hip Hop as "Political
Did the findings support or contradict Hip Hop as a culture of oppositon or
innovation? The findings showed conscious rap is both oppositional and innovative.
The data was oppositional as presented by scholars Hebdige (1979), Rose (1994),
Martinez (1997), and Norwood (2002), as disguised resistance tactics are used in the
forms of metaphors, allegories, first person stories, and observations to discuss
racism, governmental political action or lack there of, and socialpolitical conditions
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that affect black people. In other words, conscious rap criticized and protested the
condition of black people. The data was innovative because it followed Perry's (2004)
concept of a MC as both the subject and artist in rap music. Ogbar's (2007) concept of
contradictions was supported by the data: "On one front, rappers direct criticism at
their hyper-materialistic, violent peers and, on other, they direct criticism at the
capitalist, racist society at large, which copiously glorifies overconsumption and
materialism and facilitates racial subjugation" (p. 107).
Did the findings support or contradict the literature's conversation of political
ideology in Hip Hop? The findings support Henderson's (1996) argument that Hip
Hop's political ideology is black nationalism. Black nationalism was found in the
findings in the form of resolutions emphasizing social and economic empowerment of
black people. The findings did not support Lawson (2005) arguement that Hip Hop's
political ideology is that of the U.S. and does not have an individualized political
identity. The data demonstrates there is a correlation between the mainstream politics
and the politics discussed by the individual MCs. The political ideology found in the
data is black nationalism. Black nationalist values are present in the resolutions
provided by the MCs: (1) God or religion, (2) action, (3) self-love, and (4)
empowerment. The finding showed both Lawson (2005) and McPherson (2005)
arguements that Hip Hop critiques liberalism. The MC's asserted that government
does worry himself with black peoples, i.e., government's actions during Hurricane
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Katrina and racism. With the continuation of racism MC's argue black people have
not been given full citizen rights.
McWhorter (2008) contends Hip Hop as lacking meaningful dialogue because
he perceives Hip Hop in its very nature consisting of "quick-hitting ships of thought"
(pp. 79-80). The findings demonstrate conscious rap is political. Conscious rap's
discourse is political becuase the dialogue is (1) pertaining to and concerned with
politics, (2) pertaining to citizens, and (3) relating to, or dealing with the structure or
affairs of government, politics, or the state.
Boyd (2004) explains "new contemporary politics of difference" has a given
contemporary politics a new face, allowing for political discourse to critique
dominant culture and became financially viable through the selling of oppositional
discourse (Boyd, 2004). Boyd (2004) points out that Hip Hop addresses both race and
class through the use of the "ghetto" or the '"hood" as the dominant metaphor,
emphasizing the lower class. The data primarily focused on race by discussing the
new form of racism and secondarily on class by discussing racial profiling of middle
and upper class black males. The MCs did not use the metaphor of the ghetto or hood.
The MCs moved beyond the metaphor of the ghetto or hood as they focus on the state
of black people as a whole.
Political Ideologies and Hip Hop
Did the finding support or contradict the literature about political ideologies
and Hip Hop? The findings supported Boyd's (2003) argument that there are two
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philosophical ideologies within Hip Hop: conscious rap and gangsta rap by the
critiques made of the Hip Hop community. The critiques of the Hip Hop community
are primarily directed at the gangsta/commercial sector in Hip Hop. The MCs
concerns were focused on the negative images portrayed of black people and the
consequences. Indeed as Dyson (2007) contends the sharpest criticisms of Hip Hop
come from within.
A major topic that was discussed by Mos Def, Kweli and The Roots is
environmental politics. The literature did not have environmental politics as one of
the expected topics to be discussed. The expected topics to be discussed were based
on Martinez (1997) research: (1) distrust of the police, (2) fear of a corrupt system,
(3) disillusionment with the health care system, (4) anger at racism and lost
opportunities, (5) action in the face of oppression, and (6) a plea for recognition. The
topics in the findings included most of Martinez's (1997) research except for
disillusionment with the health care system and a plea for recognition.
The findings demonstrated conscious rap is a contemporary forum for identity
politics where not only is blackness formulated, but mainstream politics are critiqued
by the MCs individual manifestos. Hip Hop distinguishes itself as separate from
white culture, while it is simultaneously willing to work within the established
systems of government and culture. Hip Hop has passed the fad phase and it has
become a phenomenon that has expanded internationally.
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Future Research in Hip Hop
Hip Hop has become a primary means to discuss race in the U.S., and yet
there is a lack of political science research on Hip Hop. The benefit in political
science research on Hip Hop is to capture a greater understanding of race as race
continues to evolve. As race evolves so does the politics surrounding race. Even more
so with the internationalization of Hip Hop, political science needs to focus on Hip
Hop. A racial identity is crucial in Hip Hop; race continues to become the binding
force as in previous political movements. Hip Hop research completed in the other
sciences primarily focuses on gangsta/commercial rap genre and sexual politics in
Hip Hop. This area of focus has its own importance; however the current research
does not go beyond stating the obvious limitations or differences from prior political
movements. To some extent the other sciences have attempted to usurp political
science by focusing on Hip Hop's politics.
There is more to Hip Hop than the perceived negative effects of
gangsta/commercial rap and sexual politics within Hip Hop. This lack of
understanding of Hip Hop's political functions and possibilities has impaired the field
of political science. The impairment consists in the negligence towards race in its
newest form. With political science research on Hip Hop, studies on various
minorities in the U.S. can be accomplished. How does this benefit political science?
Political science is benefited by understanding the contemporary politics on race in
the U.S. and other parts of the world. Race politics are no longer those of slavery, Jim
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Crow or the Civil Rights. Race has evolved with time and changed its face while it
sustains some of its roots. But only when political science takes Hip Hop seriously
and studies it as what it is, a political movement, can political science understand
contemporary race politics.
The possible research in Hip Hop is ample as there is little political science
research on Hip Hop. One area of great interest is the examination of the political
discourse of female conscious rappers. What are the main topics in the political
discourse of female conscious rappers? Is the political discourse similar to that of
their male counterparts? A second area of great interest of mine is to compare and
contrast the role of Hip Hop in other minorities in and out of the U.S. Since the
emergence of Hip Hop, Latinos, Asians, and other minorities have embraced Hip
Hop. Not only are there national implications in such a study but international. More
and more, Hip Hop seems to be focusing on a global community identity. To sum up,
Hip Hop needs to be researched with a political science lens to understand race in the
U.S. and beyond. First, Hip Hop's politics and how Hip Hop is political needs to be
made explicit to achieve a greater understanding of contemporary race relations in the
U.S.
All things considered, Hip Hop is a rich culture which has become the new
forum to discuss racial politics in contemporary America. Race as a continued and
ever evolving phenomenon in American society needs to be researched as new
forums, such as Hip Hop appear and most importantly remain within our society for
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three decades passing the fad phase. I challenge conscious rap to go beyond politics
of words and persuasion and enter a richer definition and concept of politics where it
goes beyond storytelling in the public arena. Conscious rap because it is political and
is concerned with the empowerment of black people it needs act accordingly with its
message.
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APPENDICES
ANALYSIS OF FINDINGS
A content analysis was conducted of the earliest and latest albums of
conscious rap artist Common, Mos Def, Kweli, The Roots, and West. A total of 152
songs were reviewed out of 10 albums. The table below provides a breakdown of the
songs per album and the number of songs with political discourse.
Common
Can I Borrow a Dollar?
Common debuted in 1992 with the album Can I Borrow a Dollar? On the
Billboard charts Can I Borrow a Dollar? peaked at position 70 in 1992 (Billboard,
2009). Reviews of the album referred to the album as an, "Unsigned Hype' winner"
where "Common Sense almost single-handedly put Chicago hip-hop on the map in
the early '90s with his excellent debut" (Swihart, n.d.). Throughout the album,
Common has an enthusiastic, eruptive delivery. Lyrically, the wordplay is very
smooth, but the content lacks the social consciousness that he is known for in albums
such as Resurrection, One Day It'll All Make Sense, Like Water For Chocolate, Be,
and Finding Forever. Common's approach to rhyming and rapping in this album was
almost playful with exclamations that can only be described as high pitched squeaks.
Common uses rap as his personal playground, experimenting with inflections,
impressions, tempos and tongue twisters.
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Common's overall style in this album is the closest he has come to a gangsta
image. The lyrics are filled with references about alcohol consumption and
misogynistic sexual escapades. In "A Penny For My Thoughts," Common raps, "My
crew's a strange brew, a drink a day'll keep the shrink away/We been through AA, but
hey, what can I say?" In "Heidi Hoe*" Common says,
What up, bitch! I'm Petey Wheatstraw
and you don't stop with the Heidi Heidi Hoe
Hi hoe, or bye hoe, if you're lookin' for a sucker
(What are you?) I'm just another muthafucka
Pucker your lips, do flips like Mary Lou
Just because I fucked you doesn't mean that I'ma marry you
(Common, "Heide Hoe")
Moreover, in the song "Puppy Chow" Common's conversation about parenthood
promotes parental irresponsibility as it includes denial of parenting the child.
After a while I'ma wanna get buck wild
and 9 months later I'ma say it ain't my child
I'm sterile, girl, we ain't never did nothin'
cause only you and I know that the Common Sense is bluffin'
Little Miss Muffett, that's how the ball bounces
Sorry you gotta bounce the ball, 8 pounds and 2 ounces
(Common, "Puppy Chow")
These lyrics do not need much interpretation as they are clear.
Common does not critique the government and the black community. His
critiques are solemnly directed at the Hip Hop community. Common addresses what
he perceived as wrong with Hip Hop in the early 1990's. Common critiques other
MCs of being "sucker MCs*." According to Westbrook (2002) a "sucker MC" is a bad
MC or rapper (p. 133). Common explains a bad MC or rapper lacks talent and uses
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other avenues to sell their records. He explains, "You knows and I knows, that's how
you sell your record /Because your shit is butt, you gotta get naked/ But you're wack*,
you're wack, showin your body to me/I said you're wack, you're wack, showin' your
body to me" (Common, "Charms Alarm"). He compares a bad MC to a prostitute by
insinuating both showing off their body to sell their product: "No daps*, y'all are
hoes*, y'all go on stage, and take off all your clothes; then you strike a pose"
(Common, "Charms Alarm"). Common's provides the guidelines for a good MC are
soul and blackness. "Soul" is needed to understand and be part of "true hip-hop"
(Common, "Soul by the Pound"). He explains, "You got no soul man, and you need to
get a Pound/Cause you, ain't, ah-really down with true hip-hop you suckers"
(Common, "Soul by the Pound"). Common accuses sucker MC* of being Uncle Toms,
I Mark a Markyiana a bunch of funky Uncle Tomses
Play like Christopher Williams cause I gotta keep my promises
To stick to my roots and not dilute cause G* this ain't two colors
I'm tired of seein' these non rappin' dancin' motherfuckers
(Common, "Soul by the Pound")
In other words, true MCs need to be connected to their roots. Common used the term
"Uncle Tom," which has been used as a pejorative used for a black person perceived
by others as performing in a subservient manner to white society on purpose to show
his discontent. By calling rappers "Uncle Toms" he is indicating they are not
promoting black values, but rather they are conforming to a white aesthetic and
values. Common promotes a specific demeanor that does not cater to white society.
Such demeanor includes a racial identity that promotes blackness.
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What are the major political ideologies in Can I Borrow a Dollar? Common
makes references to the "Un-American way," "Un-American Caravan," and "...I gotta
keep my promises to stick to my roots and not dilute..." (Common, "Charms Alarm"
& "Soul by the Pound"). The "Un-American way" refers to the opposite of the
American way of life. It's common knowledge that the "American way of life" is an
expression that refers to the "lifestyle" of people living in the U.S. It refers to a
nationalist ethos that purports to adhere to the concept of the American Dream. In
other words, Common rejects the American way of life and intents to live his life by
his own terms. His resolution is Hip Hop, "Now what do niggaz do when they got not
food?/Skibbidy skap and busta bust a rap" (Common, "A Penny For My Thoughts").
First and foremost, Common explains he has nothing to lose, "Cause nothin' for
nothin' leaves nothin', I got nuthin' to lose" (Common, "A Penny For My Thoughts").
He views himself in a place where he can take whatever he views as necessary to
accomplish his goals.
All in all, Common hints at black nationalism as the appropriate political
ideology in Hip Hop. He does not directly critique government or the black
community, but does provide critiques to the Hip Hop community. They critiques are
a lack of talent and erroneous demeanor. The actions to be taken according to
Common are following the true ideals of Hip Hop. Common specified "soul" as
needed to be a MC and holding a true racial entity in which the person hold a
connection to their roots, blackness. He strongly enforced demeanor that does not
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cater to white society. In addition, Common included misogynistic lyrics along with
lyrics speaking about alcohol consumption. Common's overall style in this album is
the closest he has come to a gangsta image and his political discourse is
underdeveloped. He focused more on playing with Hip Hop as an art medium than to
refine his overall political discourse.
Universal Mind Control
Common released Universal Mind Control in 2008. The album made it on
number one peak position on the Top Rap Albums Billboard chart, number four on
the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums Billboard chart, and number 12 on the Billboard 200
chart (Billboard, 2009). The song "Universal Mind Control" in 2008 reached the peak
position number 42 on the Hot Digital Songs Billboard chart (Billboard, 2009). The
album reviews critique Common as sounding "out of character" and "pushing an ill-
suited thuggishness" (Kellman). Common delineates from previous albums such as
Resurrection, One Day It'll All Make Sense, Like Water For Chocolate, Be, and
Finding Forever. Universal Mind Control is very similar in discourse to Can I
Borrow a Dollar? Common includes some limited political discourse.
Common does not make direct critiques of government and the black
community. Rather, he focuses on his role in the Hip Hop community. He is
concerned with the image he displays of himself, sexual and lyrical prowess.
Common speaks of his lyrical abilities, "Freestyle paid off so Lincoln paid me/Now
we can push more whips than slavery/Alex Haley and this rap shit, my roots is deep"
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(Common, "Announcement"). Not only is Common stating he is financially
successful because of Hip Hop, but in addition he also has remained "black." His
blackness is part of being connected to his roots; in other words, he is concerned with
the black community. He also explains, "My words is the sword, my skills is the
shield/My life is the style I stay dressed to kill/A legend like Will Smith with the
steel/I could save the world when shit get for real" (Common, "Announcement"). In
other words, Common views himself as capable of providing sustenance to his
community. He is on clear not what sustenance he is able to provide.
Common calls Hip Hop his bitch in the song "Announcement": "I still love
her, she be needin' the dick/When it come to Hip Hop it's just me and my bitch." In
1994, Common released the song "I Used To Love H.E.R." an extended metaphor
using a woman to represent Hip Hop music. This has become Common's most well
known song and it seems that Common is reverting back to his outlook on women
seen in Can I Borrow A Dollar? The lyrics are less vulgar than those of Can I Borrow
a Dollar?, but they do take away from Common's lyrical brilliance displayed in other
albums. Common raps,
Some call me Com, some call me Red
You can call me daddy, I'ma put ya to bed
An appetite for seduction and it gotta be fed
This sexual eruptions gotcha hittin' ya head
On the board and, knock, you screaming, "Oh, Lord
(Common, "Punch Drunk Love")
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The political ideologies in Universal Mind Control are very limited. Apart
from the song "Changes," Common makes little reference to political ideologies. He
promotes change, "What is change?/Change is Martin Luther King Jr.,
Gandhi/Shakespeare, Tupac Shakur, Barack Obama/And you can't forget Common"
(Common, "Changes"). He identifies himself with the individuals that are viewed as
bringing change in innovative ways for their corresponding times. Specially, Martin
Luther King Jr. politics were views as radical for his time. Common is promoting
social and economic empowerment through group self-help by focusing on change
for black people. Common promotes black nationalism in "Changes" by providing a
political belief and practice of black people as a distinct people with a distinct
historical personality who politically should develop structures to define, defend and
develop the interest of blacks as people (Henderson, 1996). He explains his role as an
MC, "I lead all my walks so the fight don't die in me/I found a purpose, why I
MC/Inspire a young would to be greater than me" (Common, "Changes"). Common
views his role as a leader that inspires his people, his purpose is to be an MC that
leads. Common tells others to,
I see the future and the walking path
Laugh if you need to, smile if you need to
Life is a trip ride along and proceed to
Try to believe to, do what you wanna do
Remember you're kings and queens and still humble to
Life is in front of you no need to look back again
Victory can be claimed while you still battling
Drive along with the food I provide you
To awake and the voice that inside you
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(Common, "Changes")
Common tells the youth to strive for their dreams and use the positive means
necessary to get through hurdles. He promises change is inevitable and change
is coming with Barrack Obama. Common was active in the 2008 Presidential
Campaign and publically announced he would vote for Obama (Richburg,
2007). In addition, in the song "What a World" Common promotes to "...keep
climbing, won't look down until I reach the top" (Common, "What a World").
He is promoting self-determination, motivation, and dedication. Common
acknowledges the hurdles and focus on people believing in themselves as
means to accomplish their goals.
Overall, Common encourages self-grown allowing for changes to
happen. He promotes the politics of black leaders such as Martin Luther King
Jr. and Barack Obama. Common does not critique government or the black
community. Common's discourse in Universal Mind Control is very similar to
Can I Borrow a Dollar? He does not make direct critiques of the Hip Hop
community, but rather talks about how authentic he is as an MC. It was
expected for Common to provide more political discourse in this album than
his debuting album. It was anticipated that the MCs would define his style
with time. Personally, it was disappointing to hear the album with lyrics that
do not display his style and lacking sophistication compared to Resurrection,
One Day It'll All Make Sense, Like Water For Chocolate, Be, and Finding
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Forever. However, Common does provide resolutions and actions to be taken
that are focused on self-determination and self-grown as means to acquiring
one's goals.
Mos Def
Black on Both Sides
Mos Def commenced his solo career with the album Black on Both Sides in
1999. Prior to his solo debut he was Black Star, a duo with Talib Kweli. Black on
Both Sides reached the peak position number three on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums
Billboard chart and number 25 on the Billboard 200 chart (Billboard, 2009). Reviews
called Black on Both Sides, "Consciously designed as a return to rap's musical
foundation and manifesto for reclaiming the art form from gangsta/playa domination
(Huey, n.d.). Mos Defs political discourse covers a widerange of topics including:
racism, religion, the environment, the prison system, employment, poverty, and self-
love.
Mos Def discusses the state of Hip Hop. He explains, "Twenty-first century is
comin'/Twentieth century almost done/A lot of things have changed/A lot of things
have not, mainly us/We gon' get it together right? I believe that," Mos Def is talking
about black people and his trust in the ability of black people to change in a positive
manner. He goes on to say, "Listen... people be askin' me all the time,/"Yo Mos,
what's getting' ready to happen with Hip Hop? "/Where do you think Hip Hop is
goin'?/I tell 'em, "You know what's gonna happen with Hip Hop?/Whatever's
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