“The Message” – Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five
“The Message” was one of the earliest manifestations of Hip-Hop the articulated the pain, struggle and trials of living in the Bronx during the Ronald Reagan era. “Its like jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from going under,” the chorus says.
“Why”, Jadakiss, Styles P, Nas, Common
Kiss Of Death
The original “Why” was potent, but Jadakiss brought his lyrical friends on the remix with each pontificating on the ills of society. Additionally. Common was the first rapper to mention Barack Obama, predicting the future president.
“The Corner” – Common
Common’s “The Corner” bookmarks the beginning and the future of Hip-Hop with a voice. It features The Last Poets, who forecasted the genre through to Kanye West, who represents a new controversial form of edutainment. Common’s turn almost rivals “The Message” with its honest depiction of the streets of Chicago.
“Fight the Power” – Public Enemy
Fear Of A Black Planet
“Fight The Power” is an anthem that remains at the top of lists when discussing the political voice that Hip-Hop yields. Rappers Chuck D and Flavor Flav deconstruct Elvis and John Wayne while constructing a new method of protest. The video was directed by Spike Lee.
“F**k tha Police” – NWA
Straight Outta Compton
Nobody heard anything like “F**k tha Police” when it was released in the late 1980’s. Neither Hip-Hop nor America had heard such an abrasive commentary on law enforcement. The song harnessed the rage of Compton and shoved it into a 5:45 minute audio bomb that continues to ripple to this day.
“Banned in the USA” – 2 Live Crew
Banned in the USA
Luke and the 2 Live Crew became unlikely champions of free speech, but they won the battle and “Banned In The USA” was their victory lap.
“Changes” – Tupac Shakur
Tupac rapped what people were actually living, breathing and seeing in their communities. The Vatican added “Changes” to the Vatican MySpace Playlist in December 2009.
“Sound Of Da Police” – KRS-One
Return Of The Boom Bap
KRS-One’s “Sound of Da Police” comes from a lengthy line of anti-police brutality songs, but he takes the concept and melds historical context with the angst. From Overseers to officers, KRS had it all in this protest song.
“Point of No Return” – Geto Boys
The Geto Boys are mostly known for Horrorcore raps and vivid street tales, but the group had a political underbelly that was brutally conveyed in “Point of No Return.” Even politicians weren’t safe.
“Shut ‘Em Down” Remix – Public Enemy/Pete Rock
Apocalypse 91…The Enemy Strikes Black
Public Enemy had a penchant for anthems and “Shut ‘Em Down” exemplified PE at their best with Pete Rock on the remix. “Shut ‘Em Down” was a universal call for the community to eliminate the detrimental forces in the ‘hood. It remains one of the best remixes too.
“Amerikkka’s Most Wanted“ – Ice Cube
Amerikkka’s Most Wanted
The title alone screams “message” and Ice Cube delivers it in a digestible way as gangster rap gain in popularity. The last verse brings the message home as he gets caught robbing in the suburbs.
“Definition” – Black Star
Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star
Mos Def and Talib Kweli are two of the most intelligent emcees in rap and they deliver on “Definition.” The video and song Brooklyn anthems that refer to police violence, quality of life and the murders of Biggie and Pac.
“Heed the Word of the Brother” – X-Clan
To the East, Blackwards
X-Clan endures as one of the first rap acts to fully embrace their Blackness, African roots, but also offered new philosophies for people of color. They also founded BlackWATCH, a protest group, and recruited members through their album sales.
“Hip-Hop” – Dead Prez
Let’s Get Free
Dead Prez is widely regarded as a revolutionary-minded rap collective, but “Hip-Hop” captured the hearts and minds of everybody from gang bangers to activists.
“Self Destruction” – Krs-One, Doug E. Fresh, Kool Moe Dee, Scott LaRock, Public Enemy, Miss Melody, MC Lyte
Stop The Violence Movement
When KRS-One’s rap partner Scott La Rock was brutally murdered in 1987, the Bronx-born KRS pulled together the best and brightest rap talents in New York to craft a classic song against black-on-black crime.
“Black President” – Nas
Nas wrote an ode to Barack Obama, but also spoke to the tremendous undertaking of actually changing the world.
“My President Is Black” – Young Jeezy
Young Jeezy surprised everybody when he wrote this anthem, because he’s been regarded as apolitical D-boy. Jeezy must have cogitated, grabbed Nas to deliver a message that was targeted to the ‘hood. He hit the bull’s-eye too.
“White America” – Eminem
The Eminem Show
Eminem’s “White America” is one the Detroit rappers most potent records where he pens and open letter to the mainstream. The animated video is a work of art.
“U-N-I-T-Y” – Queen Latifah
Queen Latifah chin checked the men and also screamed for peace at the same time.
“Cause of Death” – Immortal Technique
Revolutionary, Vol. 2
Raw and unapologetic, Immortal Technique utilizes his creative license to break down Sept. 11, the Illuminati, American history in a way that no other rapper has.
- of 21
The relationship between Hip-Hop, community action and politics is a volatile and symbiotic relationship with all seemingly working with and against each other at the same time. Hip-Hop has typically been critical of the powers that be, but also been driven by a desire for those in power to improve the environment. Hip-Hop to the core is an outsider’s attempt to get insiders to listen to their plight, concerns and issues. The rise of the emcee is, in part, because those voices were ignored. To paraphrase J. Prince of Rap-A-Lot Records, “First, we knocked on the door, then we beat on the door and now we’re about to kick the door in.” That’s hip-hop and politics.
AllHipHop and theGrio have compiled an unofficial list of the top 20 political hip-hop songs. Unofficial? Certainly. There are just too many great examples of politically minded rap to put in one list. Therefore, we put together a variety of songs that exemplify the vast voice that Hip-Hop had and still has to this day.
For more on the hip-hop and politics series from theGrio click here and for more from AllHipHop.com click here.