The Last Poets
Heavily influenced by the Black Panthers and black nationalism, this edgy group is credited with laying the groundwork for modern day rap. They also happened to very politically conscious and confrontational, yet still managed to be commercially successful in their early 70s heyday.
Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Be Televised”
April 9, 1971
This blistering, spoken word rant against mainstream commercial culture was both an early inspiration to hip-hop and a blueprint for its anti-establishment stance in the decades that followed.
(Flying Dutchman Records)
Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five drop “The Message”
This classic, socially relevant expose of inner-city life in the 80s is frequently cited as the greatest rap song ever. It was certainly one of the most influential, sampled constantly with it’s “don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge” chorus one of the most quoted lines of all-time.
(Sugar Hill Records)
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
April 14, 1988
Frequently topping both greatest hip-hop album and straight up album lists, Public Enemy’s masterpiece served as a clarion call for black activism, pride and rage and it’s still controversial over 20 years later.
2 Live Crew’s Nasty As They Wanna Be
February 7, 1989
2 Live Crew’s unabashedly graphic lyrics actually landed them in jail and at the center of a heated censorship battle (the album was the first to ever be legally declared obscene). The controversy fueled sales and the Crew members were eventually cleared of wrong-doing thanks to unlikely supportive testimony from Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
“Straight Outta Compton” – N.W.A. The song features Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, MC Ren, Krazy Dee, and DJ Yella and was one of the biggest rap hits of 1988.
The Stop the Violence Movement / “Self-Destruction”
Rap icon KRS-One assembles a superstar line up including Doug E. Fresh, MC Lyte, Heavy D and many more to overtly condemn violence in the black community. The project was so popular it was rebooted in both 2008 and 2009 with a new cast of rappers.
Salt-n-Pepa’s “Let’s Talk About Sex”
February 27, 1991
The influential female hip-hop trio Salt-n-Pepa stirred controversy with this frank hit about sexuality and censorship. It’s safe sex message was largely overshadowed for what at the time were considered offensive lyrics. Today they seem seriously tame.
Ice T’s “Cop Killer” controversy
March 31, 1992
Gangster rapper/actor Ice T’s heavy metal side band “Body Count” release an innocuous little ditty called “Cop Killer” and all hell breaks lose. Ice-T called it a protest against the Rodney King-era police while President George H.W. Bush condemned him. The record was eventually pulled from release.
(AP Photo/Bob Galbraith)
The ‘Sister Souljah moment’
In the midst of a heated presidential campaign, then Democratic candidate Bill Clinton singled out racially charged Sister Souljah remarks at a Jesse Jackson event. Clinton said, “If you took the words ‘white’ and ‘black,’ and you reversed them, you might think David Duke was giving that speech.” Largely seen as a rebuke against radical African-Americans, the so-called “Sister Souljah moment” was considered instrument in establishing Clinton’s moderate bondafides.
(AP Photo/Nick Ut)
Russell Simmons founds Hip Hop Summit Action Network
Founded initially to help increase youth voter participation, Simmons’ organization was able to register half-a-million voters by 2004. Simmons also played a crucial role in getting New York state’s harsh, and many argued racially biased, Rockefeller drug laws overturned.
(AP Photo/Lisa Poole)
Diddy’s ‘Vote or Die’ campaign
November 2, 2004
Prior to the 2004 re-election of George W. Bush, Diddy joined forced with other music big shots like Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige and 50 Cent to promote voting through a group called Citizen Change. The group’s signature ‘Vote or Die’ shirts were ubiquitous during that year’s campaign and while overall voter turnout improved that year the real revolution in youth voters came four years later.
(AP Photo/Gregory Bull)
Kanye West: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people…”
September 2, 2005
Before he upstaged Taylor Swift at the VMAs, this was arguably Kanye West’s most controversial moment. By honestly, if albeit somewhat inarticulately, calling out then-President Bush for his inadequate handling of Hurricane Katrina (during a live televised telethon for the victims no less), West expressed the sentiments of millions of disenfranchised and disrespected Americans.
(Image courtesy of MSNBC)
Lil’ Wayne represents for New Orleans on “Georgia…Bush”
On his critically acclaimed mixtape Dedication 2, Lil’ Wayne poured his heart out regarding the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina on his native New Orleans. He reserved special ire however for George W. Bush.
Will i Am’s “Yes We Can” music video
February 2, 2008
The Black Eyed Peas’ frontman’s pro-Obama collage video (featuring celebs mixed with snippets of Obama speeches) became a YouTube sensation and helped connect then candidate-Obama with a younger audience.
(Image courtesy of YouTube)
Obama pays tribute to Jay-Z, brushes “dirt off his shoulder”
April 21, 2008
At a campaign event following a pretty testy debate with Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama talking about not letting attacks get to him. He made a gesture that any hip-hop fan would love and appreciate. A nod to a classic Jay-Z track.
(Image courtesy of YouTube)
Ludacris’ “Politics as Usual” disses Obama haters
Ludacris, an Obama supporter, got into a minor scandal when he ripped into John McCain, Jesse Jackson and Hillary Clinton (who he called a b*tch) in this track off The Preview mixtape.
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Nas takes on Fox News with “Sly Fox”
Outspoken rapper Nas took his opposition to what he considers Fox’s conservative bias to the streets and protested in front of their NY headquarters. In the studio, he took on the network for its anti-Obama attitudes
(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Wyclef fights for Haiti
When a devastating earthquake leveled the nation of Haiti and left more than 300,000 people dead—few figures were more active in efforts to rescue and revive the country than rapper Wyclef Jean. A native-born Haitian, Wyclef has consistently put people first in the midst of the tragedy.
(AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
Jay-Z and Beyonce go to the White House, state dinner
Spring of 2010
The reigning first couple of hip-hop, Jay-Z and Beyonce, have made major entrees into the highest echelons of power. Making cameo appearances at the White House and the second state dinner.
(AP Photo/Lionel Cironneau)
- of 21
For nearly 40 years, since the release of The Last Poets’ debut album, some form of hip-hop has had an impact on the American cultural landscape. The music has had an obvious on style, speech and sound. But we must not overlook the role rap has played in our nation’s politics. Hip-hop has been an agitator (Public Enemy, the Stop the Violence Movement), an antagonist (Ice-T, 2 Live Crew) and now, more often, an ally (Ludacris, Jay-Z). theGrio tracks the evolution of the relationship between the elites of rap and politics over the decades, here are the highlights…
For more on the hip-hop and politics series from theGrio click here and for more from AllHipHop.com click here.