Political hip hop

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Political hip hop is a subgenre of hip hop music that was developed in the 1980s as a way of turning rap music into a call for action. Inspired by 1970s political preachers such as The Last Poets and Gil Scott-Heron, Public Enemy was the first predominately political hip hop group.[1] Political hip hop is the use of hip hop music to send political messages to inspire action or to convince the listener of a particular worldview. There is no all-encompassing political hip hop ideology. Rather, there are multiple perspectives that range anywhere from Libertarianism to the values of the Five Percent Nation. Political hip hop is very much alive today and has had a vibrant, growing history since the 1980s.

Conscious hip hop[edit]

Conscious hip hop or socially conscious hip-hop is a subgenre of hip hop that challenges the dominant cultural, political, philosophical, and economic consensus.[2] Conscious hip hop is related to and frequently overlaps with political hip hop, and the two terms are often used interchangeably. However, conscious hip hop is not necessarily overtly political, but rather discusses social issues and conflicts. Themes of conscious hip hop include afrocentricity, religion, aversion to crime & violence, culture, the economy, or simple depictions of the struggles of ordinary people. Conscious hip hop often aims to subtly inform the public about social issues and having them form their own opinions instead of aggressively forcing ideas and demanding actions from them.[2]

History of political and conscious hip hop[edit]

The proto-rap of Gil Scott-Heron is often noted as significant influence on political and conscious rap, though most of his earlier socially conscious and political albums fall within the jazz, soul, and funk genres. One of the first socially conscious hip-hop songs was "How We Gonna Make The Black Nation Rise?" by Brother D with Collective Effort.[3] The first big hit hip hop song containing conscious rap was Grandmaster Flash's "The Message", which was a hugely influential political and conscious hip hop track, decrying the poverty, violence, and dead-end lives of the urban poor of the time.

Examples of conscious and political hip-hop music throughout the decades include Whodini's "Growing Up", Kurtis Blow and Run-D.M.C.'s "Hard Times", MC Lyte's "Cappucino", Lupe Fiasco's "Conflict Diamonds", Big Daddy Kane's "Lean On Me", Mos Def's "Mathematics", most of Public Enemy's discography, including notable tracks such as "Give It Up", "Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos", "Rebel Without a Pause", "Fight The Power," "911 Is a Joke", "Burn Hollywood Burn," and "Night of the Living Baseheads"; much of The Roots' discography, including the track "What They Do" and albums such as Things Fall Apart, Game Theory, Rising Down, Undun, and ...And Then You Shoot Your Cousin; Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise"; much of Kendrick Lamar's discography; much of KRS-One's discography, including the tracks "Move Ahead" and "Know Thyself"; Boogie Down Productions' albums Criminal Minded and By All Means Necessary; Eminem's "Like Toy Soldiers"; much of Talib Kweli's discography, much of Lupe Fiasco's discography, much of rapper Common's discography, such as the track "I Used to Love H.E.R."; Main Source's "Watch Roger Do His Thing", and much of 2Pac's discography, including "Changes".

Early gangsta rap often showed significant overlap with political and conscious rap.[4] Pioneers in the gangsta rap genre such as Ice-T, N.W.A., Ice Cube, and the Geto Boys blended the crime stories, violent imagery, and aggression associated with gangsta rap with significant socio-political commentary, using the now standard gangsta rap motifs of crime and violence to comment on the state of society and expose issues found within poor communities to society at large.[5] These early gangsta rap artists were influenced in part by the bleak and often "revolutionary" crime novels of Iceberg Slim as well as hip hop groups such as Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions, groups that mixed aggressive, confrontational lyrics about urban life with social-political commentary and often radical political messages. The controversial Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A. brought gangsta rap to the mainstream, but it also contained harsh social and political commentary, including the confrontational track "Fuck tha Police."

After his split from N.W.A, rapper Ice Cube released sociopolitical and conscious rap with gangsta rap elements in the 1990 album Amerikkka's Most Wanted and the companion EP Kill at Will; the 1991 album Death Certificate; and the 1992 album The Predator.[6] Ice Cube's first two albums were produced by the hip hop production team the Bomb Squad, known for their work with the socio-political rap group Public Enemy. Furthermore, Ice Cube produced and appeared on the controversial and radical political rap/gangsta rap album Guerillas in tha Mist by Da Lench Mob in the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots.[6] Though Ice Cube would continue to sporadically insert political and social commentary into his music throughout his career, he once again focused on conscious and political rap with the 2006 album Laugh Now, Cry Later[6] and 2008's Raw Footage, featuring the single "Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It", a song dealing with the perceived correlation between music and global issues (i.e. the War in Iraq, school shootings, etc.).

The audience for artists who consistently produce conscious rap is largely underground.[7] However, mainstream artists are increasingly including elements of conscious hip-hop in their songs.[8] There are hundreds of artists whose music could be described as "political": see the List of Political hip hop artists page for a partial list.

Hip Hop in Politics[edit]

Hip Hop's outreach to the political world isn't a one-way street. The response that Hip Hop has received from mainstream politics has varied largely, primarily based on time period.

From the onset of hip hop in the 80's throughout the 90's the culture was either ignored or criticized by politicians on both sides of the aisle. "In the 1990s... there was one cultural idea that seemed to have bi-partisan support: that rap music was a symptom of the destruction of American values."[9] In 1992 Vice President Dan Quayle called on Interscope Records to withdraw 2Pacalypse Now because it was a "disgrace to American music". The catalyst for Quayle's outrage was an incident when a Texas youth shot a state trooper and referenced Tupac's album as his motivation.[9] In 2Pacalypse Now rapper Tupac Shakur raised issues of institutional racism, teen pregnancy, and police brutality.[10] He tells a fictional story of how a police officer slams him on the ground for no cause, but before he gets arrested the police officer is shot. His lyrics read "how can I feel guilty after all the things they did to me?".

Today, Hip Hop music has grown to be such a large part of mainstream culture that The Washington Post wrote "The Politician's Guide to how to be Down with Hip Hop."[11] The criticism of hip hop that was considered patriotic or even moral one generation ago, can make a politician seem "out of touch", especially with young voters.[11] Republican Politician Mike Huckabee suffered from seeming "out of touch" when he referred to Beyonce as "mental poison" in his book: God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy.[12] In 2008 during Obama's primary campaign against then-rival Hillary Clinton he referenced Jay Z by doing his "Brush the dirt off your shoulder" motion in a rally and the audience erupted with support. The embrace of hip hop has not occurred on party lines. Republican Governor Marco Rubio is a vocal fan of Tupac and Gangsta rap. Rubio said "In some ways rappers are like reporters... You had gang wars, racial tension, and they were reporting on that.[9]" Even Donald Trump tries to leverage hip hop. He occasionally quotes the fact that rapper Mac Miller made a song called "Donald Trump" and it has nearly 100 million views.[11] Political Hip Hop's influence on the political system has varied with time, but going forward, the political environment seems to be growing more Hip-Hop friendly.

Political hip hop ideologies[edit]

Explicitly political hip hop is related to but distinct from conscious hip hop because it refers to artists who have strong and overt political affiliations and agendas, as opposed to the more generalized social commentary typical of conscious hip hop. It can also be used to include political artists of all ideological stripes, whereas the term conscious hip hop generally implies a broadly leftist affiliation or outlook.[citation needed]

The Five Percent Nation[edit]

Five-Percent emblem
Rakim performing in 1998

The Five-Percent Nation, also referred to as the Nation of Gods & Earths (NOGE), has had a significant impact on hip hop from its formative years through present-day. The Five-Percent Nation was founded by a man named Clarence Smith in Harlem, New York in 1964.[13] Clarence Smith, who went by "Clarence 13 X" was a student of Malcom X in the Nation of Islam.[14] In 1963 Clarence split with the Nation of Islam over differences in beliefs about the "nature and identity of God."[14] Clarence "rejected the traditional Muslim belief that God was separate from man. Instead, Clarence 13 X claimed that the black man was God personified."[14] In the Five Percent Nation black men are referred to as Gods, black women are referred to as Earths, and white people are referred to as Devils. This terminology has sparked a lot of controversy in the media. When hip hop artists show support of The Five-Percent Nation articles are written with titles like "Jay Z's Bling from 'Whites are Devils' Group."[15] The theory behind the name "Five Percent Nation" comes from the belief that 10% of humanity knows the truth about existence and uses it to control the 85% who are ignorant of the nature of god. The remaining 5% know the truth and are determined to enlighten the rest of the world.[13] Not every Hip Hop artist who has been influenced by or supports The Five-Percent Nation identifies as a "Five Percenter" and follows every teaching. However, the depth of influence of The Five-Percent Nation in hip hop itself is so extensive that sometimes it is hard to distinguish between the two. "Russell Simmons, a founding father of the rap music industry, labels the Nation of Gods and Earths as an 'important influence' in the history of hip hop that has been overlooked."[13]

Artists and Rap groups that identify as "Five Percenters" include, but are not limited to, Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Poor Righteous Teachers, The Wu-Tang Clan, Jay Electronica, Brand Nubian, Busta Rhymes, Gang Starr, and AZ.[13] Other artists that have been influenced by the Five Percent Nation but don't openly identify as "Five Percenters" include Jay Z, Nas, Big Pun, LL Cool J, Talib Kweli, Erykah Badu, and Immortal Technique.[13] Five Percenters Coined many hip hop terms like "peace", "word is bond", "cipher", "dropping science", "what's up God?" etc.[16] The Five-Percent Nation has been a core influence in hip hop from the beginning, and will likely continue to be going into the future.

Black nationalism[edit]

Black nationalism is an ideology underlying the militant wing of the North American civil rights movement in the 1970s and early 1980s. It played a role in early political hip hop and continues to be a theme for many contemporary political hip hop artists. Prominent black nationalist artists include Tupac Shakur, Public Enemy, Kanye West, X Clan, MC Ren, Ice Cube, Da Lench Mob, Tragedy Khadafi, Dead Prez, Brand Nubian, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Sister Souljah, Paris and Big Daddy Kane.[citation needed]

Caribbean Consciousness[edit]

Caribbean consciousness is hip hop songs that highlight the themes and causes of the Caribbean (aka West Indies). From a geographic perspective, the Caribbean is in close proximity to United States (more specifically Florida, Atlanta, New Orleans, Georgia) and the symbiotic relationships developed between the two regions has existed historically.


Rappers such as KRS-One[17] and Big Boi[18] have expressed libertarian views in their lyrics and personal life. KRS-One's songs have covered such libertarian topics as individualism, while Big Boi intended the OutKast song "Bombs Over Baghdad" as a libertarian, anti-war song.[18] KRS-One has publicly supported Republican Ron Paul,[17] and Big Boi supported Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson in the 2012 election.[18] Rapper GoRemy has expressed libertarian views in videos hosted by the libertarian magazine Reason.[19][20][21] Houston rapper Neema V expresses libertarian, pro-capitalism views in his lyrics.[22]


Marxism has been an element of social movements worldwide and is seen in hip hop. Some overtly Marxist and Marxist-influenced groups include Marxman, The Coup, and dead prez.


Anarchism is relevant in hip hop culture. Like Marxist hip hop, class struggle and anti-imperialism are major themes in anarchist hip hop music along with anti-parliamentarianism and a strong emphasis on intersectionality and the connections between different movements. The need for community-level grassroots organization and opposition to political hierarchy and illegitimate authority are also common themes. Unlike Marxist acts, several of which have been signed to major labels, anarchist artists have generally followed a DIY ethos which has led them to remain independent such as Sole.[citation needed] However, Lupe Fiasco has also identified as an anarchist publicly.[citation needed]

Prominent anarchist hip hop artists include: Emcee Lynx, Comrade Malone,[23] Direct Raption[24] and Ko49.[25]


Many other artists object to capitalism in general but prefer not to explicitly identify with either Marxism or Anarchism and instead advocate various other forms of socialism. Hip hop acts that describe their politics as "socialist" include Immortal Technique,[26] Dead Prez, the Blue Scholars, Manny Phesto, and Sun Rise Above. Looptroop Rockers is an anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist hip hop project from Sweden. Gatas Parlament is an anti-capitalist hip hop project from Norway. The members of Gatas Parlament are also members of the revolutionary socialist party Rødt, and were members of Rød Ungdom in their youth.


Other political hip hop artists advocate a wide range of positions, and often disagree with one another. Zionist hip hop acts like Golan and Subliminal,[27] and supporters of the Palestinian cause, like Lowkey and the Iron Sheik[28] have obvious fundamental disagreements about a wide range of issues, but both use hip hop music and culture as a vehicle to express themselves and spread their ideas. As hip hop becomes increasingly widespread, artists from many different countries and backgrounds are using it to express many different positions, among them political ones. The nature of hip hop (as with much music) as an opposing force to the establishment lends itself to such a use.[29]

Political Hip Hop Scenes[edit]

Latino political hip hop scene[edit]

Political rappers of Latino descent include Racionais MC's, Olmeca, Tohil, Immortal Technique, Rebel Diaz, Manny Phesto, MRK, Facção Central, Psycho Realm, Ana Tijoux and Zack de la Rocha.

UK political hip hop scene[edit]

Within the United Kingdom hip hop and urban scene, political, conscious rap is common, with artists including Lowkey, who focuses on the Israel-Palestine conflict and other issues regarding the Middle East, Akala, Logic, Mic Righteous and English Frank [30]

Australian Hip Hop Scene[edit]

Australian hip hop artist like Urthboy, Jimblah,[31] The Herd, Horrorshow and L-Fresh the lion[32] who are all part of the Elefant Traks record label often have politically motivated songs. Their main focuses are Racism and Xenophobia but The Herd also focuses on issues to do with the climate and gender inequality.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Political Rap. Allmusic. Accessed July 2, 2008.
  2. ^ a b Adaso, Henry. "What is Conscious Hip Hop?". About.com. About.com. Retrieved 14 November 2015. 
  3. ^ http://www.discogs.com/Brother-D-with-Collective-Effort-Dib-Be-Dib-Be-Dize-How-We-Gonna-Make-The-Black-Nation-Rise/release/541671
  4. ^ Lamont, Michele (1999). The Cultural Territories of Race: Black and White Boundaries. University of Chicago Press. p. 334. Retrieved 18 January 2015. 
  5. ^ Adaso, Henry. "Gangsta Rap". About.com. About.com. Retrieved 14 November 2015. 
  6. ^ a b c Erlewine, Stephen. "About Ice Cube". MTV. MTV. Retrieved 14 November 2015. 
  7. ^ Thompson, Amanda (May 6, 2004). "Gender in Hip Hop: A Research Study" (PDF). Humboldt State University. Retrieved June 9, 2006. 
  8. ^ Forman, Murray (2010). "Conscious Hip-Hop, Change, and the Obama Era". Retrieved March 17, 2013. 
  9. ^ a b c Hughes, Dana. "Hip-Hop in Politics". ABC News. ABC News. Retrieved 24 October 2015. 
  10. ^ Steiner, B.J. "2Pac Shakur Drops '2Pacalypse Now'". XXL Magazine. Retrieved 30 November 2015. 
  11. ^ a b c Schwarz, Hunter. "The Politician's Guide to how to be Down with Hip Hop". The Washington Post. The Washington Post. Retrieved 24 October 2015. 
  12. ^ O'neil, Lorena. "Most Iowa Republicans Agree that Beyonce is Mental Poison". Billboard.com. Billboard. Retrieved 24 October 2015. 
  13. ^ a b c d e Ju, Shirley. "The Five Percent Nation: A brief History Lesosn". HNHH. HNHH. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
  14. ^ a b c Johnson, Christopher. "God, the Black Man, and the Five Percenters". NPR. NPR. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
  15. ^ Bulso, Gary. "Jay Z's bling from 'whites are devils' group". New York Post. New York Post. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
  16. ^ Allah, Dasun. "The Gods of Hip Hop". Hip Hop Wired. Hip Hop Wired. Retrieved 3 November 2015. 
  17. ^ a b "KRS-One to Rock the Ron Paul Revolution Tour". Portland Mercury. 
  18. ^ a b c "WATCH: Big Boi Explains He Didn't Vote For Obama". Huffington Post. January 11, 2013. 
  19. ^ "VIDEO: Libertarian rapper spoofs the NSA's surveillance programs". Washington Examiner. 
  20. ^ "Libertarian rapper thwacks potential Weiner voters in ‘Blurred Lines’ parody video". rawstory.com. 
  21. ^ Moe_Tkacik. "Meet Rapper Dorian Electra Gomberg: The Libertarian Lolita". Gawker. Gawker Media. 
  22. ^ Stephan Kinsella (22 September 2009). "Fantastic Libertarian Rapper: Neema V". StephanKinsella.com. 
  23. ^ Comrade Malone signs to Kemet Entertainment Records
  24. ^ Jamendo S.A. "Direct Raption". Jamendo. 
  25. ^ "Ko49". ReverbNation. 
  26. ^ "IMMORTAL TECHNIQUE DISCUSS LIBERTARIAN PHILOSOPHY, SOCIALISM, AND REV. VOL. 3 [2013]". Global Hip Hop. Retrieved April 15, 2014. 
  27. ^ "A Zionist Hip-Hop Stance Comes to Lollapalooza". The Forward. 4 June 2004. 
  28. ^ "効率的に免許が取れる、自動車学校での合宿免許". ironsheik.biz. 
  29. ^ Forman, Murray; Mark Anthony Neal (2004). That's the Joint!: The Hip-hop Studies Reader. Routledge. p. 7. ISBN 0-415-96919-0. 
  30. ^ Omar Shahid. "Lowkey, Logic and a new wave of political British hip-hop MCs". the Guardian. 
  31. ^ http://www.elefanttraks.com/artists/jimblah/
  32. ^ http://www.elefanttraks.com/artists/l-fresh-the-lion/


  • Bogdanov, Vladimir; Woodstra, Chris; Erlewine, Stephen Thomas; Bush, John (2003). The Definitive Guide to Rap & Hip-Hop. Backbeat Books, ISBN 0-87930-759-5.