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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

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

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

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.

Ideology and views of political rappers


Anti-racism, black liberation and nationalism

As hip hop is a primarily African-American genre, political rappers often center around black liberation. In particular, the Five-Percent Nation, an Islamic group that focuses on black liberation theology, has a high membership of popular rappers and has had an integral influence on hip hop culture.[13] There have been many hip hop songs expressing anti-racist views, such as the popular The Black Eyed Peas song "Where Is the Love?", however artists advocating more radical black liberation have remained controversial. Artists such as Public Enemy, Tupac Shakur, Ice Cube, and Kendrick Lamar have advocated black liberation in their lyrics. Many refer to these artists as black nationalists. While this may be true, there are no or few explicit references to black nationalist visions in their lyrics. In recent years, Kanye West and Killer Mike have released songs criticizing the War on Drugs and perceived prison industrial complex from an anti-racist perspective.

Anti-poverty, class struggle and socialism

Particularly with the advent of gangsta rap, many hip hop artists have come from underclass backgrounds. Aforementioned artists such as Tupac Shakur, Ice Cube, and Killer Mike have made just as much reference to class oppression as racial oppression. Other political rappers, such as The Coup, Dead Prez, and Immortal Technique, have advocated explicitly Marxist-Leninist views, whereas less known rappers such as Emcee Lynx and Sole have advocated anarchist positions.


Criticism has been levied against political rappers for displaying a lack of intersectionality. Ice Cube has been criticized for misogynistic, anti-Semitic, and anti-Asian lyrics; Professor Griff of Public Enemy has also come under fire for anti-Semitism; and several conscious groups such as Brand Nubian, Goodie Mob, and A Tribe Called Quest have been criticized for homophobia. There have, however, been more intersectional activists involved in political hip hop. Kanye West, for example, has been quoted as saying "we were brought into this broken world where people are separated by race, religion and class."[14]

Conspiracy theories

Conspiracy theories have been referenced in hip hop lyrics for some time. Elements of the Five-Percenter philosophy that has fundamentally influenced hip hop culture revolve around conspiracy theories. Artists such as Immortal Technique, Jedi Mind Tricks, and Hopsin have become infamous for their support of New World Order, Illuminati, and Satanist conspiracy theories, often alleging mainstream hip hop is involved in such conspiracies.

Views on religion

Rappers often reference their religious views however, outside of Five-Percenters and Black Muslims, they rarely translate into political views. Killer Mike, however, has been heavily critical of organized religion in many of his more political songs.[15]

Right-wing views

Although political hip hop in America is usually associated with black liberation and socialism, there have been artists associated with right-wing views. Occasionally political rapper KRS-One identifies as a right-wing libertarian and has voiced support for Ron Paul.[16] Big Boi has also identified as a libertarian, and stated he intended OutKast's "B.O.B." as a libertarian, anti-war song.[17] Despite this, he has recently voiced support for social democrat Bernie Sanders.[18] 50 Cent has controversially voiced support for Republicans.[19]


Worldwide, political hip hop can be extremely varied. For example, Lowkey and Iron Sheik have expressed anti-Zionist views in their music, whereas Golan and Subliminal have expressed pro-Zionist views.[20]


Main article: Jihadism and hip-hop

Although many jihadists view hip hop in a negative light, some, particularly those associated with [[DAESH], have taken to creating jihadist hip hop songs as a way to indoctrinate Western youths by making the ideology seem cool and countercultural.

Political Hip Hop Scenes

Latino political hip hop scene

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

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 [21]

Australian Hip Hop Scene

Australian hip hop artist like Urthboy, Jimblah,[22] The Herd, Horrorshow and L-Fresh the lion[23] 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


  1. ^ Political Rap. Allmusic. Accessed July 2, 2008.
  2. ^ a b Adaso, Henry. "What is Conscious Hip Hop?". Retrieved 14 November 2015.
  3. ^
  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". 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. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  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. Retrieved 24 October 2015.
  13. ^ Ju, Shirley. "The Five Percent Nation: A brief History Lesosn". HNHH. HNHH. Retrieved 3 November 2015.
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  21. ^ Omar Shahid. "Lowkey, Logic and a new wave of political British hip-hop MCs". the Guardian.
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