Music has always had the power to unite people. Whether it brings them together around a campfire, a radio, a church service, or a concert, it’s undeniable the draw and power that music can have on people. Of course, music is also a business. It generates a huge amount of money every single year for artists, labels, musicians, merchants, and dozens of other professions but it is also capable of using its power to raise money for a worthwhile cause.
In 1985, Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie got together to write “We Are the World,” a song to raise awareness and money to help alleviate famine in Africa. They brought together dozens and dozens of respected musicians to record and release this charity single. The song was released on March 7th 1985 and went on to sell over 20 million copies, which was almost unprecedented. In fact, there are only about thirty singles in the history of recorded music to have ever sold over 10 million copies and that’s only half of what this single did.
This wasn’t the first super-group for charity and it certainly wasn’t the last. The idea gained a lot of momentum from “Do They Know It’s Christmas” one year earlier. This was the brainchild of Bob Geldof who not only released a very successful single but went on to throw huge concerts under the banner of Live Aid to raise money for the cause.
Right around this time of global awareness and charity building, rap music was just appearing on the radar of popular culture. It wouldn’t take long before rappers started to unite for a cause as well.
Welcome to Know Your History. I’m your host Chase March and for the next half hour, we will be exploring the supergroups within hip-hop that united for a cause to raise awareness and money for a variety of different issues.
Before we get started though, I’d just like to explain what Know Your History is all about for any of you new listeners out there. It’s a monthly hip-hop segment I’ve been producing for two years now for DOPEfm, an overnight hip-hop radio show that can be heard on 93.3 CMFU each and every Saturday night. Go to DOPEfm.ca for more info on what we do and the different ways you can listen to the show. You can also hear me every week on The Word is Bond podcast. The Word is Bond dot com just relaunched the site to deliver you the best in underground hip-hop. I’m glad to deliver you great content every week on both platforms.
Let’s get started with today’s show. This is Know Your History Episode 28 – Hip-Hop United for a Cause. We need to go back to 1989, that was when Krs-One brought together over a dozen rappers to stop the violence. The track is called “Self Destruction” and features Boogie Down Productions, Stetsasonic, Kool Moe Dee, MC Lyte, Doug E. Fresh, Just-Ice, the late Heavy D, and Public Enemy.
“You don’t have to be soft to be for peace.” One of my favourite lines from “Self Destruction” by The Stop the Violence Movement. That lyric was by Just-Ice and he was only one of the MCs in that star-studded track that featured a who’s who of hip-hop talent for the time it was released in 1989. The song featured KRS-One, D-Nice, and Ms. Melodie of Boogie Down Productions, Delite, Daddy-O, Wise, and Frukwan of Stetsasonic, Chuck D and Flavor Flav of Public Enemy, and Kool Moe Dee, MC Lyte, Doug E. Fresh, Just-Ice, and the late Heavy D.
The song was done, not just in response to the violence that was so prevalent within rap music at the time, especially gangsta rap, but to address the issue of black on black violence. That violence touched the founder of this movement personally. Boogie Down Productions originally started out as a duo, DJ Scott La Rock and Krs-One. When Scott La Rock was killed needlessly in a shooting, Krs-One continued to perform and release music to honour and respect his fallen friend. Unfortunately, violence even followed him on tour, In 1988, a fight broke out in the crowd at one of his concerts leaving a young fan dead.
Krs-One organized the Stop the Violence Movement and released the single, music video, and a behind the scenes videocassette of the project as well. All of the proceeds from the sales went to National Urban League, a civil rights organization based in New York that had been advocating for Black youth since 1910.
Krs-One gathered 55 artists together in 2008 to create an updated version of the song, this time calling it “Self Construction.” He also produced ‘Self Destruction 2009” to help bring his message to a younger generation who might not even have been aware of the original version some twenty years earlier.
Rap music often gets blamed for the violence in society and in poor black communities in particular. Of course, rap music often just reflects the harsh realities in these communities and a whole subgenre of this music was born out of the popularity of this theme in the music.
Gangta rap was quite popular in the late 1980s. We had solo artists like Ice T and groups like NWA making a lot of noise on the West Coast and while their music was often violent, these artists realized the power they had to the youth. Not to be outdone by the Stop The Violence Movement that Krs-One had organized on the East Coast, a group of like-minded artists formed the West Coast Rap All-Stars in 1990.
This song is “We’re All in the Same Gang” by the West Coast Rap All-Stars. This is Hip-hop United for a Cause, a special edition of Know Your History and we’ll be back to look at this song and much more.
That was the West Coast Rap All-Stars and a track that came out in 1990 featuring; King Tee, Body & Soul, Def Jef, Michel’le, Tone Loc, Above the Law, Ice T, NWA, JJ Fad, Young MC, Digital Underground, Oaktown’s 357, and MC Hammer. The song was called “We’re All in the Same Gang” and really hearkens back to the “We are the World” track I mentioned at the start of the show. Both tracks have a great message of unity that seems to get lost nowadays.
Of course, having such a clear message can make listeners tune out. They don’t want to feel like they are being preached too. NWA seemed concerned about that with the lyrics in that song too. Dr. Dre and MC Ren rapped, “NWA never preachin / just teachin / the knowledge of the streets to each and / all that don’t understand, that’s why we came / To let you know that we’re all in the same gang.”
Two years after this track was released we had Kid Capri, Big Daddy Kane, Freddy Fox, LL Cool J, Harmony, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, KRS-One, Ms. Melodie, and Run-DMC coming together to heal. H.E.A.L. Human Education Against Lies is a not for profit corporation and its motto is, “Before you are a race, a religion, or an occupation you are a Human. HEAL YOURSELF!”
I love how that track tells us that we don’t need to believe everything we are told. It lets us know we can think for ourselves and use some common sense. That was “Heal Yourself” by Human Education Against Lies. A lot of knowledge being dropped on that track. Rappers using their voices to reach their fans in a positive light.
That was the lead single from the album “Civilization vs Technology” that was released in 1991. It was a star-studded album featuring 13 tracks with some unlikely pairings. For example, Krs-one got together with Michael Stipe of REM for a track. There are also two other large posse cuts on the album that feature Salt ‘N’ Pepa, Kool Moe Dee, Grand Daddy I.U., Ziggy Marley, Doug E. Fresh, and Red Alert, among others.
I remember buying this album on cassette tape back in the day. One of my favourite lines on the project is from Queen Latifah. She says, “Dana was never taught her life was worth something.” That’s such a shame that some of our youth don’t get that message that they are important. She then continues, “But when people don’t try to improve it makes me want to hurt something.”
Queen Latifah is such an inspiration. She has written some great books that I highly recommend young women to read. In fact, we can all learn something from her words whether from her albums or her books.
Music is all about entertaining people but that doesn’t mean that it can’t educate at the same time. I know that a lot of what we have talked about has centred around or featured Krs-One today. It’s no coincidence that he is known as “the teacher.” One of my favourite albums he ever put out was even called “Edutainment” to show how entertainment and education can come together.
This is Hip-Hop United for a Cause, a special edition of Know Your History and we’re just about out of time. It’s a shame that this program is only half an hour because I could easily fill up an hour. In fact, I think I might do just that. Next episode, I will continue with this theme so I can play all of the tracks I’d hoped I’d be able to squeeze into today’s show.
As a culture, hip-hop often addresses the problems we face in our daily lives in a real and honest way. Sometimes it is through story telling, sometimes it is just a quick reference to things we have seen or experienced. A lot of the times, the artists don’t beat you over the head with the message either.
I’m slowly running out of time here. I’d like to talk about “One Four Love” from the “Hip-Hop For Respect” project that addressed the problem of police brutality with an entire album on Rawkus Records where ever artist donated their time to the project. That came out in 1999. There were several songs and concerts in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina including one from Warren G, Ice Cube, B-Real, and Snoop Dogg, a remix of “Get U Down” in 2005.
We also had K’naan bringing together Young Artists for Haiti for a special recreation of his song “Waving Flag.” I really love that version of the song and how so many voices from so many different genres of music come together for relief efforts in the aftermath of that devastating earthquake. That version of the song even won a Juno for “Single of the Year” in 2011. I wish I could play all three of these songs for you and discuss them in detail. They just go to show how rappers can come together musically to call attention to some very important issues while raising much needed money at the same time.
And of course, hip-hop is worldwide. I was planning on closing out today’s show with the track, the English translation of which is, “The Conspiracy for Peace.” The song features two dozen rap artists from Columbia and this supergroup is a “union of forces, minds, souls and hearts that revolve around music, letters, words, powers, and passions, to conspire around a common goal, a dream, a longing, a desire, a need, a right, for the PEACE.” I took that right off of their website, although I had to use Google translate to read it.
You might not understand the words of the song but you can hear how so many different rappers have come together in unity to create a message of peace. It really is beautiful what hip-hop can do. Unfortunately, we are out of time and I can’t play that song for you right now. I can highlight one of the lyrics, however.
“This is the conspiracy / Rappers united in one mission that is the conspiracy / The proposal of hip hop / Nationwide honesty and respect for peace in concrete / All rappers together on the street”
That’s what it is all about right there. Rappers coming together in a community to affect real change, whether it is financially through the use of charity singles and fundraising concerts, or through the power of the message in the music. Hip-Hop has power. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Hip-hop has the power to unite listeners, artists, and communities.
You’ve been listening to Know Your History on DOPEfm and The Word is Bond. I hope you’ve enjoyed the show. Go to DOPEfm.ca, The Word is Bond.com, and Chase March.com and let us know what you think of our programming. I’ll see you next week here on the podcast and next month for Part 2 of “Hip-Hop United for a Cause.” This is Chase March signing off, saying, “You Better Know Your History.”