Know Your History: Episode 11 – Political Rap

Some people think hip-hop is totally devoid of a message. Granted, there are songs that are meant to be fun and pointless, but you will find this in any genre of music. Likewise, you will also find plenty of songs that carry a deep message to them, no matter what genre of music you listen to.

In this episode of Know Your History, we will explore the sub-genre of hip-hop known as political rap.

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When we think of political music in hip-hop, often the first thing that comes to mind is “The Message” by Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five. Since I’ve already played that song in a previous episode, I won’t play it again.
In the late 1980s, there seemed to be a new emphasis in the lyrical content of rap songs. The artists started to talk about real life issues.
I want to start off with the most political rap group of all time. Their lyrics brought awareness to police brutality, cultural awareness, racism, unity, and many other issues. Of course, we are talking about Public Enemy. Let’s hear from them right now.
That was “Fight the Power” from Public Enemy. It was off the third album, and arguably their best, Fear of a Black Planet. 
Public Enemy formed in 1982 with two emcees, Chuck D and Flavor Flav, although Flav was more of a hype man than an emcee. He did ad-libs and back-up vocals and then progress into doing some of his own songs, quite a few of those were politically charged as well. “911 is a Joke” is another song I considered playing for this show but since we only have half an hour and I have a lot to cover today.
In the future, I plan on dedicating an entire show to Public Enemy because they are one of the top bands of all times. They brought so much awareness and influence to everything that came after them. Their importance in hip-hop, and music in general, cannot be overstated.
Public Enemy have political charged messages in pretty much all of their songs. In the one we just heard, they are telling us to fight the power. They are talking about freedom of speech and how important that is.
In his lyrics, Chuck D says, “What we need is awareness. We can’t get careless . . . Mental self-defensive fitness.” That’s a really interesting line. He is saying that we need to be strong mentally. I remember seeing an interview with him once where he talked about how strong and fast black athletes are physically. He is encouraging us to be strong mentally as well (and when I say “us,” I mean those of us in hip-hop culture and not necessarily black.) 
Chuck D once referred to rap as ”the black people’s CNN.” CNN is the Cable News Network. Chuck D meant that hip-hop, at its very root, can be used to deliver messages and educate the youth to issues that really matter to the black community. Quite frankly, CNN didn’t cover that side of the news.
In the song, Chuck D mentions how Elvis is a hero to most and how he appears on stamps, while in contrast to that none of his heroes are on stamps or celebrated the same way.
Where were the images that black people could look up to? Where was the voice of the young black man?
It wasn’t on CNN or other channels on the television.
Rap music is what brought this whole culture’s voice to the mainstream audience. In the 1980s rap exploded in popularity and people started to hear these messages for the first time. Thanks to groundbreaking groups such as Public Enemy.
Come back on Monday as we continue this topic and look at groups like NWA and Boogie Down Productions. Don’t forget that you can download the entire show for free right now so you don’t have to wait for Part 2 of this transcript tomorrow.
Your comments are welcome as well as any requests for ideas or topics you’d like to hear on the show.

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