Rap Used to Have a Conscience

When Rap Music Had a Conscience: The Artists, Organizations and Historic Events That Inspired and Influenced the “Golden Age” of Hip-Hop from 1987 to 1996 by Tayannah Lee McQuillar.

Brother J of X-Clan writes the forward to this book that explores what is often referred to the Golden Age of Rap. Of course, the artform has had several different ages. It can even be argued that there were two distinct golden ages.

Here are a few of my favourite passages from this book regarding Ice Cube . . .

“It was a total shock when Cube jumped on the conscious rap bandwagon with an album called Death Certificate. After all, this was the man who practically invented the celebration of thuggery most commonly known as gangsta rap. What happened? Did he have a religious conversion? Did he have an Ebenezer Scrooge-lie experience wherein three ghosts showed up to point out the error of his ways”

I disagree with this statement. Ice Cube was always a conscious rapper. he was trying to let people know about the harsh realities of the hood. Gangsta Rap was his medium to do so. Police Brutality came to light for a lot of people because of what he did with NWA. I, for one, had no idea that this was a problem or that I had benefited from white privilege my entire life.

Death Certificate was part of his growth process and helped him get even more messages across. As McQuillar writes, “Death Certificate is one of the rawest examples of just how hard-core political rap could become.”

She then goes on to analyze some of the songs from that iconic album.

“A Bird in the Hand” tells the tale of a young Black man’s struggle to survive by working low-paying jobs that don’t provide enough money to take care of his family. He speaks bitterly about the lack of resources available to him. The song disses the Bush administration (George H.W. Bush) for not providing equal opportunities or programs to improve his life circumstances.

“Stay True to the Game” is a song about African American sellouts who imitate whites and do anything to separate themselves from other Black people.

“Look Who’s Burning” is a cautionary tale aimed at promiscuous men who don’t wear condoms and end up contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

It was good for Black boys who once emulated Ice Cube’s gangsta stance to see him turn around and behave more responsibly.

One again I have to disagree with the author. I wonder how she feels about his film career. Is that beneficial for the youth as well. And wasn’t NWA as well, to a point?

I think Ice Cube is an incredible artist and one of the best to ever do it. This small examination of one of his albums is inspiring me to dig deeper. I see an Ice Cube tribute show coming up soon for Word is Bond Rap Radio. It’s beyond time I pay tribute to one of hip-hop’s greatest.

I disagreed with the author several times over the course of this book. But it is important to look at the good that this genre of music can do. I prefer my hip-hop to be conscious. We need artists who have messages and actually say something in their music.

My List of 2018 Reads – from hip-hop to fiction, some great titles here.