During the Golden Era in Hip Hop, Protest songs were not only quite common, but at times seemed to be the norm. Whether it was Public Enemy directly pointing out a number of inequalities at the time, or A Tribe Called Quest playfully talking about alternatives to what was going on around their neighborhoods, Protesting was all but expected. Times have changed, and the problems surrounding Hip Hop have as well. One of the most looming challenges facing Hip Hop today is one that has been plaguing the art form for a number of years. The problem is consistently speaking out against issues connected to Hip Hop artists and their listeners in a broader fashion. While it is consistently addressed by a much smaller number of artists such as Brother Ali, Immortal Technique, Talib Kweli and others it is ignored by the more popular, higher grossing artists who would clearly lose money by mentioning such topics. This needs to stop now.
Thankfully there are some artists who have gained the spotlight in the past number of years and have used their notoriety to discuss unjust incidents impacting American society at large. Our first example is Rebel Diaz, who were one of several groups to address the flawed incarceration and execution of Troy Davis:
Rebel Diaz has been involved in a number of causes ranging from immigrant rights and education to creating community programs that are designed to engage the youth and create opportunities for individuals seeking to find their voice and contribute their own messages. This is yet another example of artists feeling a responsibility to use their talents to address social problems in a way that speaks to a broader audience. Another artist that has built his career on this kind of foundation is Yasiin Bey, who most people may still know as Mos Def.
Mr. Dante Smith is known quite well for his music, whether it is his work with Talib Kweli in the famous group Black Star, his various collaborations with artists ranging from Mannie Fresh to The Gorillaz, or his own solo projects. One thing that Yasiin Bey (as he likes to be called these days) has done a lot of that many non-Hip Hop fans have paid attention to is speaking out on a variety of issues that are often hot button topics every few years. When the Trayvon Martin tragedy occurred, Smith was part of one of the most memorable videos concerning the incident, as seen below with Dead Prez:
His social commentaries may be one of the only deliveries that mass audiences have heard before and actually paid attention to, which Smith has known for some time and continues to use to his advantage when he wants to make a point. It’s refreshing to see an artist as popular and known as Smith continue to receive said attention when he decides to make a statement. Another artist that appears to be starting to go down this same route is a young man by the name of J. Cole.
J Cole has crafted a number of thoughtful tracks on his mixtapes and albums, and was also one of the first artists of the current generation of emcees to put as much work into a mixtape as most artists put into an album. From domestic issues inside the home to societal problems concerning race, Cole has not been someone who shies away from delving into his own history concerning aforementioned issues. He also decided to make a statement with the recent Mike Brown injustice with the following track:
This may be the rawest of the three tracks being discussed here, as you can hear a pain in Cole’s voice that makes the listener believe that he may have witnessed something in his own life quite similar to this (although to be fair, all of the artists mentioned above might have as well). This is another artist that gives hope to Hip Hop fans and music fans in general looking for tracks of substance that actually discuss events happening in our own towns and neighborhoods. That is what’s missing from a number of other artists.
Of course for many people, music is an escape that is supposed to make them happy and disconnect from their own worlds for a brief period of time. There’s nothing wrong with that at all; in fact, for Hip Hop itself that really is one half of the formula for this music when it first started gaining attention. What’s troublesome to this listener and a number of others is, the other side of the coin is purposely not seeing the light of day. Protesting what is going on around us is essential to making things better (albeit, it doesn’t necessarily change things overnight). One of the most engaging ways for many fans and artists to do so is through artistic endeavors such as music, and it is also one of the most impactful and effective ways to do so. That’s what needs to be remembered and practiced by artists who have, until this point, not made any effort to see both sides of the coin. It would create more change for those artists then they think.
That’s going to do it for this edition of Cypher Sessions, share your view on this topic below in the comments section and let us know how you feel. Until next time, we appreciate you, and thanks for reading.