By Mackenzie Cummings-Grady, popdust.com
As the 2020 election comes to an explosive finale, it's become increasingly clear that politics influence and infiltrate everything we do.
Some artists have always understood this and expressed their political beliefs through their music, especially rappers. Hip-Hop in and of itself is a political movement, and as the genre has become the world's most popular, there remains a divide between artists who have abused the platform for clout and attention *cough Lil Pump cough* and those who have used it to promote the ideals the genre has always stood for. Here are rap's most political creative forces and their most starkly political anthems.
"White America" by Eminem Eminem's mere existence has always been political, and controversies have inevitably followed him as a result. He is undoubtedly a misogynist, and his political anecdotes have become tone-deaf and problematic in recent years, but for a brief moment in 2002, Slim Shady struck the perfect balance on "White America."
After skyrocketing to fame in 2000 thanks to The Slim Shady EP, a monsoon of controversy followed Eminem to the top of the charts. A year later, the EP and Eminem's grotesque lyrics were the subject of a congressional hearing that was called to examine the entertainment industry's marketing practices.
Eminem's "White America" offers thoughtful commentary on all of this drama and his intentionally crude lyrics and, in turn, examines his white privilege in light of his explosive stardom.
"Let's do the math: If I was Black, I would have sold half," he raps over steady drums and the pluck of an electric guitar. He attributes his fame to "suburban kids" playing his music and assets that he merely connected with the white population because of his skin color, which is undeniably true. "Impeach the President" by Immortal Technique The legendary NYC emcee is one of Hip-Hop's most political figures. He emerged as an outspoken rapper in the late '90s and has addressed race, poverty, religion, and climate change throughout his career. But his most direct political critique came in the form of 2007's "Impeach the President," a direct attack aimed at President George W. Bush. Joined by his equally-political counterparts Saigon and Dead Prez, Each emcee takes turns speaking their mind over a slick '90s instrumental by Just Blaze.
While the subject matter is heavy, the song's hook opens up into a bright anthemic chant that is bouncy and jubilant. "George Bush: the puppet king of the planet," Technique raps before dissecting America's cozy trading practices with Al-Qaeda, and Texas's practice of executing Black people via the death penalty.
"Mathematics" by Mos Def Mos Def has remained a powerful force in political Hip-Hop since his emergence in the 1990s. He brought to light the inhumane force-feeding practices used on Guantanamo Bay inmates by undergoing the procedure himself.
Over the years, Mos Def has participated in countless shows of activism, which include promoting art from marginalized groups, narrating documentaries about racism, and regularly speaking out about the danger of nuclear weapons on late-night TV. But activism aside, his music is equally political.
Using his signature wordplay and quippy flow on "Mathematics," Mos Def uses actual statistics to comment on the social disparities Black people face. He navigates crime rate statistics and comments on the minimum wage–which at the time was $5.15–and how the U.S. government spends over "69 billion on national defense. "Mathematics" is a technical achievement that requires multiple listens to grasp all of its greatness.
"The Proud" by Talib Kweli Another rapper whose entire career has remained deeply steeped in politics, Talib Kweli is what many call "a rapper's rapper," a profound culture-shifter whose lyrical prowess knows no bounds (and whose Black Star collaborations with Mos Def remain some of Hip-Hop's greatest gems).
While it's impossible to define his most political anthem, "The Proud" is a haunting dissection of the death penalty and of the irony that came with the execution of Timothy McVeigh. America felt a collective sigh of relief when McVeigh died, as he had come to epitomize evil, but Kweli points out that in reality America remained rank with evil figures. "August 4 2001, a drunken police officer mows down an entire family in Brooklyn," Kweli says plainly. "The judge lets him go with no bail; it reminds us of just how worthless our lives are to the justice system."
"The Proud" reminded everyone that evil remains rampant in America and that it's silly to think things are all better just because one man is dead.
"Ignorance Is Bliss" by Kendrick Lamar Deemed by popular culture as the savior of political Hip-Hop, Kendrick Lamar released "Alright," the beacon of hope that shined bright in the dismal year that was 2016. 2017's DAMN collectively mourned the Trump election, tore apart Fox News, and reflected on the inescapable human sin that perverts politics and popular culture.
Like Kweli, Lamar remains another rapper whose political influence is impossible to gauge just from one song. But on "Ignorance Is Bliss," the world was introduced to the impressive wordplay of Lamar as he spoke on the contradictions of gang lifestyle in a single breath. It was a decisive moment in Hip-Hop in which the soon-to-be-king announced his arrival.
"Bush Killa" by Paris Oscar Jackson Jr., AKA Paris, may not be a household name in political rap, but he was one of the subgenre's most controversial contributors for those familiar. 1992's "Bush Killa" he directly threatened the murder of then-president George W. Bush in graphic detail.
"Cause all I wanna see is his m*********ing brains hanging," Paris spits. He details multiple scenarios that he's constructed in his head about how he'd assassinate the president and didn't shy away from admitting that he'd enjoy it and be doing everybody a favor. "Trumpets sound when I push the program, and set my sight on a serpent man, swinging the sword of the righteous," he says.
"Police State" by Dead Prez Known for their confrontational swagger and blunt criticism of the music industry, Dead Prez have made some of the greatest protest songs of all time. Their crowning achievement comes in the form of "Police State," a direct attack on the NYPD, and passionate support of the Pan-African movement and social justice reform.
The song talks about how the FBI regularly surveils communities of color and how a corrupt justice system all but assures that "an average Black male" will "live a third of his life in jail." The song's call-to-action is blood-pumping enough to inspire anyone to "throw a Molotov cocktail at the precinct."
"Words I Never Said" by Lupe Fiasco The controversial "Kick Push" emcee nearly soiled his reputation after repeatedly criticizing Obama, at one point calling the former-president "the biggest terrorist." His songs have traversed Obama's policies and his inability to act in certain situations, but his most direct political anthem came in the form of "Words I Never Said," which he played at Obama's second political inauguration.
While the performance was in poor taste, the track explored a variety of socioeconomic topics, including the war on terror and 9/11, but its best moment comes when Lupe instead looked inward:
"I think that all the silence is worse than all the violence, fear is such a weak emotion that's why I despise it. We scared of almost everything, afraid to even tell the truth. So scared of what you think of me, I'm scared of even telling you."
"Close Your Eyes (and Count to F*ck)" by RTJ One of the most profound political icons of our time, Run The Jewels Killer Mike has remained at the forefront of almost every political discussion of the last eight years. His activism needs no explanation, but musically "Close Your Eyes (and Count to F*ck)" serves as RTJ's most antagonistic track, the glitchy sampling and crushing bass are enough to inspire riotous energy.
The track's powerful commentary on police brutality and the prison system is aided by the single's fantastic music video, where a cop and Black man square off in broad daylight until the brink of exhaustion.
"Sound of da Police" by KRS-One Ask almost any of today's biggest rappers, and they'll probably cite the New York emcee KRS-One as a major influence. The self-proclaimed "teacha" of Hip-Hop, KRS-1 long viewed rap music as a platform to educate the masses on the injustices experienced by people of color. He was one of the first rappers to incorporate Jamaican styles, and while a few seedy comments on 9/11 briefly threw dirt on his name, he has still remained one of rap's most brilliant minds.
His songs comment on different socio economic issues, but "Sound of da Police" remains his untouchable masterpiece. He speaks on how cops regularly brutalize people of color for sheer entertainment and examine the dark history of policing in America all the way down to the phonetic similarity between "overseer" and "officer."
KRS-One does it all gracefully, bouncing along with madness in his eye: "My grandfather had to deal with the cops, my great-grandfather dealt with the cops...And then my great, great, great, great–when's it gonna stop?!" he cries out in desperate anger.
"Fight The Power" by Public Enemy Discussing political rap is impossible without mentioning the iconic work of Public Enemy, and while they have a plethora of hits attached to their moniker, no song truly captures the political ire of recent months more than "Fight the Power."
The track emerged as a simple call to action, and it has been regularly cited as one of the greatest songs of all time. The track's brash energy and blunt lyrics still hit hard in this time of political turmoil, and it remains clear that we still need to stand up and "fight the powers that be."