The idealists and sociologists of Hip Hop
The depth of Hip Hop in various disciplines having been previously demonstrated, let’s focus on what can be studied. Personally, I like to think that anything can be interesting and therefore studied, and that it all depends on the angle with which it is approached. However, for a young audience, Gangsta rap is probably not the most suitable, although this can be debated. The idea is rather to focus on the artists that could present themselves as teachers for the younger generations, but also that the older ones can learn from and be inspired by artistically, socially or culturally.
If there is one artist who stands as a teacher, it is KRS-One, hence his nickname The Teacha. Although his lyrics are very politically and socially engaged, KRS-One advocates knowledge and education, especially to the younger generation. KRS-One encourages awareness of the importance of culture and education in order to rise up and understand the socio-political mechanisms. His commitment goes far beyond his musical works, The Teacha is actually a professor and has given lectures in major American universities such as Harvard, Yale or Stanford. He is also socially committed with his association Human Education Against Lies, which aims to give access to knowledge and education to disadvantaged populations by distributing books and records.
Among his most didactic works, we can quote Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip Hop, Edutainment and Sex and Violence, which he produced with Boogie Down Productions. KRS-One definitely represents this paternalistic and educational figure to the youth.
As a pioneer of conscious rap with his group Public Enemy, Chuck D is one of the most politically and socially engaged rappers. With his lyrics, Chuck raises the political and social consciousness in Hip Hop at a time when rap was more focused on entertainment. Standing up as an activist for underprivileged communities, Chuck D is actively involved in freedom, equality and the defense of human rights. In Hip Hop, Chuck D creates an image of himself as a spokesman for the oppressed of the government, and sometimes with considerable weight. For example, the Public Enemy song, By the Time I Get to Arizona, denounced the refusal of the governor and the residents to make Martin Luther King’s death a holiday. Following the boycotts of the companies, the governor will finally give in.
Outside of rap, Chuck D is also an author with two books to his credit and an activist with reflections on the music industry, politics and racism. He also fights against the dangers of drugs and a drug-free America by getting involved with the Drug Free America Foundation.
Even if Chuck D’s commitment is very political, he remains a defender of underprivileged youth and communities, and has contributed to raise awareness in Hip Hop. In this sense, he can be considered a teacher for all.
We remember 2pac for his Gangsta side during his Death Row period. But with these first two albums, 2pac had a very social message with a will of gathering and unity of the disadvantaged minorities. Although his lyrics were very raw and vulgar, 2pac was very politically engaged and advocated egalitarianism, freedom, hope, compassion and knowledge. He was also involved in the defense of women’s rights with iconic songs like Keep Ya Head Up or Brenda’s Got Baby.
2pac is probably one of rap’s greatest activists for black American causes, which he inherited from his mother Afeny Shakur, a member of the Black Panther activist group, a revolutionary African-American liberation movement. Although 2pac was never a member of these types of movement, his message is inspired by it. His ability to communicate and rally crowds has given him unprecedented media exposure, which is highly disruptive to political institutions.
As a great reader and sage of Hip Hop, 2pac was inspired by great thinkers such as Nicholas Machiavelli, Sun Tzu, Mikhail Bakunin, and even other writer-poets like Shakespeare. In addition to his socio-political message, 2pac is a true poet capable of communicating his emotions with great melancholy. With his commitment and success, 2pac is a real cultural icon.
Common est un autre rappeur connu pour ses messages politico-social et sur la défense des droits des afro-
Common is another rapper known for his political/social messages and his defense for African-American rights. Common has a more pacifist and scholarly approach to writing than typically in Hip Hop. In this sense, he is a true role model as his claims are far less aggressive and virulent than his Hip Hop counterparts, though still highly committed.
Common embodies this concern and social responsibility with a generally very Afrocentric content. The cover of his album Like Water For Chocolate, which features a black woman drinking from a “Colored Only” fountain, is a good example. Common advocates for human rights and the importance of family values, tracks like Time Travelin or Stolen Moment show it.
In his pacifist approach, Common defends the noble values of Hip Hop of unity and communitarianism. He is against Gangsta rap which, according to him, distorts the true fundamental will of Hip Hop, he expresses it with a beautiful allegory on I Used To Love H.E.R.. In addition to his social message, Common is a wise writer with the use of figures of speech and ingenious rhymes, allowing him to shine and stand as a master in the field.
Native from Compton, Kendrick grew up in a complicated city plagued by violence and gangs. Although he loves his hometown dearly, Kendrick is aware that this city is corrupting him. His refuge will be family values, which he advocates and which allow him to hold on to the temptations of the street.
Kendrick is a role model for the younger generation because of his thoughts on family values and the dangers of falling into delinquency in underprivileged areas. He encourages young people to turn to knowledge and unity instead of falling into the easy path of delinquency. In addition to his message, Kendrick is an excellent storyteller, allowing people to identify with his stories and bringing a form of drama.
With his political/social and Afrocentric message and his abstract lyrics, Q-Tip is a philosopher of Hip Hop, making him one of the greatest writers of Hip Hop with very relevant societal and existential thoughts. His reflections are ultimately very varied ranging from social and romantic relationships, consumer society with a slightly bohemian philosophy always full of positivity.
Q-Tip is also a word genius with ingenious wordplay and clever figures of speech. Some of his songs are even simply dedicated to the love of rhyme. Q-Tip is both a poet and a philosopher, probably the greatest philosopher Hip Hop has ever known.
It is undeniable that GZA is a great lyricist and a master in the lyric technique. In this sense, he could have appeared in part 3 of this article which will be more dedicated to this category. His lyrical skill is unprecedented, able to use sharp metaphors and a very rich vocabulary. He is known to be one of the rappers with the most researched and learned vocabulary.
However, GZA is also a great spiritual and philosophical teacher. He tends to focus on a scientific rap with many references to both science, mathematics and philosophy, while philosophizing himself. Outside of his lyrics, he promotes and educates young American high school students about science through his organization Science Genius. As a science enthusiast, he has lectured at major universities such as Harvard and MIT. In addition to his lyrical ability, GZA is a great promoter of the importance of teachers and education to young people.
Mos Def & Talib Kweli
Mos Def and Talib Kweli will contribute to refocus Hip Hop towards something more politically and socially conscious alongside other artists like The Roots or Common, from the Soulquarians collective. Inspired by the Natives Tongues movement, the two New York rappers will revive Afro-centric Hip Hop in the late 90s. The duo promotes and encourages stronger bonds of solidarity between all ethnic groups of African descent.
Like their predecessors in the Native Tongues, they have both a social and philosophical approach to the problems of the modern world, racism, neighborhood life, consumerism, etc. Outside of Hip Hop, they are also committed to the fight against police violence, but also to the responsibility and education of youth in disadvantaged communities.
The rest of the Hip Hop teachers in part 3 of the article.