Children growing up in North America have access to many forms of education, such as: school, books, TV, the newspaper, magazines, family and friends.
The formal school system during the 1980’s offered little to no
education about Black History or a perspective that was relatable to a young,
black youth. However, there was a tool
that many educators, parents and other leaders overlooked that provided a limitless
amount of knowledge, black history related, and otherwise. That tool was HIP
While it is argued that hip hop had a negative impact on the development
of the youth it actually had an immense capability to educate and uplift. It is hip hop that educated a large number of
black youth and gave them a sense of relevance and a relatable culture in a
world structured to keep them down.
During the “golden age” of hip hop, the internet didn’t exist, nor was
hip hop played on commercial radio. In
order to hear a song/album from your favourite artist, you would have to wait
for it to be released on one of the 52 Tuesdays in the year.
Another alternative to gain access to hip hop would be to listen to one
of the few college radio shows that existed in Toronto (The Fantastic Voyage/ Power
Move Show or The Masterplan Show, for example). This limited access heightened
the experience and made hearing a new record and talking about it more special.
Songs were perceived as more personal and listeners internalized the
messages. Although some songs had gang,
criminal, or violent connotations, the message wasn’t to follow in these
footsteps. The messages were grounded in
consciousness, a perspective expressing the struggle of young black youth in
Hip hop writing during this time was often political and had the ability
to educate listeners about information not taught in school books. Stetasonic (A.F.R.I.C.A. and Hip Hop against
Apartheid) spoke about Apartheid and the oppression of the black majority in
South Africa. They brought to light
Nelson Mandela and the “Free Mandela” campaign.
The teacher, KRS-ONE talked about black inventors who are not taught in
school (“You Must Learn”). Public Enemy
(“Fight the Power” and “Burn Hollywood Burn”) preached that Black History
didn’t start with slavery. They outlined
how black people were (and still are) Kings and Queens in Africa and other
parts of the world.
X-Clan rapped about the continent of Africa and the concept of freedom
or death. In the song “Illegal Business,” KRS-ONE rapped about how major
corporations commit crimes everyday by selling drugs (coffee, prescriptions,
pop/soda, cigarettes) and pushing products they know are not good for humans,
all to make money. The song also highlighted the role that the government
played in the importation of drugs into the United States (i.e. the Iran Contra
What is legal versus Illegal is simply based on who benefits monetarily
from the labels put on products, was a message taken from KRS ONE. This content
and different perspective of the world was what hip hop was about.
Racism and the systemic process of keeping the black race down was also
a prominent topic in hip hop music.
A group of east coast emcees famously rapped about the ills of “Self
Destruction”. N.W.A. song (“F*** the
Police”) rapped about police brutality, corruption and racism which targeted
young black males.
Ice-T spoke about the effect of drugs and gang violence on young black
males. Ice Cube (“AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted”) outlined how the
mass media’s covert negative portrayal of young black males seeps into the
In the song “Sound of the Police,” KRS_ONE provided insight into the
negative role of the police force in the hood.
His song “Why is that” discussed how the education system played an
important role in the systemic racism that prevails in society and how the
machine tries to erase all the good and highlight all the negativity in the
Tupac Shakur (“Trapped”), Gangstarr (“Just to Get a Rep”) and D Nice
(“25 to Life”) all described the pitfalls of living the street life and the
most likely outcome of a young black male was death or jail. Although often it was a depiction of the
present state of black youth, emcees also ensured they expressed how to combat
LL Cool J talked about the “The Power of God” and Big Daddy Kane
reminded us that “Children are the Future”. Big Daddy Kane also preached about
the importance of education (“Lean on Me”) and Kool G Rap expressed how
important it was to “Erase Racism.”
With the state of hip hop music in 2014 it would be hard to imagine that
hip hop was an instrument providing information about social commentary, racism
and race relations, politics and government.
Unfortunately, there is only one type of music being pushed to the
masses and most (not all) lacks any substance.
The ills of society back in 1980 still exist today but instead of hip
hop bringing these to light, one can say that hip hop has become a negative
reinforcement, keeping young black youth from achieving a better life.
Beyond urban literature and film, hip hop music is one of the most
powerful forces in the world. It is up
to the individual to decide if they will let music influence them in a positive
or negative manner.
Hip hop should return to the roots that made it so successful. Every contemporary hip hop artist should be
required to listen to songs from the past that enable hip hop to be the force
that it is now. Hip Hop is a culture and there should be required “listening”
just as other professions have required readings, certificates, diplomas, and
With this urban education, hip hop will hopefully return to when it was (to
quote Keith Murray) “the most
beautifulest thing in the world.”
Please check out the
KRS-ONE movie on HIP HOP, “40 Years of Hip Hop.”
GENERAL is a hip hop artist, performer and
motivational speaker. He has performed in front of thousands of people
and shared the stage with notable artists including Rita Marley, Wayne Wonder,
Jadakiss, Joe Buddens, Royce 5'9, D12 and more. His music is available on
iTunes and his videos can be seen on YouTube. Contact General at: firstname.lastname@example.org