Politics in Hip Hop: Does it Make A Difference?
Sally Denning explores the significance of politics in hip hop songs.
Politics in hip hop songs has come far since the release of one of the first political songs ‘The Message’ by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five in the 1980s. ‘The Message’ is a song about poverty in 1970s New York, containing the infamous lyric “don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge”, a song that highlights capitalism, a song including references such as Sugar Ray, TVs and drug dealing. Now we have an array of artists that use their artistry as a platform for what they believe – like Eminem’s freestyle for the BET Hip Hop Awards where he openly aired his views on Donald Trump and the American government. Critics and members of the public acclaimed the freestyle, and Trump has yet to comment on it.
However, this is not the first time that hip hop artists have criticised political figures, racial tensions and the federal system in America. In the late 1980s the hip hop group Public Enemy released their album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. The album contains much criticism towards white supremacy and the music industry. Although It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back touches on controversial subjects, it was met with acclaim by music critics, and is still one of the top hip hop albums to this day. However, it was also the late 1980s that saw the explosion of N.W.A, coming from Compton, LA. N.W.A’s first album Straight Outta Compton contains many references to police brutality and gang violence in LA. One song on Straight Outta Compton called ‘Fuck the Police’, a protest song about policing in the Compton area and treatment of African American residents, sparked a reaction from the US government and a letter by the FBI was sent to the record label. The letter referenced police officers that have been killed in the line of duty and they believed that the song gave the LAPD a bad reputation which could cause more police killings. Albums like Straight Outta Compton and It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back became the window for people in other countries to see what was going on in America.
But does hip hop have a big impact on politics? If we fast forward to this year, Brit Awards rapper Dave was initially meant to perform the song ‘Black’ from his album Psychodrama. However, Dave changed the lyrics where he called out Boris Johnson for being “a real racist,” like how Stormzy, the year before, criticised Theresa May about the handling of the Grenfell victims. While nothing changed in regards to policies; it did spark a reaction from the home secretary Priti Patel accusing Dave of making a generalising comment about Boris Johnson without knowing him.
Although politics in hip hop has been criticised as merely attention seeking and using certain situations to their advantage to exploit, there is no denying that politics in hip hop is needed in this current world.
In the UK, hip hop is changing. Critics have said that current rappers such as Dave and Stormzy come from an era of the disappointing education system due to cut-backs, Grenfell and the Windrush Scandal. Although politics in hip hop has been criticised as merely attention seeking and using certain situations to their advantage to exploit, there is no denying that politics in hip hop is needed in this current world. The ever-evolving hip hop has changed what was an eye opening view of gang culture and police brutality in LA, and poverty in New York has now become a platform for many other artists to share their opinions on the current political climate. While no song for sure has helped change a law, what politics in hip hop has given us is a voice to the people.