An Important Sobering Article: The Decline Of The Conscious MC-Can It Be Stopped?

The Decline Of The Conscious MC: Can It Be Stopped?

by Cedric Muhammad

“This is the way of an artist
a purging, a catharsis
the emerging of a market
a genre on my own…”

– “Water Walker” by Djezuz Djonez

Cedric Muhammad

As many readers know I have been promising to write about what I have loosely described as the death or demise of the conscious MC. Last week, I received the final bit of inspiration I needed to pull the trigger – a thoughtful email from a regular and very careful reader who always makes great points, challenging me. Here is what I received in reaction to “Movement Music: From Coke Rap To Community Development” ( from “V W”:

“Do you really believe that some artists i.e. Rick Ross are truly thinking on that level of intellect? Are they really trying to start a movement? Or is it just a marketing tactic to sell more records and ringtones? You can say I am “profiling” but Ross just doesn’t come across as that type. If Jay Electronica or Lupe did a track like “B.M.F.” I’d be more inclined to think so. Even his “Free Mason” track with Jay-Z didn’t sit well with me. I’m waiting on an article about that (wink wink).”

Here is my response to “VW” which is a great place to start my critique of what is wrong with the current corps of ‘conscious MCs’:

“I believe your e-mail indirectly frames the challenge quite well – the balance between an artist’s personal intellect and a marketing strategy. ‘Movement’ potentially is a catch-all for both.

A street artist doesn’t have to have intellect to accept a righteous movement. And a conscious artist doesn’t necessarily understand how to market a righteous movement.

I wonder why the street artist is held to a standard of EFFECTIVENESS that the conscious artist is not.”
This is the first of five reasons why the American-based conscious MC of today continues to be irrelevant, while continuing to long for the golden era – (loosely identified as 1986-1992).

No Movement Energy (Conscious Artists Hustle The Struggle Too). In my response to ‘VW” I was responding to an important and common criticism of the more street-oriented mainstream rappers for shouting out crime figures and gang leaders and glorifying negative or destructive behavior. In their eyes, Rick Ross is the latest artist to ride this practice into commercial success. But what I have always felt is that conscious artists are hustling hard too. They shout out influential leaders and revolutionary icons like Che Guevara, Patrice Lumumba, Brother Malcolm X, Minister Farrakhan, and Fidel Castro; and cite Teachings, Lessons, and quote books for their personal commercial benefit. Yet, just as I don’t see street rappers doing much in the streets – even the minimum good that real gangsters have done; neither do I see conscious MCs doing the good works or taking the real-life stances of the icons they celebrate on wax (or mp3). With the exception of Dead Prez and Immortal Technique – and David Banner in a different sense –

I have felt no movement energy from any of the artists who have emerged over the last 10-12 years who were categorized or style themselves as ‘political’ or conscious. And certainly nothing like X-Clan, Public Enemy, KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane, Eric B. & Rakim and Poor Righteous Teachers whom I believe all realized it was as important to inspire and make people feel the urgency of the moment, as it was to just share information. My point to “VW” was that you don’t start movements just based upon an artist’s intellectual development. The vast majority of conscious artists don’t have movement energy – while many street artists do – because they (conscious artists) don’t respect marketing nor do they respect the laws that govern the human mind which revolve around the use of language, symbolism, and how efficient the brain and mind must be in categorizing and classifying information and concepts. And because people really don’t think until they are forced too (see Volume 3 of my book on ‘search behavior’) it is possible to get an ‘ignorant ass street rapper’ to lead a conscious movement, not based upon intellect in terms of the books he or she has read, but because it is an act of creative self-preservation. Remember, the movement energy was so strong in the 80s that even Eminem was rocking African medallions! You weren’t even relevant if you didn’t have some form of pan-African sensibility (or could fake it).

David Banner

So this is more about marketing and understanding mass psychology than it is about making superficial judgments on face value of an artist’s personal level of positivity and negativity. And when the ‘conscious’ artist and activist understands that, she or he will understand the authority and credibility that groups like the Black Panthers once enjoyed and which – on a lesser level – the ‘gang’ approaches today on the street. But finally it is important to accept the fact that most artists no matter what they talk about on a track find it hard to accept a real leadership profile. In fact I have never met a rapper who wanted to be a leader as much as they wanted to be an artist. Not one. The closest was David Banner who I arranged to meet with his Congressman – Bennie Thompson, for a high-powered discussion on community development in his hometown of Jackson and his state of Mississippi. A conscious artist can sincerely desire to be a leader of a movement but unless they surround themselves with individuals who also want that for them and not just great ‘celebrity art’ it will not happen. Lyrical content is not enough. An artist must want to serve the people more than rise the ladder of celebrity status.

The I Have To Be The Smartest Person In The Room Syndrome (Ideology Matters More Than Strategy). If there were one major criticism that I would make of 95% of all conscious artists it is that they make music only for themselves or people who already think like them, or agree with them. Preaching to the choir is one of the best ways to limit your appeal leading to what I call ‘demographic death’ (have you ever noticed how all of the conscious artists in the Northeast are in their 30s and 40s and have no following among teenagers? They could all learn something from the example of Wise Intelligent and his latest ‘Djezuz Djonez’ project: Another talented artist to watch is the always witty and on message Jasiri X

Why did 50 Cent as opposed to a conscious rapper team up with Robert Greene to write a book?

Too many conscious rappers allow their ‘book knowledge’ to overpower their street knowledge, natural grasp of wisdom and common sense. That is why conscious artists aren’t very strategic (even though they shout out and quote great revolutionary warriors), while the more mainstream artists can be (why didn’t a political activist-artist rather than 50 Cent write a book with Robert Greene?). They allow ideological purity to become more important than effectiveness and influence. In my book I write about the Ideologue – a person who is loyal to principle and sincere but who literally can’t think on their feet, make any kind of necessary compromise in negotiation, and who mistakes a change in language with a deviation in core principles of belief or ‘dumbing down.’ In addition we all have insecurities and I find that many of us use book knowledge as a way to keep people from seeing our own imperfections, flaws, and shortcomings. In a sense, ‘being smart’ is a shield that keeps some of us from ‘being real.’ It also is the only way some of us would get attention, admiration or respect, we mistakenly feel. If conscious artists would develop their personalities or let more of it show, their popularity would increase.

And here, again we run into a problem because it appears that the ‘conscious’ audience actually demands that you remain unpopular in order to be authentic. It is crazy – the less people that claim you, the more ‘real’ you are in the eyes of the supposed ‘alternative,’ ‘underground,’ artistic fan base. Many in the underground rap community write to me to tell me I have failed to mention a particular artist they like (but which very few people have heard of). Many of these artists have been around for years and their following has not grown beyond the underground circuit. What I realize more and more each year is that the ‘underground’ wants to be just that – not in the mainstream (and that is fine if they can accept that means their audience will not grow beyond a critical mass) and because of that any ‘conscious’ artist who seeks their constant approval has to accept the marketing limitations that come with the endorsement and association.

A lot of left leaning conscious emcees like to quote Karl Marx but have never actually read him which does a grave disservice to their cause

It’s All Political Now (Eff The Science of Business). This is something I have been building on for years – the influence that mistaken or limited interpretations of Karl Marx (and the terminology he popularized) have had in causing many progressives and socialists to confuse historic and natural economic, business and trade and commercial activity with ‘capitalism.’ My personal litmus test for this continues – out of all of the great communist influenced opinion leaders of our generation in Hip-Hop that I have met or built with not one of them has really read the Das Kapital or Capital book series of Karl Marx. I don’t blame them, it is thousands of pages worth of material and my engagement of Volumes I and III has taken place over months and years, not days and weeks. But I’m sorry, with all due respect to the sincere Leftist – reading the history of the Cuban revolution, watching independently-produced documentaries, listening to progressive talk shows, and having a basic acquaintance with the terminology of the Communist Manifesto is great but it does not automatically make you an economic historian or anthropologist capable of explaining every aspect of reality and human cooperation through the lens of socialism. Entrepreneurial activity and economic pioneering (which is actually what produced Hip-Hop) is rooted in universal order and natural law and has nothing to do with any ‘isms’ – capitalism or socialism. This confusion actually causes conscious artists to disrespect their natural ally – economic understanding which would inform their lyrics and business moves.

As many of you know I have written about this in a controversial piece called ‘The “Consciousness” Of Wu-Tang Clan, Suge Knight and Jay-Z”( Rallies, elections and protests are important, but they don’t substitute for an economic blueprint.

‘They’ Did It To Me (‘So What That I Have No Swagger Or Progressive Business Team …I’m Not Hot Because The ‘Industry’ Is Against Me’). This is the factor that hurts the most to write. But I must be honest. Most conscious artists because they lack a full economic consciousness and disrespect the science of marketing too often blame the corporate industry establishment for their own shortcomings. Don’t get me wrong I know the 10% is real (no one over the last decade has written more about the hidden hand and COINTELPRO-like activity in rap than me), and that there is a ceiling that exists for artists willing to speak certain truths and associate with certain truth-tellers and revolutionaries but anything that you are a reaction to, in fact, controls you. And many conscious artists are ‘controlled’ or limited by their fascination and resentment of the success of ‘mainstream’ corporate America-approved artists.

Take a look at what I wrote about the music industry’s power pyramid and ‘caste system’ ( where I explain that in certain ways conscious artists are unsuccessful not because anyone is stopping them but because their career planning betrays their lyrical content and they fail to build the kind of team infrastructure that will market them in a way that is in harmony and alignment with their marketplace brand-reputation-image as ‘political,’ ‘conscious,’ or ‘positive.’ It is the most backward thing to see so-called revolutionary artists who rail against the industry publicly trying to attract the kind of business team that the mainstream corporate-approved artist has. It is as if the conscious artist lives in a world that only exists in their head. They preach independence but won’t get a lawyer or business manager from outside of the music industry. They claim to have an ‘alternative’ image but won’t hire a publicist who does ‘non-industry’ things. They rap about Africa but have no real on the ground connection in Africa. The street and mainstream artist is partially more successful than the conscious one because their creative work; brand-image-reputation and team infrastructure are in better harmony and alignment.

They preach independence but won’t get a lawyer or business manager from outside of the music industry. They claim to have an ‘alternative’ image but won’t hire a publicist who does ‘non-industry’ things. They rap about Africa but have no real on the ground connection in Africa. The street and mainstream artist is partially more successful than the conscious one because their creative work; brand-image-reputation and team infrastructure are in better harmony and alignment.

Mos def

Made In America. (The U.S.-Based Conscious MC Lacks Music, Message or Model To Attract The World). On a musical level, of the major ‘conscious’ artists, Mos Def is the exception here. Keep your eyes on him as he continues to experiment with new sounds that will expand his appeal abroad. But for the most part, consciousness in rap, from a creative standpoint has become a religion that has not updated its sermons to be equal to the time. Its political message has not been updated. In other words, if I don’t live in America the conscious artist has very little to offer me that I can relate to. This reality is why the most interesting, progressive, radical and innovative political rap is coming from regions of the world outside of the U.S. – Central and South America, Palestine, and Africa – who claim to inherit the legacy of the conscious rap of America from the latter 80s and early 90s. And these artists aren’t just quoting political leaders like we do here – they are influencing them, even entire elections like in places like Senegal. In Palestine rap is resistance. And that’s the difference, much of the conscious rap here is non-threatening and really establishment-oriented, as much as it tries to act like it is not.

When American progressives hear an album like ‘Distant Relatives’ by Nas and Damian Marley they are ‘inspired’ and encouraged and brag about the album on an artistic level but it doesn’t inform or engage any existing movement that they or ‘conscious’ U.S.-based artists are at the vanguard of; while for those who are part of movements pertaining to real issues in Africa, like Brian Chitundu, the Interim National Youth Director, of The Citizens Democratic Party of Zambia [], ‘Distant Relatives’ is a soundtrack for the work they are already doing to change the political climate of a nation that Britain once colonized. In a sense the American-based political rap community is romanticizing over revolution more than they are doing revolutionary work. It is why I have said that I feel in fact America has colonized rap, and the rest of the world is now liberating it ( Here the disconnect between the intellectual and scholar whom the American conscious rapper claims and the struggle that the conscious rapper abroad (and even the street rapper based here) lives is apparent. One of my favorite readers from Africa (who also studies entrepreneurship and anthropology) – ‘Dalitso’ – made this point in relation to what I wrote last week regarding Rick Ross:

“One of my biggest critiques with alot of “Hip Hop intellectuals” is they don’t understand that the [street] artist’s message (which like you show in your article) is a [threat or] source of concern for larger America. Just the same way public intellectuals are the voice of “educated society,” artists are the voice for us – the wretched of the earth. There is a difference between an artist struggling to get out the environment and a scholar struggling to graduate. They both rep their alma mater when they ‘graduate’ but neither can understand the other until they suspend their beliefs and critical listening to the realities that they have each endured to become who they are without condescending attitudes, that’s why few artist can cross over or few “hip hop intellectuals” can be taken seriously – neither has a monopoly of truth. But when knowledge from both sides of the spectrum can be pooled together it creates multiple avenues of addressing an issue and most importantly like Jazz its movement music.”

My personal experience shows me that many more of the youth, street artists, gang members and artists from overseas are open to ‘listening to realities’ without ‘condescending attitudes,’ than the American-based ‘conscious’ artists and intellectuals who act like they know it all, and can be very close-minded. And largely because of that attitude and willingness to learn new languages, these other artists are becoming more and more relevant and influential.

My personal experience shows me that many more of the youth, street artists, gang members and artists from overseas are open to ‘listening to realities’ without ‘condescending attitudes,’ than the American-based ‘conscious’ artists and intellectuals who act like they know it all, and can be very close-minded. And largely because of that attitude and willingness to learn new languages, these other artists are becoming more and more relevant and influential.

My experience is that the ‘conscious’ rapper despite their inability to build a mass following, rather than introspectively asking ‘what can I learn and do in order to be more effective?‘ very often arrogantly looks down upon those who may have less information than them (in terms of academic education, political history, and current events) but who are much more effective at reaching the masses through symbolism, music quality, personality, and the creation of caricatures and charachters.

What matters now, in 2010, is not that you are ‘conscious,’ ‘progressive,’ or ‘political’ in terms of knowledge but that you are relevant with a personality that can transcend language, borders, creed, class and color. When progressives criticize President Barack Obama purely on political policy grounds and remain confused as to why he is so popular and appealing around the world, even though he is the American Emperor, it is because they don’t understand that he is reaching people with a personality and cultural identity that is universal and cosmopolitan. It is the same thing that made Muhammad Ali popular and claimed by the world, and what makes Minister Farrakhan a respected international leader. They authentically – through cultural kinship, religion, or careful use of language represent an identity broader than their current place of residence. If political and ‘conscious’ artists would suspend their knee-jerk ideological criticism of the President long enough (again, this is one of their hang-ups – ideology matters more than strategy), they would see that the Personality of Barack Hussein Obama is what the conscious artist needs, from a marketing standpoint.

As I wrote in “Barack Obama: Diasporic Personality, Cultural Entrepreneur, American Emperor” (

“He’s mobile, cosmopolitan, sophisticated and a risk-taker. He embraces change – both technological and demographic. He deftly moves in and out of different perspectives and civilizations, which by the way dovetails nicely with the Aloha Spirit (which he absorbed in Hawaii, where he did middle and high school). His socialization skills and ability to adapt to different cultures is uncanny. But this also makes him the ultimate challenge to rigid forms of identity (tribe, race, religion, ethnicity, political ideology, partisanship, and nationalism). He is foremost a universalist. He resists and pushes back any time he is pigeon-holed or stereotyped.”

Here again, Immortal Technique and Dead Prez stand out.

Immortal Technique

Immortal Technique – who is originally from Peru is as capable of building on the block in Harlem, as he is speaking at Saviours’ Day (which he did in 2008) as he is appearing on international channel Russia Today (giving an interview after the flotilla incident which brought Israel and Turkey at odds publicly: And peep how Immortal does so while rocking his official T-shirt and a Yankees hat! His brand-image-reputation are in alignment.

And who but M1 of Dead Prez could be at the center of something as powerful as the Ni Wakati project ( produced by the brilliant Michael Wanguhu that brought together rappers from East Africa and America for a real on-the-ground connection and collaboration? Although Dead Prez are socialist in political ideology, they respect something that I believe is even more powerful – cultural kinship. And I hope we will never forget the leadership and ‘creative risk’ Dead Prez took in doing a song with Jay-Z (the artist the conscious rap community may love to hate more than any other). I was one of the few willing to publicly praise them for ‘Hell Yeah’ (Pimp The System) remix ( and I still rock the hot ‘Revolutionary But Gangsta’ T-shirt in support.

It will be Diasporic personalities who are political but also marketable, like Queen Yonasda and Ana Tijoux, that will make it hot – in both the states and abroad this decade (

It is so sad to see, at times, how superficial the conscious rap community can be.
Their/our narrow-mindedness actually repels artists more than it attracts them or influences them to say and do better.

If the decline of the conscious-based MC in America is to be stopped it will begin not with blaming a platinum artist or ‘the system.’

It must start with an honest look in the mirror.

Cedric Muhammad is a business consultant, political strategist, and monetary economist. He’s a former GM of Wu-Tang Management and currently a Member of the African Union’s First Congress of African Economists. Cedric’s the Founder of the economic information service Africa PreBrief ( and author of ‘The Entrepreneurial Secret’ ( He can be contacted via e-mail at: cedric(at)

original story:

It’s NO LONGER Smart to be DUMB!

49 comments on “An Important Sobering Article: The Decline Of The Conscious MC-Can It Be Stopped?

  1. Worry about getting a positive message by doing what you think is neccessary, instead of wasting time with these articles. No disrespect, but it’s been obvious for the last 10 years that rappers don;t give a shit about a message. They don;t even care about their fans, just manipulating them into spending money on em. I myself point out all the bullshit to my nephew and little cousins and teach thhem positive things in life and not to look uo to these frauds. To answer your question, can it be stopped? Hell no. The billionaire record companies have already fixed that. They only market and promote foolishness to make the consumers more dumb so they ultimately enjoy dumb, sensless music. No disrespect to you and your article. I’m just saying lets do what we see fit instead of continusouly having this debate.

  2. this article is about ten years too late. besides stating the obvious, it’s also a little bit too self-referential for my taste. also it’s kind of a dry read, with predictable references to cointelpro, obama, etc., and a lot of blanket “they” statements. the one part i agree with is that international artists are more conscious, probably because they dont face the same sort of industry pressure as artists in the US. i dont think we can blame Talib Kweli if he wants sales like Jay-Z, we should blame ourselves for buying Jay’s album and not Kwa’s. peace.

  3. It maybe late for u or me Eric, but this thing has spawned close to 200 RTs alone with scores of responses via twitter..We’ve heard alot of this because we been around, but for many this is new and eye opening. For many others its an important reminder..It’s also important to note that the plight of consciousness in Hip Hop is still an on going topic..Not a week goes by where this discussion is not raised in some form or fashion.. It was one of the bigger panels at netroots soon to be aired on C-Span.. The ability to talk to the masses and influence them via Hip Hop or or any other ‘urban based medium’ will always be timely until we see the changes we are ultimately seeking..

  4. Real speech.. record companies are making billions in 2010.. also did you see this as a debate.. or pointing out a pattern that continuously pops up with those who feel like they need to be seen and heard..

  5. To me the term conscious rap or hip hop is limiting. Conscious rap vs mainstream rap is a false dichotomy that creates a narrow tribal mentality. Obviously the discussion is revelant because people are talking about, but for me there’s bigger fish to fry.

  6. Pingback: An Important Sobering Article: The Decline Of The Conscious MC-Can It Be Stopped? (via Davey D’s Hip Hop Corner-(The Blog)) « UpJumps The Blog

  7. A problem with the direction of conscious emcees is a central conundrum to post-modern epistemology and a crisis thats been in the making for a while: the message or ideology is lost or jumbled in translation through meta-layers of cosmopolitan identity. Okay, so it’s a very “esoteric” and overly academic argument… but hopefully I can break it down easier. A good example of this surprisingly is Dead Prez (whom I am critical of despite their accolades of being politically conscious).

    I remember being in the audience of a talk by M1 where he was on stage in very conservative Yoruban dress that to him likely represented his African-internationalist ideology (he said he eschews from using the term pan-Africanism) but unless you were familiar with Yoruban culture, would be unaware that it’s actually quite un-revolutionary attire. This made his points rather ironic, especially when he was espousing class/ethnic struggle and arguing about economic redistribution. But that wasn’t everything. At the back of the room was punching away on his Blackberry dressed like a Karmaloop advertisement while wearing Ray Bans and a diamond necklace. It was cliche, which I know there’s nothing fake about Dead Prez since M1 is certainly very active politically (his work with Viva Palestina and Ni Wakati project as examples) but they embrace both commercial and traditional forms of identity that are the antithesis of his politics, leading to a hybridized mixed-message where the ideology project across is quite confusing. But this underscores the crisis in identity I was talking about. Dead prez built their image on these guys wearing chucks, Dickies and a desolate working man’s attire with a Machiavellian street-survival message but since then have built a bricolage identity by blending commercial hip hop, traditional “African” iconography and whatever can still hold a mystique of gangsterist street cred.

    These aspects of their stage persona come together and frame their politics are something “token” or iconographic. It does the opposite of what the ideology espouses. Consider it akin to the problem of stamping out Che Guevara imagery all over and selling it on t-shirts, hats and coffee mugs. Sure it’s Che, but how revolutionary and how in line is it to be wearing a shirt of him likely manufactured by a sweatshop in Vietnam. Likewise the notion of “politically conscious” is too much of a stage persona as opposed to espoused and made into a lyrical pedagogy with the songs. A politically conscious emcee today can’t rely on that categorized label, because then all your selling is the identity rather than promoting the politics.

  8. Wow, I can’t beleive some of what’s in this article. Is this guy trying to retard progression? He seems to represent that mind thought (which plagues many of our school children) that being smart is not hip, cool, popular, etc., and that being “real” means being more street oriented. Millions of students face and/or give in to the pressures of “dumbing themselves down” (or setting the achievement bar low) for social acceptance everyday. I think he has things a little backwards. I actually find an overwhelming number of our youth trying to emulate the puffed up street oriented person to shield inscurities, hide imperfections, and gain attention or acceptance rather than using their book knowledge to do so.

    He critisizes this ‘being the smartest person in the room’ complex, yet he seems to epitomize this complex with his self references and writing style. Then there seems to be this miss-assumption that ‘conscious rappers’ and ‘underground rappers’ are one and the same. To me, he’s doing the same narrow-minded thing that many people do, who only hear one form of Hip Hop and judge the whole of it based on that one form. There are all types of underground and mainstream rap. All underground mc’s aren’t conscious, and all mainstream mc’s aren’t street oriented as this article would have one believe. So to pit the so called ‘conscious-underground’ mc aganist the so called ‘street oriented-mainstream’ mc is kind of pointless.

    In Hip Hop, as in many professions, there are those who follow the corporate standards and those that do it on their own. Both ways have their pros and cons depending on what a person wants, what they know, and what they’re prepared to do. An mc may be underground by choice, by circumstance, or by both. Either way, his chances for success or to form a movement don’t necesarily have anything to do with whether he’s undeground or mainstream. They have more to do with what his objectives are, and what he’s willing and/or able to do to accomplish them. He could be mainstream like Jay Z and climb the corporate ladder, or he could be underground like Tech N9ne and establish his own corporate ladder, or he could be conscious and underground like The Grouch and be happy with his global fanbase and control of his career. Either way, to get to the top is a grind that most won’t undertake.

    Often times when people speak of Hip Hop’s “Golden Era” they don’t speak much on the fact that during that time Hip Hop was largely considered “black” thing. So, the bed for the conscious aspect of it to shine was big. To me, once groups like NWA emerged, the economic potential of it was realized, and the consciousness was strategically turned into a passing fad.

    Many of today’s youth were raised without knowing or experiencing the struggles that their parents did. Many were raised in front of the t.v. So, what’s important to them is different than in their parents generation. As a result, that lessens the number potential conscious rappers. So if you want to talk about “preaching to the choir”, then maybe it’s the mainstream fans that don’t collectively demand consciousness that should be looked at. The mainstream artist is just going to give whatever is demanded.

  9. Jubiq.. i think me and u both know that its absolutely a big disconnect when you are not connecting with the people you claim to represent which is the point of the article. He didn’t say dumb it down.. he said connect with the hood..the very audience many claim to speak for but have absolutely no following within..b he pointed out many of the reasons for that, including the smartest guy in the room syndrome.. The smartest guy thing is acting and feeling like one is better bc they have some sort of degree or reached a societal thresh hold, that symbolisizes accomplishment, but at the same time are removed from the realities of the people..

    Reemeber conscious rap as he described is addressing the community..If I’m doing that the community better damn well know my name.. If not somethings wrong with me not the hood..

    lastly I would say much of what was written is not an absolute.. all of us have to answer for ourselves how effective and relevant are we..

  10. E-Scribblah, I feel you… Hip pop, I mean ish-hop, I mean hiphop has definitely been hijacked…

    But not Hip Hop, sun…

    “The vast majority of conscious artists don’t have movement energy – while many street artists do – ”

    True, indeed.

    It’s about balance…between movement energy and consciousness…but don’t 4get phat lyrics, dope beats and the street element…

    Who has a package like that nowadays…50 cent? Kanye? Rick Ross? Li’l Wayne? Mos Def? Talib? Eminem? T.I.?

    Some of ’em are more balanced than others, but a movement..? I dunno…

    Davey, Cedric, please check Pryme Minister at:

    Brutha got a conscious message about Christ plus his “Army of the Lord” for folkz in the streets, not the church.

    He is down with the gang non-violence movement in Hartford, CT. It’s called, “the Peace Builders”.

    Ex-drug dealer to present day minister for God…perfect balance…

    To read some of his story, check out:

    His album, “Language of the Timez” drops in Nov…check him out, please…we need some balance in Hiphop…

    Peace, fam’

  11. The most conscious thing about HipHop is the absurd display of overconfidence and cluelessness by the people who participate in it.

  12. The reason Rap groups like KRS One and PE were so influential was because they were pre-internet and they “gamed” the corporate media in an era when “those” voices weren’t able to cut through the noise any other way.

    But now with the internet there is really no purpose for “smart” rappers since anything you want to know that can be conveyed via media can be accessed from the internet. So by default, a rapper is really just an unnecessary person in the way, not a catalyst.

    If you want more “conscious” rappers the easiest way would be to study how to exploit the “mob” psychology and make money off it.

    That’s all any of the so called “conscious” or “political rappers” do anyway.

    Once you understand this you can wrap any political agenda you want in it. At that point it’s all the same.

  13. Yes Davey I agree with you. There should be a connection of some significance with the community. I didn’t miss his point. However, you stated it more directly. When I spoke of “dumbing down”, I was referring to him implying that we use our booksmarts to hide our shortcomings. When in fact, I see most of our community’s youth hiding behind the created media images thet they emulate.

    But yes, for the conscious mc, I agree that they will have to work harder to make that connction.

  14. I dont think he was saying hide your book smarts persay.. we’re talking abt Cedric who as you can see doesn’t hide his smarts when writing.. However, I do think he’s being very pointed in saying its not enough to know the lessons.. its important to know how to apply them.. Its like if me and u wanna talk to some cats on a corner about the prison industrial complex.. Sure we may know the whole story about george Jackson, political prisoners etc.. but how do we make that info relevant to a cat who is 20 abt events and people 40 yrs his senior.. Its like being on the computer all day and never experiencing life..

    I see how that can happen in media.. My reality is not always that of the people I speak to.. I have significant access and advantages.. I can bypass long lines, cut through beaucracy.. I can get a call back.. so its real easy to get on air and tell people to set up a meeting with their elected official when I have instant accesss while not realizing the avg person may have to wait for a couple of months and then only speak to an aid..

    The conscious rapper by definition has agreed to take on the task of raising awareness.. If such is the case then we have to step up in all those arenas ced laid out..

  15. Great, thought-provoking article. Thank you for consistently providing the hip hop community with this critical content… However, I think some more care could have been taken in finding some of the other, newer, up-and-coming artists who refuse to allow commercialization to impact their choice of topics in songs or their way of thinking. My artist, NYC-based emcee and activist AWKWORD, is one of those artists. His project World View is 100% for-charity, with all proceeds going to combat gun violence through the hip hop-inspired education and empowerment of our innercity youth. And his latest single is representative. Featuring fellow deep-thinkers C-Rayz Walz and Reks, the song, “Imperialism” was presented by 2dopeboyz and can be found here (use the mediafire link): … Thanks! And keep the quality coming!

  16. “anyone who believes in a savior is weak..” That’s from the new vinnie paz CD, I’m paraphrasing but you get my point. The idea that a person will come along and make everything right in the world is absurd at it’s base. The conscious rapper as described above in all his or her perfection has never existed and never will.

    There are conscious artists out there new ones and old like Wise Intel who are still doing it. The idea that they are failures or somehow not achieving their true potential because they don’t sell pop star numbers is a very flawed way to look at it. These people don’t work day jobs and travel the world on the regular. You can belittle that accomplishment if you want but from where I’m sitting, in a row of cubicles, they are all successful and relevant.

    Call me elitist but I prefer artists to challenge me. You get the artists you deserve as a culture. If you don’t want to invest any of your time or energy into understanding and growing from art then you will get cookie cutter bull shit rap all day and night. That’s where American’s are today and it’s a problem, as they say, bigger than hip hop.

    When I was a kid I read books because KRS or Wise Intel said to. I didn’t stop listening because they were smarter than me. An artist should represent an ideal to be strived for or at least to be admired. I reject the idea that it is the artist’s job to understand the people and speak the people’s language. It’s a downward spiral we’ve been on for too long. Artists try to sound like dumb ass kids while dumb ass kids act like the artists they see.

  17. I agree that the artist can’t be effective if he’s coming too much over the audience’s heads. However Davey, at the same time, if the objective is to RAISE awareness, you can’t LOWER the bar that much. There has to be a common ground of some sort. As B_lo Tim suggested, there should be something righteous put before the audience to strive for.

    I can try to be my teenage son’s friend in an effort to connect with him. But if I’m to be effective, I have to be his friend to a point while still upholding my overriding parental role. I can’t go too far with the friend thing and start doing things like drinkng and/or smoking with him if I ever want to lead him into manhood. I’d have to uphold the “father/man” image throughout the ‘friendship” (so-to-speak) so that even though we’d be connecting on a friendship level, he’d still be led to strive for manhood.

    That’s why I keep implying that holding the bar high should be part of the equation. I do understand the disconnection it helps to create though. But I don’t know enough about any of these artists’ personal lives to assume what they do/don’t study, how involved in the community they are/aren’t, etc. (except for some of those in my local area). So I ingest the lyrics, and try to see if and how they may manifest in my world.

    But you’re right. We’d get nowhere fast if we just came up and said “Hey, let’s talk about the prison industrial complex” ~_~ But seriously Davey, how do we hold the bar high and still make that connection? Does it start with the artist or the listener? It seems like the last conscious rapper to do it on a massive level was Tupac.

  18. I see my manager beat me here, so… apologies for that. A couple things that haven’t really been mentioned in this conversation are: (1) using metaphor to appeal to a larger audience WITHOUT losing message; and (2) using one’s popularity to educate/inspire via media other than song.

    (1) I started rapping after finally realizing that beating up bullies and racists wasn’t getting the job done. I was that 8-year-old kid who felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. I wanted to make change through music, so I filled my verses with direct political statements (e.g., “f*ck George Bush”). But the appeal of this type of music is limited, which I realized after a few glances at the business end. So I started to focus equally on message AND sound, style, meter, tone, etc. And my fan base grew, and my joints started to get picked up by the blogs (ex: — verse 1; use mediafire). And, based on the feedback I’ve been getting, I have been reaching more people with my — albeit subtle, implicit — message.

    (2) Many politically minded people nowadays use the blogosphere as their sounding board and/or personal journal — and emcees, such as myself, are not immune to the trend. Along with a couple other cool cats, I started the GetYourMindRight blog — and I am able to speak on important issues, with my music audience serving as the virtual street team in sharing my thoughts with others. And, from what I’ve heard, that means even those who wouldn’t otherwise “listen to some rapper.”

    If you got this far: Thanks for reading. I hope this did not come off as promotional in nature. I, for the first time in a while, had a moment to spare and thought it best to spend here, where I have been peeping important headlines for a while. Props to Davey. Props to Immortal Technique. Props to KRS-One.


  19. To Jubiq,

    Yes, you are absolutely right on all points.

    In my humble opinion, it is more difficult to raise children these days than ever before. It has never been a “walk in the park”, but nowadays, with the breakdown of the family unit and community, parents have to do everything on their own…who can you trust, these days?

    Add to that, the fact that children have so many negative influences competing for their attention on TV, the internet, etc., and it creates some unique challenges for parents and youngsters trying to do the right thing…

    You might want to check out an artist named “Pryme Minister.” He is an ex-drug dealer, gang-banger turned to Christ’s messenger.

    He is dropping his album in Nov. but you can check out his sound here:


    His sound is for the “street”, not the church or the mainstream, although, I’m sure they are more than welcome to tune-in as well…

    Check him out and holla at me and tell me what you and your son think…


  20. Totally agree with Davey and feel Cedric. The reason PE and KRS were popular and conscious was b/c they had great beats, dope rhymes, and excellent marketing. It gets no better than the bboy on the crosshairs of a gun! How many of my generation would have not learned of Steke Biko, or Denmark Vesey, or even Malcolm for that matter without Flav? PE did not dumb it down for me, they met me where I was and lifted me up. They mashed the food up so i could eat it. However, when I was ready to really do a double take on what they said, I had the liner notes. Very good read and on point.

  21. “How many of my generation would have not learned of Steke Biko, or Denmark Vesey, or even Malcolm for that matter”


    The current generation isn’t YOUR generation.

    My point was the REASON you never heard of those people was because of cultural constraints to information that have since been extremely lowered.

    You don’t need to listen to a rap song to learn about those peoples contributions when the modern day ” library of Alexandria” now resides at at your finger tips.

    I just get the feeling these kinds of “conversations” are more romanticism than utility .

    The battle of the 80’s an 90’s for people with any kind of “unconventional” perspective was to “game” the commercial constraints of corporate media to get them heard, the challenge of 2010 and beyond is the exact inverse, now EVERYONE has an individual voice that can be heard by millions …. so cutting through THAT noise has its own rules to be “gamed”.

    And when you have a bunch of rappers that ARE nothing but a bunch of blathering confusing “noise”, sometimes the most “conscious” thing you can do is tip toe away from it … and go somewhere quiet.

    Good luck!

  22. Just because information is readily accessible doesn’t mean u know to look for it.. The person who has a mic or any platform is in a position to bring awareness.. Its no different then it was 20 years ago.. Chuck D mention Joanne Charsimard aka Assata Shakur and people asked questions or looked her up.. Today a rapper says Assata and he can google her and read the Wiki article..Info is easier but awareness is NOT..

    I fail to see why one would be dismissive of any convo where the end goal is to get more info to a given audience..It’s almost like people feel threatened or don’t want folks to expand..
    And yes cutting through the noise is a challenge which is what Cedric laid out.. U wanna reach a larger audience then learn a few rules..

  23. Jubiq u hold the bar high by being smart.. and creative …perfect example.. I spent considerable time crafting some of my projects so they looked and sounded like the popular things people listened to..I included some of the things people liked and added a twist.. In short I find the teachable moments..It’s what Hip Hop always did.. Its on me to reach the people not the other way around..
    If I write an article about Tiger Woods or Michael Jackson.. I had some of those ‘too smart for the room types who accused me of being too mainstream.. The truth of the matter by covering both subjects significantly increased my traffic.. not just too the topics at hand but all the other ones. I knew it would do that and at the time it was one of my goals.. My job was to figure out how to cover those topics in a smart way that both reflected my intellect while also attracting a larger audience..Its a never ending process..

    lastly decide whether or not ur talking to or talking with people..If I sincerely belive I’m smarter I will miss the boat.. Sure I may be smarter in SOME areas but not all.. and its on us to figure out what we can sincerely learn from others..

    This is pretty much what Ced was saying..when he said being too book smart that you dont connect with the rest of the room..

  24. “Its no different then it was 20 years ago.”

    That completely sums up what I disagree with.

  25. This article has so many flaws. It’s way too simplistic. I agree with Adekunle “Conscious rap vs mainstream rap is a false dichotomy “. “Being smart vs. Being Real” is another one. They are not

    Hip Hop is truly dead if the premise is that your music has to be marketable to the mainstream for it to be regarded as great art or to be able to speak to the people in the streets. It assumes that people who come out of the hood are one dimensional and have no book knowledge. And that the raps have to be said in a way that people in the hood can understand. And also assumes that if you don’t sell a lot of records it’s because your lyrics are trying to be too smart. Didn’t the revolutionary raps of Public Enemy and KRS-One speak to the streets.

    There is also an assumption that so-called conscious rappers are trying to be leaders. Some rappers may have “conscious” lyrics, but that doesn’t mean that they have to become leaders, start a revolution or even be pious in their everyday life (or in all of their raps). Putting people in a box only leads to further false assumptions about who they truly are.

    I didn’t know that there was a “conscious rap community.” What I do know is there is a community of people who love rap music and are sick and tired of hearing the same cliche raps and repetitive playlists. But you don’t have to look to “conscious” rappers to have this point of view. Painting “conscious rappers” as condescending is flawed, because “conscious rappers” are not the only ones who don’t like weak rap music. There are many cats like Ice Cube, Ice T, among a slew of other rappers who have spoken out about their disdain for mainstream rap. Maybe they are in a different category – should we come up with one for them? Let’s see.. How about “Over-the-hill” Purists?

    I disagree with:
    “Jay-Z (the artist the conscious rap community may love to hate more than any other).”

    I thought is was Lil Wayne.

    I disagree with:
    “The street and mainstream artist is partially more successful than the conscious one because their creative work; brand-image-reputation and team infrastructure are in better harmony and alignment.”

    The truth is:
    “The street and mainstream artist is more successful because they brand-image reputation is in alignment with what corporations deem to be profitable – misogyny, a gangster/thug image, violence and ignorance.”

    I like dead prez and Immortal Technique’s music. It has a balance of street and consciousness. Their brand-image is aligned. But you don’t see the mainstream embracing them. Perhaps, their team infrastructure is lacking.

    Why not blame the system? Is there not corporate powers that be that dictate what you hear on the radio, tv and the mainstream media who regard consciousness or intelligent lyrics to be counter-productive to their profit line. (It reminds me of when people say “black people” who blame the system are just making excuses.)

    Maybe the people in other countries are not as condescending because the music they hear on their radio stations are more diverse than what we see and hear in the U.S. Generally, it’s the other countries that are more open to non-mainstream hip hop.

    I do understand his point of view that condescending attitudes are counter productive, but to assume that the root is some sort of ego-based (“I’m smarter than you”) rather than tired of hearing the same old crap is a weak assumption.

    The only thing that is going to stop the “perceived” decline of the conscious rapper is articles like this one that doesn’t take into account that the decline happened 20 years ago and that the more important article to write is how there is a decline in the “mainstream” rapper, because the “core” hip hop heads have reached their thresh hold.

  26. You missed my point bank but Davey got it. I had no clue who Denmark Vesey was but I was inspired to learn. If you don’t know then you may not seek.

  27. Great examples Davey. That’s what I’m talking about. Hold it high and hit ’em hard!!!! To me Ced’s article did not come off the way that you’ve been explaining it. I agree with all the points you brought out, but I just didn’t get that from the way he wrote his article.

    “decide whether or not ur talking to or talking with people”

    I think that pretty much says it all.

  28. “You missed my point bank but Davey got it I had no clue who Denmark Vesey was but I was inspired to learn. If you don’t know then you may not seek.”

    I’m sure there are a million things all 6 billion people on the planet would be interested in if they only knew about them, and if a rapper happens to touch on one that was specifically interesting to you like “Denmark Vesey” then I’m happy for you. But it doesn’t negate my points. We live in a different world than 20 years ago. Being “aware” in this day and age doesn’t mean the same thing at all, and rap really isn’t much of anything except a way for some people to make money and others to escape.I think you and Dave are the ones missing the point in place of past idealism.

    If you want “awareness” through media go watch a TED talk or something. Unlike rappers those people are actually providing something healthy.

  29. An MC should not be judged by his marketing or branding abilities. I understand everybody on the internet likes to play record exec but you’re not. You are a fan of music.
    If I were a fan of marketing I wouldn’t like any rappers I would like the guy who had the idea to sell water in bottles when everyone was getting it free. That dude is by far top five.

    I’m not naive, I know there’s bills to pay and all artists crave approval and recognition. But the music should be the #1 priority by a long distance.

    Another misconception in this thread and article is that the golden era MCs were doing something right as opposed to MCs today. They weren’t doing anything different when it came to marketing or branding. It was a much smaller pool of hip hop artists and people were buying everything they could as demand for the art form was growing exponentially. This gave them more leeway to stay true and less incentive to cave into record execs who wanted them to soften up or to appear on other people’s albums to increase market share. That was one of the golden parts that will never be recreated. The other was they were trailblazers creating the culture. By definition those following them can not be trailblazers on a blazed trail.

  30. I disagree Tim..It was an art to market urself from jump b4 records.. U made fliers, u practiced routines, u made pause button tapes to get your name out thought of colorful names.. to somehow divorce the art and science of getting your name known is akin to learning the dance steps but not being on rhythm.. It was never about lyrics only.. anyone saying that is lying. the popularity of artists who just had a presence and notoriety vs the ones who could rhyme 50 words together doesnt underscores the point.. Many did both..
    Your saying marketing and ced is saying connecting to your audience.. If an emcee is truly happy with the box he created then its not an issue.. what spawned this article was the constant complaint about consciousness in music not being there..Ced laid out why…

    Lastly the Golden era emcees were doing something right that is on par with their mainstream counterparts.. they created a movement, much of it was quite strategic.. I would suggest talking with Paradise of X-Clan who ran the Latin Quarters cause he can break it down.The Golden Era was not by accident. There was a series of meetings all those artists had to create a juggernaut..

  31. “I would suggest talking with Paradise of X-Clan who ran the Latin Quarters cause he can break it down.The Golden Era was not by accident. There was a series of meetings all those artists had to create a juggernaut”

    And the social entropy that exist now for the most part completely undercuts that type of thing, rap isn’t looked at in that light anymore.Saying rap needs to be more conscious based on its past is like saying McDonalds needs to make healthier food based on the fact they serve salads.

    If an established scientist with 20 years of diligent study under their belt got up in front of a stage to rap, he would be ignored, but if a rapper decides they want to assume the role of being an expert on world affairs, peddle some ideological agenda that is laughable outside the context of a sensationalistic 2 minute song-rap-soundbite, they get labeled “conscious”; and for what?…things that are either for the most part just common sense or confusing conspiracy shit that just makes people dumber .. like all the Illuminati fruitiness.
    it’s no different than fox news except fox news appeals to dumb white men and rap appeals to a different demographic.

    I think the most conscious thing any rapper can do in this day and age is be a party rapper that focuses on simple things like “having fun” and really subjective positive elements like “get educated”. If you push it any further than that I think you’re just perpetuating all the problems you think you’re helping to remedy. “Revolutionary” rhetoric in this day and age will do nothing but lead the most impressionable young people to trouble, the same as gangster/thug talk does.

  32. Maybe we should stop looking for these conscious emcees to be our leaders and instead support those who are ready to put their life on the line and make some real change and noise like “The General” Sara Suten Seti and his movement. This cat has leadership flowin’ in his bloodstream fo’ real! –>

  33. In order for there to be a movement there has to be a unifying goal that everyone is working towards. What unifying factor is there in the so called “conscious Hip Hop community”? In the so called “mainstream” the overwhelming majority are unified by the idea of getting paid and living comfortably. That is a universal ideal that just about anyone can relate to. Thus the perception is that there is a stronger and more successful movement amongst the so called “mainstream”. Perception is not always the reality however. Besides, I personally think it is more important to actually do work that matters and impacts people lives than it is to be famous. If fame comes to you because of your humanitarian efforts then great. If it doesn’t, that is okay also because fame shouldn’t be the motivating factor in doing community work anyway. I really have to question the motives of anyone criticizing a grassroots based emcee for not having a so called good marketing or promotional strategy. You don’t have to send out a press release and market yourself 24/7 every time you do something good. That is called opportunism and only serves to eventually undermine whatever credibility said emcee was hoping to establish.

    Lastly, all this talk about the so called Golden Age…please. The overwhelming majority of those emcees would not have achieved the success they did without the financial support of the record labels they were working with. They needed a label machine (whether indie or major) to push them so for some cats to act like they did something great that today’s emcees aren’t capable of doing is highly suspect. You only have to look and see what these same artists are achieving (or not achieving) alone as independent artists in todays climate to notice this fallacy in perspective.

    This is a good conversation by the way!


  34. Ayanna how were the labels pushing these artists during the Golden Age.. The big difference between then and now was they did not have regular airplay.. In fact that was amajor topic of discussion was lack of airplay.. I have all sorts iof stories of some of those artists going off as a result. There was a definite movement that started at the Latin Quarter. It was quite deliberate and thought out..In short people came together with a goal in mind.. One of the hall marks of that movement was the African medallions.. A book is soon to come out speaking on that movement.. Paradise of X-Clan can give u the full run down..

  35. Davey, I’m aware of what was going on at that time because I’m pushing 40 (gasp) and grew up in New York City during that era. I lived it! Now I won’t claim to know everything so I would be interested in reading Paradise’s book even still.

    With that said… Regular airplay? Well I remember Hip Hop mix shows that existed on both the college level and the commercial level (Mr. Magic on WBLS, Red Alert on Kiss, The Awesome Two etc…) and I remember the variety of tunes they played. I may even have some old cassettes. lol Now, was anybody in Top 40 rotation? Not many at first but when folks did begin to break through they were called sellouts or “soft” (MC Hammer & Will Smith for example). I partied at the Latin Quarter, Rooftop and Union Square and was also impacted by the Afro-centric atmosphere that was going on in New York. I come out of that and have deep roots in that world! I remember people being at odds even back then though within the Afro-centric community due to differing philosophies and basic competitiveness. It’s revisionist to make it seem like everyone was on one accord and was all unified. At times, yes, Often times, no.

    Also, just as an fyi…I worked as an A&R in the 90’s for Cory Robbins who co-founded Profile Records and had many talks with him about what Profile did and didn’t do as far as being a record company that was putting out Hip Hop music. The record labels back then, just like today, provided the financial backing, the promotion, marketing, tour support, publicity and everything else an artist/group needs to have a shot at success.

    As I said previously, people have to be on one accord for a movement to happen. The so called conscious community has to find that one accord that is relevant in 2010 and beyond and rally around that. It is no longer effective to just try and unify around Hip Hop as Hip Hop has been co-opted and gone “mainstream”. A lot of the unification in the past was centered around Hip Hop not being looked upon as a credible art form. That argument is moot in 2010.

  36. Wow, this is a great conversation. Peace, ya’ll…

    I, too, am an “old-head” that lived the Hip Hop atmosphere in NYC in the 80s…no matter where I rest my head, I will always rep for Uptown & Hip Hop, sun…

    Real movement in Hip Hop…? Virtually been none since the early 90s. The mainstream learned from the “Golden Age” and now all kinds of devices are in place to make sure that they don’t lose command of their billion dollar industry…

    If Hip Hop becomes a true voice for movement…for upliftment…for the People, the mainstream loses bucks…they ain’t tryin to let that happen…

    What should we do..? The time & age for huge mass movements has come and gone. We have to make a number of small movements directed at one goal so that the mainstream can’t ride on one cash cow to the bank.

    By the time we collaborate on the “one goal” folkz will have already risen above the level of being distracted by the mainstream’s hollow promises of fame, riches & bit-hes.

    These “small movements” gotta come from everyone in the hood coming 2gether, but I feel that the youth and females need to step-it-up the most.

    Stop paying so much attention to what the latest “thug-fool” emcee and naked chick are doin on MTV & BET and direct that energy toward yourself, your movement, and your God.

    And remember, everyone ain’t gonna be down with positivity…don’t hold that against your sister or brother…the mind control and distractions ain’t no joke!

    “Pryme Minister” is one new emcee on tha level of “takin back the streets” for God. He pumps Christ’s teachings, but you ain’t got to be Christian to feel his love for his hood and his passion for wanting to be a beacon of light to those in the darkest of night….and the beats & lyrics are tight too, sun…

    Again, it ain’t got to be him, there are others out there all about higher knowledge, upliftment and a positive move for the People w/out sacrificin the music end and Hip Hop in general, such as: Wise Intelligent and Aseer, the Duke of Tiers, etc.

    Make a move, ya’ll…doin nuthin plays right into the hands of the exploiter…

    AfroAsiatic crossin’ Mind, Space & Time…

  37. Ayana I agree that in 2010 folks have to find a compelling unifying point.. I would add there should also be a plan of action and a will to commit… But what we are talking about is a small group of artists with a variety of messages that we are for the sake of discussion classifying as ‘positive’. The issue at hand in 2010 is many ‘positive artists are upset that they are not getting the same love from the community as their mainstream counterpar

    I would also agree that there were many differences back during the Golden Era.. there’s no revisionism here… The way I saw it was there were lots of movements and approaches toward the freedom struggle. Looking at the ‘big 3’; KRS, X-Clan and PE they all had vastly different philosophies. In fact at one point KRS and X-Clan had beef that almost led to physical confrontation…

    All three were a part of larger organizations from Blackwatch to Urban League, NOI etc.. and many of those movements influenced the artists. However in spite of their difference all of them agreed to be part of the collective push after those meetings at LQ…The movement started with simply getting folks to wear the leather medallions and stop wearing gold chains..which were connected to Apartheid, a push back on prejudice Korean merchants and to put an end to those who were getting jacked at way too many parties.. Those meetings involved everyone from Bam to Jungle brothers.. many were able to take those dictates back to their respective orgs.. Zulu, 5%, Native tongues..and put them into action

    While this was going on in NY there were organizing efforts going on in other places .So for example, here in the Bay we had the Black Panthers in the form of Sista Kiillu and Money B’s father Ron specifically working with Del, Boots, Michael Franti, Adisa, Paris, Digital Underground and a number of other artists. If you ask them they would tell you they felt it was important to connect with that emerging generation of artists. You also had Rafik Bilal and the Upper Room in SF which was our equivalent to the LQ.. In LA at the same time you had the Good Life..This was all happening around the same time..

    By uniting the way that they did this underscored other organizing for example 3000 miles in the Bay.. we formed bay Area Hip Hop Coalition in 1988 and all of us who did shows on KPOO, KALX, KZSU KJSC agreed 1-not play any artists who came to town and did not visit all the stations 2-boycott NWA and 3-push many of the artists who had these ‘positive messages..Some of us were doing both college and commercial radio and so I know for us.. that playlist translated over to commercial airplay in our market.. So u heard X-Clan, PE, PRT etc.. Sure we had 2 Live Crew and other stuff.. But those were staple records and a good part of it had to do with us collectively agreeing to act as a unit.. As A&R at profile then u know many of ur artists got played.. Twin Hype, King Sun, 06 style, PRT… When I asked about how the label pushed these artists I’m curious.. speaking for our clique..we got our records from the record Pool the PROs and we started playing them and then put them into newsletters and playlists that we distributed at all the record stores..

    A lot of what we did was talked about and shared with folks when they came to the Bay for the Gavin Conventions..Many of the artist especially PE went out of their way to bring attention to the efforts we were putting forth..

    I guess what I’m getting at is that back during the Golden Era there were radical movements that embraced and worked with many of the emerging conscious artists.. They may not have had radio stations or TV outlets, but they had organizational infrastructure and were leaders who inspired the change and lyrics we heard many espouse. In 2010 we don’t see that. There have been lots of attempts to make those solid connections, but its not the same and nowhere near as potent…

    A lot of that is compounded by younger activists and organizers not necessarily being on very different political pages then their mainstream counterparts.

    Like during the Golden Era Luther campbell did community work. He made the song janet reno which got homegirl elected. He did voting drives. NWA was up on things.. But today if I asked a Kanye or Jay-Z about the US social forum that took place in detroit they are likely to give me blank stare.. At the same time while kanye and Jay and Young jeezy united around Barack many of their underground counterparts were no where to be seen when it came to Obama giving props and access during the inauguration..

    Lastly the airplay in during the Golden era in no way compares to what goes on now.. Yes Mr Magic and Red Alert had shows..There were always shows. In 86 I started doing my first show and those shows were special because it was the only time to hear most rap.. In 2010 I can turn on any urban station and hear anyone from Gucci Mane to jay-Z at 7 am. Not only that, but Hip Hop toward the tail end of the Golden Era started playing on pop stations.. beginning w/ KMEL here in the Bay and later to Power 106 and Hot 97 in LA and NY..I know our approach was to play Hip Hop all the time and not limited to the shows and that was a game changer

  38. @ Change Muzik… Yes, I agree that small movements unified around a common goal is the most effective strategy!

    Davey, thank you for your reply as the knowledge you gave about the Bay area was very informative. The way your clique worked was pretty much how most people were dong things in there respective regions. The record pools and DJ’s (whether radio or street) have always played a vital role. The music conferences were essential as well…the Gavin Convention (as you mentioned), Jack The Rapper (Atlanta), How Can I Be Down (MiamI), CMJ (New York) as well as some others. My first introduction to the Bay Area Hip Hop Coalition was through Billy Jam.

    I certainly agree with what you are saying in regards to our recognized institutions not having as strong a connection to the emerging conscious artists like in previous years. That definitely is part of what helps establish credibility of an artist in the eyes of the community and eventually the masses. I think part of that is just a lack of a unifying goal. Pulling on my own personal experience of working with the leadership of established organizations (political and otherwise), there is a disconnect and, at times, a lack of common interest that prevents positive action from manifesting in a tangible way. Also, a lot of the established leadership has become entrenched in their positions and can be closed off at times to new ideas and working methodologies. Like many people, they confuse leadership with popularity. Thus, they will invite a very popular artist to speak at their convention, (for example), however, the excitement and turnout that is generated by said artists is only temporary because it isn’t being generated because of the work that needs to be done but because of the popularity of the artist. We must stop confusing leadership with popularity as that is a grave strategical error!

    Ultimately, I think the solution for Hip Hop in 2010 goes back to what Change Muzik was saying about small movements. As we would all agree on, that is what was going on in the early stages of Hip Hop so we have come 360 degrees in a lot of ways. I do see some small movements bubbling on a grassroots level and only time will tell if they can catch on and hold the interest of the people. I also think that we are ripe for a new art form to emerge out of our communities as that is necessary and needed for music to remain fresh and progressive. One of the main reasons why Hip Hop was able to do what it did in the early days was because it was something new and emerging that showed promise. I’m still keeping an eye on the younger generation as they will be the leaders and on the forefront of ushering in the next wave. I foresee another organic rise of a musical art form with strong connections to the community at large on the very near horizon.

  39. Small movements are key.. and as we seen with the mainstream artists thats what they done.. Dipset Movement, Rockafella Movement, UGK Movement etc..golas as u mentioned are simple-Get Money and it reflects lifestyle.. but more importantly those goals have been aided by others both large and small who also wanna make money..
    Lot of folks wanna make money but not everyone wants to be free..

  40. Your article is a morale booster for those who are caught between the true want to create postive inspiring music for people and the true need to also be active in the communities that we are making music for…too often that “I have to be the most conscious in the room” mentality stops people from working together and the fear of the work it will take to truly connect with people that ain’t apart of “the choir” can stop artists with good hearts from coming off high horses and connect with fan bases – adding to the variety in the commercial market and inspiring positive action in peoples lives. Love your article, and will share….

  41. You can definitely see your skills in the article you write.
    The arena hopes for even more passionate writers like you who are not afraid to mention how they believe.
    Always follow your heart.

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