By: Anes Ahmed and Chermo Toure
Between the 80s and 90s, rap was used as a vehicle to address government censorship and control over struggling communities. Varying from multiple perspectives, old-school rappers have manifested their experiences and voices into lyrical pieces and stories that shaped the definition of hip-hop.
The early origins of outspoken rhymes against government policy began with the rap group, Public Enemy. Public Enemy members consist of Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Khari Wynn, DJ Lord, Sammy Sam and Professor Griff.
Their message through their music revolutionized socio-political rap to the forefront of rap music.
In the hit song “Fight the Power,” they rapped about the problems affecting poor communities, particularly black communities: “People, people we are the same, No we’re not the same, ‘Cause we don’t know the game…”
What Public Enemy is conveying is that poor communities aren’t educated enough to deal with the world. Therefore socio-economically, poor communities get left behind and are eventually associated with crime infested communities.
Another section of the song states: “What we need is awareness, we can’t get careless…
Let’s get down to business, mental self-defensive fitness.”
Public Enemy is stating the necessity of education in poor communities. They also convey that communities need to take this goal onto themselves because the government isn’t going help.
Due to the foundation structured by Public Enemy, other rap groups such as N.W.A formed. to challenge government policies. With rising names as Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, Arabian Prince, MC Ren and DJ Yella attached to N.W.A.’s roster, their reputation was a matter of records.
Entering the fray with hit songs such as “F— tha Police.” The song’s impact prompted the FBI to look into N.W.A. The artists on this song expressed their frustrations with the LA Police Department, which minority groups still face today.
Opening the song, Ice Cube rapped: “F— the police! Comin’ straight from the underground, A young n— got it bad ‘cause I’m brown, And not the other color, so the police think, They have the authority to kill a minority.”
Ice Cube expressed that the police were abusing their power during the crack epidemic. This abuse of police authority would become more prevalent when Rodney King was brutally beaten by LA police officers.
Ice Cube continued: “Searchin’ my car, lookin’ for the product, Thinkin’ every n— is sellin’ narcotics.”
Ice Cube remarked that he’s always being harassed by police officers because the LAPD implemented stop and frisk. During the 1980s and 1990s, this policy was virtually enacted in every city with a large minority population, mostly African American and Latino groups.
Stop and frisk, which is arguably unconstitutional, is currently a heated issue today as it was when N.W.A released “F—tha Police.”
Beyond groups, arguably the most influential hip hop artists that has stood up against and addressed government policy is Tupac Shakur, known by his stage names 2Pac and Makaveli.
Growing up in the West Coast, Shakur pushed social issues in an environment where the gangsta rap genre was mainstream.
Through songs such as “Brenda’s Got a Baby” and “Trapped” from his early album “2Pacalypse Now,” Tupac Shakur addressed themes and critiques of unjust treatment in inner cities.
A major theme throughout Shakur’s musical portfolio is his resistance against discrimination and government inattention.
While Shakur grew to stardom, he developed a heated rivalry with East Coast rapper, The Notorious B.I.G. By transforming his dark past and struggles, B.I.G. was able to weave lyrical stories that focused on violence and growing hardships.
Due to the efforts and controversies Shakur and Biggie both presented in their work, this led to their deaths by drive-by shooting.
Both have acknowledged and were prepared to accept death as shown through some of their pieces since the topics they’ve discussed tempered others in the field.
These rappers challenged the government during their time by utilizing their voices and talents into products of protest and change.