“Any artist can battle for glory/ but to kick a dope rhyme to wake up/ your people’s another story…” – “Rappers RN Dainja” -KRS One
Once upon a time, he was known as “Militant Mike,” leader of the Mau Mau, the most feared rap crew of the ’80s. Now, he’s simply known as Mr. Jackson, the grumpy old dude who bags groceries at T-Mart. Catch him on a good day, and he might take a break from sweepin’ the floor and drop some science about the good ol’ days of Hip-Hop, and how his music was gonna change the world. But if you ever ask him the obvious question – what happened to those good ol’ days? – all you’ll get is a cold stare followed by awkward silence….
The history books are full of stories about the Civil Rights/Black Power Eras, and how thousands of young people took to the streets to fight for their rights. However, as for the “Conscious Hip-Hop Era,” the story ain’t never been told.
Like the song says, “What’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget.”
For many of us the “Conscious Hip-Hop Era” (1988-92) was our Civil Rights movement. But although it is often thrown in with the so-called “Golden Age of Hip-Hop”, as they say, “all that glitters ain’t gold.”
Let’s be clear. When I use the term “real Hip-Hop,” I’m not talking about a rapper saying some witty, juvenile punchlines to make you giggle. I’m talking about (to borrow from Eric B and Rakim) songs that will actually “move the crowd” to do something.
Like all forms of history, Hip-Hop is subject to revisionism. People would like to believe that, for a period in American history, there was a time when everybody was fightin’ the power and wearing Red, Black, and Green African medallions. This isn’t true of the Black Power Movement Era, and it’s definitely not a true reflection of the Conscious Hip-Hop Era.
Although it is true that many people in the ‘hood were suffering from the effects of ’80s “Reaganomics,” just like today, everybody wasn’t sufferin’, nor did everyone identify with “the struggle.” Some people were living good in the ‘80s and swore that “we had already overcome.”
Although some of us gravitated towards Spike Lee films and X Clan cassettes, there were others who were just as comfortable watching Molly Ringwald movies while listening to the non- political Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince.
The Conscious Hip-Hop Era came about at the exact time when Black outrage was not only a necessary evil but also profitable. And groups like Public Enemy were able to slip through the small crack in the impenetrable fortress of Capitalism.
Capitalism is not without its flaws, and militant rap groups like Public Enemy were able to capitalize off of the major chink in its armor – greed. It has been said that Capitalism will sell you the rope to hang yourself.
But the major strength Capitalism is its ability to adapt and to absorb opposition. So, a radical movement for change was transformed into a cheap fad.
Freedom does not come without a price. It never has and never will. But for a brief moment, rap was the soundtrack of a revolution that the networks would not televise.
But for the artists who dared to speak truth to power, there was a price to be paid.
For those who argue that rap is “only music,” tell that to the soldiers who survived the rap wars.
Just read the books of rap artists from that period, like Professor Griff’ s Analytixz or Ice T’s autobiographical Ice, as they reveal some very interesting war stories that many people would like to forget.
Although Ice T has been quoted as saying that he is waiting for the next PE, I’m not sure that Ice T would even want to be “the next Ice T” if you study all of the drama that surrounded his song “Cop Killer”, which was eventually removed from store shelves. Like he wrote in his book, “You don’t know what heat is until you’ve had the President of the United States say your name in anger.”
See, everybody isn’t built for that kind of stuff. There is a reason that one of the most powerful voices ever in Hip-Hop, Sister Souljah, went from rappin’ about “360 Degrees of Power” to writing romance novels. Like she said in her book, No Disrespect, “the question is easy to ask. The answer is hard to find. But the search is essential.”
Ask anybody who has done more than send out an angry tweet in all caps, and he will tell you “these cats ain’t playin’”, and the oppressors ain’t gonna let the oppressed go without a fight.
In Russell Myrie’s book, Don’t Rhyme for the Sake of Riddlin’, he wrote that once during the Conscious Hip-Hop Era, “Someone was trying to get a number of rappers in one location so they could detonate explosives and do away with trouble-some Hip Hoppers…”
Most people like the “idea” of revolution, but facing the consequences of revolutionary actions are beyond their scope of comprehension.
Truth is, although many people make “murda music,” few are willing to make “martyr music.”
Today , besides the Jasiri Xs and Immortal Techniques, many of this new generation of rappers want consciousness without the confrontation.
Times have gotten so tough that even activists have been forced to pick up the mic to bring back “real Hip-Hop.” In fact, Chicago activist, Chairman Fred Hampton Jr., recently did a revolutionary remix of Chief Keef’s “I Don’t Like”:
Just like it was during the Civil Rights era, it’s much easier to turn on (get high) and tune out. Why risk your life trying to change the world, when “a 40 and a blunt” will make the world go away for a few hours?
It’s one thing to get into a beef with another rapper, but it is another thing to go against Bill O’Reilly and get tagged “an unpatriotic pin head.” That kinda stuff doesn’t add up to increased CD sales anymore.
Despite all the revolutionary rhetoric, the real reason that there will never be another Public Enemy is because nobody wants to go through the hell that they went through.
Like ASAP Rocky would say, “everybody plays the tough guy till some stuff pops off…”
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on his website, www.NoWarningShotsFired.com, or on Twitter (@truthminista).