When Rap Music Had A Conscience

The title of this book hearkens back to a fairy tale time that Hip-Hop scholars refer to as the Golden Age. A period when lyricists made their audience think first and dance second, when hemp and Africa necklaces replaced diamond-studded medallions and when artists were exposing the system instead of being pimped by it. Hip-Hop writers, though a bulk of them are still in their twenties and thirties, feel like gramps at the family barbecue, urging the “youngins” to snap the music off and get some real music from the vinyl cabinet. Tayannah McQuillar is no stranger to this battle. Having written for Black Issues Book Review and Today’s Black Women and having dealt with many promising but yet-to-be-enlightened youth as a teacher, she is very familiar with the forlorn path contemporary rap has taken. Her second book, When Rap Music Had a Conscience (Thunder’s Mouth Press) flashes light on an era of pioneers who took the genre seriously, stretching the boundaries of their craft and speaking on the social issues of the day, all while giving the youth of the time a special connection to the movement. McQuillar often interjects stories of her own that give insight into how her people responded to the Hip-Hop of the time. She calls Public Enemy’s sound, “the freshest sh*t I ever heard...”When Rap Music Had a Conscience gives snapshots of the pivotal artists, films, and events that characterized Hip-Hop from 1988-1996. McQuillar writes illuminating blurbs on artists like Arrested Development, A Tribe Called Quest, and Queen Latifah, films like, Sankofa, Do the Right Thing, and Malcolm X, and events like the Rodney King beating, the Central Park jogger incident, and the Yusef Hawkins case. She does a first-rate job of showing how the social climate during the 80’s and early 90’s had an impact on the music.McQuillar is not shy about lending a critical eye to today’s mainstream culture. In the chapter, “The Bling Plantation,” she satirizes the media’s boundless obsession with image. She writes, “…no one stops to ask if a real ‘thug’ would let a makeup artist powder his nose for hours prior to a photo, get his nails and eyebrows done, or wear pastels or a ankle bracelet.” When Rap Music Had a Conscience is definitely not an intimidating read. The 180 page book probably takes two days at the most to get though. It fits as an excellent primer book for those who need a straightforward look at the debates surrounding Hip-Hop history. The book’s message is simple and concise and it may very well explain why grandpa gets so riled up at the family barbecues.