A few days ago in class I mentioned the name C. Delores Tucker, only to be answered with 30 blank stares, including that of my teacher. Not long after, someone asked me if Louis Farrakhan was still alive (and to be honest I was not 100% sure he was myself). I can't remember the exact story (if someone can find it, either message me or put it in a comment), but sometime last year some reporter heard the Public Enemy song "911 is a Joke" and thought it was about 9/11, ignoring the fact it is explicitly about the police, and was made in 1990. (For those of you not yet on my wavelength, a small wikipedia summary of the issues at hand will suffice).
The point is: the times they are a'changing, and the revolutionary hip-hop landscape of the 80s and 90s has all but disappeared. What we see instead is a money machine, with a mainstream developing to placate pop radio demands, and an underground developing just to be different, in an almost hipster irony. Any of those in the middle (see: Atmosphere) write about love or their childhoods. While I am certainly not knocking this, and in fact I think is the best hip-hop we have in the 2010's, it is harmless at best.
While I was not alive to experience it, my research into the topic has taught me something about the nation-wide effect Ice Cube's Death Certificate had, for example. Hell, the popular video game series Grand Theft Auto has caused more of a stir than any hip-hop album in the past 15 years. I'm not supporting violent, riot inducing music, but there are certainly political, social, and economic issues which rappers have all experienced before making it big, that can be addressed.
But wait, I must be generalizing. And I am. Was Digital Underground's "The Humpty Dance" or Biz Markie's "Just a Friend" making people uneasy? Not at all, and there certainly was just as much mainstream "hip-pop" in the 80s and 90s as there is now. But what revolutionary are we listening to today? What rappers concern themselves with social, political, and economic inequality? The first thing I thought of was Lupe Fiasco, because of the recent release of his politically-charged "Words I Never Said."
For those of you who don't know, it seems Lupe realized that he had not been explicit enough in his social critique in his past albums, and decided to touch on every political and social issue of the last decade. From the War on Terror, to education, to his opinions on our president, Lupe cursed his way to an emotional, explicit song expressing his anger about the way things are. I blame his audience for this odd outburst of frustration, because if they had ever listened in the past, they would have realized songs like "The Instrumental" and even "Streets on Fire" are social commentary, just in a more subtle matter, which the casual listener won't catch. But then I was stuck. I'm sure Lupe does not stand alone, but he certainly does run in a small circle in this respect. It seems we are at a shortage of revolutionaries, and the image of hip-hop in the media and in the national conscience is hurting because of it.
Now what does this all mean? What do we do with this knowledge? Well I don't know. I am the farthest thing from a rapper, but I do know that instead of the definition of "hard" being determined by how many guns you own, and how well you "hold your corner down," it should be about what kind of impact you have made in the world. Because really, in 2100, do we want to remember NWA or Ace Hood?