Make Room For Conscious Hip-Hop!
by Bakari Akil II

There is a lot of negative publicity concerning Hip Hop these days. It seems as if every week for the last few years, hip hop artists have made headlines due to troubles with the law, warranted or unwarranted. In addition, many of these artists, who enjoy levels of money, fame, and companionship most people crave, constantly associate themselves with the world of drugs, guns, violence and misogyny.

Whether the images that most popular hip-hop artists portray are real or made for TV, most will never know. However, for those who love the music but could do without the negative lyrics and lifestyles that are usually associated with the art form, the question arises: Is there room for positive/conscious (PC) listeners in hip-hop?

It is easy to write or comment about the negative aspects of hip-hop music because controversy and infamy has proven to be a hot seller in this society. But, hip-hop artists who rap positively or about political, social or economic empowerment receive scant attention.

As a young man I lived and breathed hip-hop. Starting with my father’s Sugarhill album and later in my teenage years growing up on a daily dose of Rap City with Chris Thomas and later Yo MTV Raps with Fab Five Freddy, Ed Lover and Dr. Dre, hip-hop has been and still is an integral part of my existence. In fact, as I reached my teenage years, rhythm and blues and any other form of music slowly faded from my life.

At the same time I started to listen solely to rap music, the overall climate of rap changed as well. In the late 80s and very early 90s lyrics dealt mainly with the elimination of drugs, violence, poverty or having a good time and bragging for fun. It quickly evolved to lyrics promoting gang violence, glorifying drugs and bragging about how you can ruin a party through nonsense and saying you are the greatest and being serious about it.

The world of hip-hop had suddenly changed. No longer a teenager and quickly accepting the roles of adulthood, the new era of hip hop slowly but surely left me feeling isolated where previously, I totally identified with it. As a young man in the army and then later in college I began to question the value of listening to lyrics promoting guns, drugs, violence and the disrespect of women. Especially, when that lifestyle was in total opposition to the one I was trying to create.

The more I questioned myself, the less I listened to hip-hop, even though the beats and music held the same fascination for me that it had when I was a teen. By 1995, it eventually reached a point where, except for the purchase of a KRS or Goodie Mob tape, my buying and listening to hip hop slowed to a crawl. The only way I heard rap music was by listening to old tapes, through a pop hip hop song on the radio or when bypassing MTV/BET on television.

Although you had artists such as KRS, De La Soul or the occasional group such as the Refugees creating PC music, the release dates were so far away that it was nearly impossible to maintain a constant supply of positive hip-hop.

Today, that excuse is no longer valid. Positive/Conscious hip-hop artists are coming out more often and their styles and topics are diverse and broad ranging. Their beats are just as infectious as any other brand of hip-hop and they are bringing a sense of balance and reality that has been missing for a while.

Although most conscious hip-hop artists still do not receive the attention they deserve, many artists or groups such as The Roots, Mos Def or Common are gaining mainstream attention, which does not hurt when they are promoting positive values. In addition, with the influx of R&B artists such as Erykah Badu, India Aire and Musiq Soulchild who also promote positive conscious lyrics, PC hip-hop is gaining even more credibility and force.

For those who have given up on finding hip-hop that promotes growth and moving in positive directions or parents who are concerned about the music your children listen to, don’t “jump ship” just yet. Positive/Conscious hip-hop is not often promoted on your average TV show, radio station or hip-hop magazine, but with a little investigation it can be found. There are more than enough PC artists to keep hip-hop in heavy rotation in your CD changer or to convince your child that “nice beats” can also be accompanied by even nicer lyrics.

Some Positive Hip Hop Artists

KRS One (Social/Political/Spiritual/Economic)
De La Soul (Positive/Social)
Mos Def (Spiritual/Political/Social)
Dead Prez (Political/Social/Economic)
The Roots (Positive/Social)
Lauren Hill (Positive/Social)
Wyclef (Positive/Social)
Common (Spiritual/Social)
Paris (Political/Economic/Social)
Kam (Political/Economic/Social/Spiritual)
Talib Kweli (Positive/Social)
Afu-Ra (Spiritual/Social)
Black Eyed Peas (Positive)

Bakari Akil is an editor for and can be reached at

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