Pop Culture, Race & Politics

Conscious? Rappers.

Somebody asked me to teach this class so that means I'm smart. Ask me something important about US-Sino relations. The answer is the same though..."ballin'"

And for the sticklers, I”m aware that the actual lyric goes, “…dumb rappers need teaching/lesson A (don’t f*ck with B.I.)…”

Many moons ago, Chuck D likened hip-hop to the Black CNN. In his estimation, there was a time when hip-hop was largely reporting the thoughts, situations, and circumstances of the inner city. Well, times they are a changin’. Most rappers today, and specifically mainstream rappers are doing as much glorifying of those circumstances under the guise of “telling it like it is” as they are lying about the fact that most of them haven’t done or been apart of 90 percent of the non-sense they’re rapping about.

Which is why, understandably, when we get rappers who seem to not only read, but are able to articulate their societal views and sometimes revolutionary rhetoric into lyric form, we all exhale. Nas’ Illmatic is a poetic masterpiece even if its proprietor is about as articulate as a 3-year old explaining quantum physics when it comes to defending any stance he may or may not have taken in rhyme form. Oh well, it isn’t like they get called out on much of what they say anyway. Only a select few rappers get asked their true opinions on anything in an arena where actual pundits, wonks, and analysts get the chance to debate back and forth. That list generally includes…well…Lupe Fiasco.

I’ve made my opinions on Lupe Fiasco pretty clear. I’m not a fan. Dude is the posterchild for unrealized potential. He’s the 2000s version of Canibus. All of the lyrical ability in the world without the ability (it seems) to get those incredible thoughts out in a cogent and coherent fashion. He’s all flashes of brilliance and unfinished concepts. Yet somehow, people seem to think that young Wasalu is some sort of political activist or “intellectual” along the lines of Cornel West or Micheal Eric Dyson (two brothers I’m not fans of either).

I guess I hate everybody. So everybody wins.

I can’t tell you how many random interviews I’ve seen where Lupe has been asked his opinion because of how well he puts verses together. I guess it makes sense. If you can write that well, you should be able to transfer that intelligence into spoken word. Fair enough. And he’s not inarticulate. He’s just not as quick on his feet as he is when he’s got hours and months to write a verse.

You know where I’m going with this. In his song, “Words I Never Said” he calls Obama a terrorist (as well as the entire American government) then goes on Bill O’Reilly to defend his position and states some mumbo jumbo about US foreign policy motivating terrorism, states that all presidents are terrorists, etc.  Admittedly, the O’Reilly Factor’s editors had a field day with the tape so who knows what may or may not have been said between the cuts.

Here’s the point though: A lot of folks were up in arms at this non-voting armchair politician but some people came to Lupe’s defense with his statement about Obama and US foreign policy being at fault for terrorist acts. Except much like Lupe, 90 percent of people sounded like conspiracy theorists with completely unsubstantiated claims. Most people were basically pissing in the wind. But some good points were brought up, namely, we’re only mad because it’s Obama he’s talking about.


If somebody said that about Bush, nobody would question it. True. And you know what, that’s also idiotic. In Jadakiss’s song “Why” he says, “why did Bush knock down the towers?” and folks were all like, “yeah…why DID Bush knock down the towers?”

And you know what? That was stupid too. I remember Jadakiss got some kind of recognition as being a thinking man’s rapper after that and when folks asked him about it he sounded like a dolt stammering his way through his times tables trying to defend what was a ridiculous statement to begin with. The only difference in the two situations is that 1) all Black folks basically hated Bush anyway so nobody was really going to question that; and 2) nobody outside of the hood cares about what Jadakiss has to say about anything that affects our lives. Somehow Lupe gets placed into this thinking man’s realm and media outlets reach out to him for his opinion on real sh*t despite the fact that I’m fairly certain nothing he’s ever rapped about has transcended the world of conjecture and random musings. But he’s a rapper…that’s rapper sh*t. Which is all well and good…until we get called out on it.

This really isn’t even all about Lupe. Any number of so-called “conscious” rappers generally are as misinformed and uneducated about any number of things once they get past generalities and vagueness.

I don’t even know if these rappers hold themselves to the same standards we hold them too. I’m sure Lupe thinks he can hang with the Sean Hannity’s and Keith Olbermann’s of the world, but learned professors can’t even hang. But these ninjas don’t learn. Maybe that’s our fault for blowing rainbows up their arses. Pun. Pause. 20 Seconds.

In fact, the only rappers I’ve ever really seen hold their own in policy matters have been Ludacris, KRS-One, Chuck D, 50 Cent, Bun B and ironically Cam’ron until the “no snitching” scandal. I’ll stop here, but I wonder…

…do we hold our conscious rappers to too high a standard? Or do we have any real expectations from them outside of rapping that differs from what we expect from the Rick Ross’s and Lil Waynes of the world?

Basically, do you think that the rappers we label as being smart from an intellectual framework are actually…smart?


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Panama Jackson

Panama Jackson is pretty fly for a light guy. He used to ship his frito to Tito in the District, but shipping prices increased so he moved there to save money. When he's not saving humanity with his words or making music with his mouth, you can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking her fine liquors. Most importantly, he believes the children are our future.

  • http://iamyourpeople.com I Am Your People

    Basically, do you think that the rappers we label as being smart from an intellectual framework are actually…smart?

    Kanye might be a whiny mo’fo, but no doubt the college dropout could have gotten a PhD

  • O_Oawok

    I think when most people say conscious they really mean non-negative. :/

  • http://www.twitter.com/Stank_0 Stank_0

    You make a good point here. Lupe is a dumb smart rapper. I feel like this could be alleviated with the simple act of watching the “news” and reading.

  • http://panamaenrique.wordpress.com Malik

    Immortal Technique is the only rapper that I would go through any sort of effort in trying to have a dialogue with about anything of substance. Also, David Banner goes harder for his hometown than any conscious rapper and is far more articulate are expressing his point of view than them either.

  • NinaFontaine

    OK this may get me murked but Common tho! He is FIONE as all get out but when he opens his mouth to talk I want him to have a different inflection in his voice. For his speech pattern to be different LOL. He appears highly intellectual – I think he’s a hot lyricists but to hear him in an interview, is like hearing nails on a chalk board. He talks slow as HAYLE and it seems to take him FOREVER to make a point. Ok that is all……..

  • Amos Banks

    Ice T, Mos Def, Queen Latifah and Will Smith seem pretty bright to me, but they are all from the Old School.

  • http://www.testorshia.blogspot.com Tes

    I don’t think of rappers in the form of “concious” and “other” I think of it along the lines of “unique/witty” and “other.”

    Common once had a line in So Far to Go (the song I want playing when I enter heaven) that said something like “some depict me as being concious, yeah I use my head.” Now in the context of the song he was oh so nasty in the good way, but out of context and probably a little to the left it can be him saying those other people describe him as a “concious” rapper, while he just imagines himself to be a thinker. See that? Witty. I like that.

    Then you’ve got Waka who did an ad for PETA that just let me know PETA wasn’t worth a damn . Mr. Eau Le Douet. Mr. Floooooooocka. The fact that I only know the choruses to anything with him in it unsettles me. Kind of like that Racks song; like what the hell are ya’ll even talmbout? See that? Other. I ain’t down with the other set.

    It all boils down to who I’d rather converse with. Common > Waka. All day. Erryday.

  • http://biggerthomas.wordpress.com MadScientist7

    i’m a lupe fan but i don’t think he’s actually that smart.

    rappers that i think are actually kind of smart are mos, talib, j cole…. then again there are probably rappers out there that aren’t labeled conscious but are probably very intelligent. they put on a facade to sell records (read: plies)

  • O_Oawok

    I don’t agree with expecting “conscious” rappers to be able to discourse about things like that because while they’re influential, they are not leaders/teachers unless they actively take on that role (KRS-ONE comes to mind). We have (or should have) ACTUAL leaders for that. Whether the rapper is conscious of the Yom Kippur War is irrelevant bc at the end of the day art is a reflection of the person’s values and feelings, not an assumption of responsibility for trends in the world, no matter how much the next rapper tries to tell you he or she is a movement.

  • Rog

    As much as I dig Mos Def (top 3 favorite rapper easy) seeing him on Bill Maher allude to his conspiracy theory on 9/11 just had me shaking my head.

    Wyclef Jean I’d say would have to be up there considering he did just try to run for a political office.

    “do we hold our conscious rappers to too high a standard? Or do we have any real expectations from them outside of rapping that differs from what we expect from the Rick Ross’s and Lil Waynes of the world?”

    Conscious Rappers (or rappers in general) typically always desire that MC-ing be considered an art (I agree) and if your going to slap such a label on your work it better be able to stand up to the same criticism that art in other fields (paintings, symphony, literature etc.) goes through.

    As far as Lupe is concerned, after watching this panel with him, Bun B, Kweli and Malice (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4iSZAgK19E&feature=related) I’m convinced dude tries toooooo hard to convince himself of his own intelligence.

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