Some of you loved Part one of this series, some of you didn’t. Some of you ripped my first round of selections pretty viciously. It’s all love over here though, and personally, I enjoy the debate.As I told one commenter, music is subjective. If you are from Los Angeles, your list is most likely different from someone living in Atlanta.
Some of our readers had some excellent suggestions that I overlooked in the first post, so here I give credit where credit is due! I give you Part 2 of the 10 Greatest Conscious Rappers of All Time!
Suggested By: EsiSia
Quoteable: “I would rather have my family starve than have white people buy my albums”
No list of M.C.s would be complete without mentioning Lauryn Hill (Im actually a little embarrassed she wasnt included on the first list). Lauryn is a Black cultural icon, and no less than hip hop royalty. 5 of her six children are the direct descendants of Bob Marley. Lauryn Hill’s influential sound has been contributed to so many feature films that there is no American movie-goer who hasn’t heard her voice.
She is real, raw, and one of the hardest working Black women on the planet – perpetually on tour (she and Nas have combined their Black Rage/Life is Good Tours into one roadshow), and demanding the highest work ethic from herself and her team. The Audio Engineer for Ms. Hill’s Black Rage Tour Will Yip said this of working with Lauryn: “Miss [Lauryn] Hill is one of the most intense and brilliant artists I’ve ever met. We’ll have rehearsals from 2:00 p.m. to 5:30 in the morning. It’s like physical boot camp with her. She’ll push her musicians to the limit physically, and really their emotional limits, because people are just on the brink of going crazy. But she tests you and she pushes you so she can get the best out of you.”
Wise Intelligent of Poor Righteous Teachers
Suggested By: Stacey Muhammad
Quoteable: “The Illuminati…goes way back to the Crusades, and way back before that. These people were about world conquest and world domination. And they’ve already dominated and conquered the world, [so] what is the point? …I think we need to focus more attention on the fact that public schools are being shut down intentionally, to disenfranchise many urban youth, from whom Hip Hop came. If this is about Hip Hop and the youth that created Hip Hop and where Hip Hop comes from, and everybody talking about “this is where Hip Hop lives,” we need to be focusing our attention on what’s happening to the children that produced Hip Hop, that brought Hip Hop to the world.”
Wise Intelligent and his team of Poor Righteous Teachers have been in the game for decades. Back in the 90s, the Poor Righteous Teachers released 5 mixtapes (Holy Intellect, Pure Poverty, Black Business, Killing U For Fun and The New World Order). The success of these albums led to millions in sales, three national and two world tours.
Rather than resting, the group stepped their game up in the 21st century with artist development, the establishment of an entertainment brand – Intelligent Media Group – and Wise Intelligent is in the midst of releasing his first highly anticipated book, 3/5ths an MC: The Manufacturing of a Dumbed Down Rapper”.
His 2012 mixtape, Wise Intelligent Iz…El Negro Guerrero, is also set to be released soon. Wise Intelligent is one of the few rappers who understand that Hip Hop truly has the power to change the world. “It’s not that heads are not making conscious music anymore, it’s because mainstream corporations don’t want it on the air – for what it is, and for what it has the ability to do. Same thing that happened in Egypt; Hip Hop has the ability to do that. It was Hip Hop that moved those kids in South Africa to confront apartheid.”
Chuck D of Public Enemy
Suggested By: Khari Toure
Quoteable: “We must remain mindful that there’s a road to freedom, and resist the embarrassingly popular trend that ignorance and a ghetto mentality, which is cast upon us, is our only food for thought or food for non-thought. As MC’s we must become more responsible and revolutionary in our approach, because we have young people around the globe listening to our every word and watching our every step.”
We gave Public Enemy as a whole a shout out in the previous article, but Chuck D still stands out as one of the most conscious hip hop artists in recent history. Chuck D has been called the “Bob Marley of Rap” by the Los Angeles Times, and established himself during the 90s and 2000s as a key figure in the Black Conscious community. He called the 1990s a “do-or die” decade for African-Americans while speaking at Emory University in 1992, and demanded that the students “stop conforming or begging to be accepted as equal in white America,” and instead focus on cultural education and social and economic self-determination, the same ideas propagated by the Black Panthers.
Since then, he has continuously spoken out about “the lack of control African-Americans exercise over what they produce, whether it is in the arts, culture, or industry. We start things, create things, do it off the vibe–just like [fictional Southern cook and brand name] Aunt Jemima–then somebody comes along with a box and a cash register.”
He has never stopped contributing to his body of work, and produces just as much on the intellectual and activist front today as he did the music front through the 80s and 90s. “We do it one year at a time is how we look at it,” Chuck said. “Every year, now, breaks in to 12 months. That breaks down to 30 to 31 days, and each day is 24 hours of seconds and minutes.” At the age of 52, Chuck D uses his fame to raise awareness of injustices and bigotry.
His book, Chuck D: Lyrics of a Rap Revolutionary is considered by some to be required reading for each and every conscious hip hop head.
Speech of Arrested Development
Suggested By: Derek
Quoteable: When asked recently about the state of hip-hop during the last two decades, Speech commented “there is little to no balance; the flood of rappers turned corporate moguls is a reflection of how the genre is losing it’s creative spirit and taking more of a “money is the bottom line” approach. We said in our first album, we won’t sell out and we haven’t, that’s what I’m most proud of”.
Todd Thomas, aka “Speech” has been the front-man of the ground-breaking group Arrested Development for two years. In that time, the Milwaukee native has also released a number of solo projects, including Down South Produckshuns (2002), Peechy (2003), The Vagabond (2005), and “The Grown Folks Table” (2009). Aside from being a talented rapper, Speech is also the author of What Is Success?: How To Be Successful God’s Way.
His group, Arrested Development, was the first African – American artists to donate to the African National Congress (ANC), sharing the stage with Nelson Mandela in South Africa after his release and election. Their proper representation of Black culture and consciousness was the exact opposite of the celebrated stereotypical thug, gangster, and drug-dealer. The success of Arrested Development would inspire a whole new generation of artists like The Fugees, Black Eyed Peas, Erykah Badu, India Irie & The Roots. It could also be argued that without Speech and Arrested Development, groups like OutKast and The Goodie Mob may have never existed!
This year marks the groups 20th Anniversary, and to celebrate they will be on tour throughout the month of November. Support the group with the purchase of a ticket, and catch the next show near you! For a list of tour dates and venues, go to http://arresteddevelopmentmusic.com/shows/.
Suggested By: Legend
Quoteable: “My fight against terrorism, to me, the biggest terrorist is Obama in the United States of America. I’m trying to fight the terrorism that’s actually causing the other forms of terrorism. You know, the root cause of terrorism is the stuff the U.S. government allows to happen. The foreign policies that we have in place in different countries that inspire people to become terrorists.”
What do an Occupy Wall Street t-shirt, a burka, and a Palestinian flag have in common? Two words: Lupe Fiasco. Self proclaimed Muslim, CEO of 1st and 15th Entertainment, and Grammy Award winning Wasalu Muhammad Jaco, BKA Lupe Fiasco, is one of my latest personal favorites (thanks to Legend). He is by far one of the most politically astute rappers getting mainstream play, and asserts his right to speak out.
“People say, ‘If you don’t vote, then you don’t have a right to say anything,’” he says. “But nine times outta 10, I pay more taxes than they do – so even if I don’t vote, I still have the right to speak out. Their taxes maybe pay for a box of bullets; mine pay for a smart bomb – or at least the guidance system. I don’t mind payin’ for the police and for streets and sanitation, or road work and for streets and sanitation, or road work, bridges, trains, food subsidies and welfare. But I don’t wanna pay for bombs to fight proxy wars in the middle of nowhere against enemies in the night.”
Lupe Fiasco is your favorite conscious rapper’s favorite conscious rapper. Even Wise Intelligent admits in this interview “I love Lupe Fiasco. I love Lupe Fiasco because he keeping it real, and that’s what Hip Hop is for me!”
Suggested by: Adeshia
Quoteable: “I never sleep cause sleep is the cousin of death”
The self-educated Nassir Jones is another hip hop icon who deserves a place on this list. After dropping out of high school in the 9th grade, Nas continued his education on his own – particularly concerning African culture, the Five Percent Nation, the Nuwaubians, the Bible and the Qur’an. Music became a natural conduit for his knowledge and talent, taking him from the slums to the heights of hip hop stardom. He has been named one of the top 100 Rappers of All Time, and one of the Top 50 MCs of the 20th Century.
His awards include:
2010, Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group: “Too Many Rappers” Nominated
2009, Best Rap Album: (Nas) Nominated
2008, Best Rap Album: (Hip-Hop Is Dead) Nominated
2008, Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group: “Better Than I Ever Been” Nominated
2003, Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group: “The Essence” Nominated
2003, Best Short-Form Music Video: “One Mic” Nominated
2000, Best Rap Album: (I Am) Nominated
1997, Best Rap Solo Performance: “If I Ruled the World” Nominated
MTV Video Music Awards
2005, Best Hip-Hop Video: “Bridging the Gap” Nominated
2003, Best Rap Video: “I Can” Nominated
2003, Best Rap Video: “Thug Mansion” Nominated
2002, Video of the Year: “One Mic” Nominated
2002, Best Rap Video: “One Mic” Nominated
1999, Best Rap Video: “Hate Me Now” Nominated
Not bad for a 9th Grade dropout.
His 1994 album, Illmatic is still one of the best-selling and top rated albums in hip hop, and his most recent release Life Is Good Life Is Good has sold 301,000 copies in the US (mostly digital) in less than one month. Be on the lookout for his next album, Nas.com in collaboration with Common.
Suggested By:Ayo Tinubu
Quoteable: “Naturally that’s confusion to a young’n trying to follow Christ
Taught that if you don’t know Jesus then you lead a hollow life
Never question the fact that Jesus was Jewish not a Christian
Or that Christianity was law according to politicians
Who was King James?
And why did he think it was so vital
to remove chapters and make his own
version of the Bible
They say Hell is underground and Heaven is in the sky
And they say that’s where you go when you die
but how they know”
If skills sold, Talib Kweli would have been one of the most commercially successful rappers of his time! Former member of The Nation of Gods and Earths Talib Kweli Greene is a truly global force for Black Consciousness. He is one of the only Black men to ever play one of China’s earliest music festivals, the Yue Festival in 2007.
As a young man, Talib Kweli (whose name translates as “the seeker of truth and knowledge”) studied experimental theater at New York University. He’s put his theater background to use with numerous television appearances, and cameos in The Black Power Mixtape, the upcoming documentary Business As Usual: The Exploitation of Hip-Hop, and with Def Poetry Jam. His next album, Prisoner of Conscious, is set to be released November 20, 2012.
Black Thought of The Roots
Suggested By: Yao Onipa
Quoteables: “I make hip‑hop first and foremost. The shit that’s coming out that people are calling hip‑hop, music purists wouldn’t consider hip‑hop music at all, because a lot of it goes against all ethics of the original art form. First and foremost, hip-hop is about being original. Ninety percent of this shit that I hear on the radio, or at a club, or thumping out of people’s cars is some unoriginal shit: formulated, and just recycled and recycled. Nobody is making any more original music, to the point where we are exhausting all of our resources.”
Yet another Five Percent Rapper makes our list in the form of Tariq Trotter, aka Black Thought. Since 1987, Black Thought and Roots co-founder ?uestlove, have led the hip hop/neo soul group The Roots. Under their leadership, the group won 4 Grammy Awards, 3 NAACP Image Awards, and was named one of the “twenty greatest live acts in the world” by Rolling Stone Magazine in 2003. Their very first album, was completely, 100% original, and used absolutely no samples.
Black Thought is as talented on-screen as he is behind the mic. His filmography includes Bamboozled (2000), Perfume, Love Rome, and Brooklyn Babylon (both 2001).
Suggested by: Nyesuada
Quoteable: “I’m poor, a refugee been in prison and survived a war/I come from, the most dangerous city in this universe/You’re likely to get shot at birth, so how could rap quench my thirst?”
Knaan is an up and coming force in American hip hop. If you haven’t heard him yet, you will.
Born in Mogadishu, Somalia, just as the civil unrest that rocked the country was beginning, rapper K’NAAN spent the early years of his life trying to avoid death and listening to Nas and Rakim. He attributes these two artists both with teaching him English and with influencing his perspective on hip hop.
By 2005, K’naan was already touring the world and was a massive Canadian success – his 2005 The Dusty Foot Philosopher earned him a Juno Award for Best Rap Recording – but he didn’t make his appearance on American Television until he participated in the 2008 BET Awards Cypher. Shortly after that, his first American album, Troubadour, was released. Billboard called it “socially alert and frequently brilliant” (the album hit the U.S. Billboard Top Rap Albums, peaking at #12)
K’Naan’s music is both popular and well received, but the artist makes most of his money via licensing. You’ve probably heard his single, “ABCs” used in Madden 09 by EA Sports, and the 2009 film The Trotsky. You’ve heard his single “Wavin’ Flag” is the video game NBA 2K10, and a remixed version was used by Coca-Cola has the official anthem of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Another of his singles, “I Come Prepared“, is used in the video game Fight Night Round 4, also by EA Sports.
Lately, he has released tracks with other Conscious Hip Hop icons like Nas and Damian Marley.
Personally, I’m happy to see more Africans bringing their unique style, perspective, and culture to American hip hop. I predict that this mixing of styles will produce some new and exciting music the likes of which we haven’t yet seen.
Did I forget your favorite conscious rapper? Is there somebody out there that the world needs to know about? Do you rap or freestyle? Leave a comment below for some free publicity. After you leave your first comment, you will be automatically approved for future comments anywhere else on this site.