When I ask this question, it is not my intent to pose some philosophical or rhetorical conundrum. When debating conscious rap vs. unconscious rap, notables such as Common, Mos Def, Lupe, and Public Enemy reign in this debate. It wasn’t until recently, that my boy told me Lil B could be considered conscious because of his song, I Got Aids. The same guy that raps Wonton Soup, B*tch Mob Anthem, and Bill Bellamy? Conscious rap?! After my visceral reaction, I listened to the song and began to question if rappers should stay in their lane.
Chuck D once identified Hip Hop as the “Black CNN”. He didn’t mean that we should get our news from Lupe but rather rappers should politicize art given the circumstances that birthed this genre. Hip-hop isn’t meant to be apolitical. Drake raps, “floating in and out of consciousness,” which could be interpreted as a double entendre. The literal meaning is very different than it’s metaphorical. You can exhibit this double consciousness by speaking out against injustice one moment and perpetuating low socioeconomic stereotypes the next. This makes up the contradictory sphere which cultural, racial, political, economic, and social rhetoric can be explored.
uh, and we aint get exploited
White man aint feard it so he did not destroy it
We aint work for free, see they had to employ it
Built it up together so we equally appointed
First 400 years, see we actually enjoyed it
Constitution written by W.E.B. Du Bois
Were no reconstructions, civil war got avoided
Lupe embodies the epitome of a conscious rapper and still “dumbs it down” for his constituents. His wordplay emphasizes the need to learn our history to further our agenda, and simultaneously entertaining our urge for the “perfect verse over a tight beat”.
When rappers get out of their lane, they begin singing careers and try to politicize a “tip drill” song. That’s an hyperbole but my point remains that it’s confusing and the narratives aren’t clearly defined when conflicting ideals come into contact. Hip-hop should not be an environment that you have to choose life over death, apolitical songs over political rhetoric, or injustice over justice. Choose your lane and stick to it. Professor Tricia Rose describes Rap music as “a black cultural expression that prioritizes black voices from the margins of urban America.”
For all the hip hop heads that feel comparing Lil B to Lupe is blasphemous, I agree. At the same time, I don’t intend to marginalize Lil B’s content but conscious rap may not be his forte. Truth be told, rapping may not be his forte.
My question still stands: should (un)conscious rappers stay in their lane? Does this lane alter a rapper’s creative freedom?