The views and opinions expressed in the following feature editorial are those expressly of the writer of this piece and do not necessarily reflect those of HipHopDX.

Unlike these bougie niggas, I ain’t braggin’/ Fuck killin’ blacks, I’m down for toe-taggin’ Grand Dragons” – Killer Mike

Simply stated, I’m from the class of ’88, a/k/a “The Golden Age of Hip Hop,” a timeline, that in my head, runs from 1984 to 1994. What that means for those who don’t know, is that I was raised in the most lyrically active, musically diverse and creative decade in the history of Rap. To the class of 1988, every aspect of Hip Hop mattered (graffiti, emceeing, deejaying and all facets of Hip Hop dance). In those days, if you kicked science, you said something real; you said it from the heart and most of all, you meant it. When Chuck D brought the noise, he came with an organized army of S1W’s. When Brand Nubian broke down the 5% Nation of Gods and Earths, they quickly reminded you that “Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down.” Ice Cube declared himself AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, then wrote Uncle Sam a Death Certificate. N.W.A., Above The Law, Ice-T and The Geto Boys told you they respectively lived in cities under siege.

Within that classic cut (“City Under Seige”), Scarface rhymed, “Now let’s go back to the past / The mothafucka who needs to be tried is Ronald Reagan’s ass / Appointed Bush to the C.I.A. / (That shit was cold put Noriega on the payroll) / All of a sudden shit changed / Right after ’88 (Yeah, yeah, yeah) / Hmm – ain’t that strange? / Some think I’m goin too far / But if you wanna go to war, I take you to war.” As demonized as Hip Hop has been since its inception, there has never been a form of music on earth as politically and socially courageous.

Within this moment of golden era time, artists like X-Clan, Paris, Gang Starr, Jeru The Damaja, Wu-Tang Clan, Poor Righteous Teachers, Nas and others made having knowledge not only cool, but necessary if you were to be perceived as a real street cat. Again, it’s important to note that most of the socially and politically aggressive raps came from the gangstas. Spice 1‘s “Welcome To The Ghetto,” Ice-T’s “Hunted Child,” Ice Cube’s “Endangeres Species” and almost anything made by Tupac Shakur are prime examples of gangsta rappers addressing real time social and political issues. The Nation of Islam, Malcolm X, The 5% Nation of Gods and Earths, The Black Panther Party and others like them were known for being one thing: Righteous dudes who would not hesitate to put the knuckles to ya noggin’ if you acted up. Many of today’s conscious emcees often carry an image that’s distanced from the streets – part of the reason why the streets often miss their valuable messages.

Seriously, if you had to walk through a dark Harlem alley at three am, who do you want with you? One of these licorice root-chewin’ peacenicks in a tie-dyed dashiki? The mainstream media (deathly afraid of black youth, and confused by the rapidly increasing popularity of Hip Hop back then) wanted America to think that Rap was only about murder, sex and money. So the racially charged lyrics of Gangsta Rap that challenged the traditional “American Dream” was downplayed in the mainstream. Ironically, at the same time, the Rap industry worked hard to silence rappers with a socially-conscious edge. Today when you look up, hardly of the biggest so-called gangsta rappers dare to speak a socially conscious word. Essentially the mainstream media’s lies about Hip Hop from the 1980s has become the 2010 reality. Very few of the rappers who claim to be “King”of the streets mention anything about the state of community interaction with the police, how they feel about social crises like Hurricane Katrina, the state of the American education system, or the war. Not only do they not speak to it, they may be afraid to.

In place of these politically hard emcees, the industry started pushing artists who, while socially-conscious, were seemingly soft outwardly. Most notably, the group Arrested Development comes to mind. Dressed in overalls, rocking dreadlocks and wearing bright clothes and knit caps, Speech and company was a far cry from the kind who originally taught young disenfranchised youth to “Fight The Power.” Sadly, the term I’ll use as “Knit Cap Rap” consistently lacked the spike of authentic anger that so many young black men were feeling at that time. King Sun addressed this issue in the song “Be Black.” As Ed Lover likes to say, c’mon son! Speech wasn’t fixin’ to bring no “Revolution,” even if he sang about it.

While Knit Cap Rap was certainly more conscious, on some levels (Black Star and Common come to mind) it could be just as sexist as anything Too Short or Suga Free ever recorded on wax. I guess being called a “hoe” to a rim shot, an upright bass and a flute was more acceptable than a Parliament Funkadelic bassline. An example of that are Q-Tip‘s “Vivrant Thing” video. It had just as much if not more skantily-clothed booty-shaking than the average Snoop Dogg video. Yet Q-Tip gets the “conscious” pass all day, while Snoop gets frequently  blasted for being sexist. The Native Tongues crew had the sexually suggestive “Buddy” and Mos Def’s “Ms. Fat Booty” could be seen as just as objectifying of women as any Ice Cube track.

Gradually, this “Knit Cap Rap” became its own circle of emcees. Black issues might be mentioned from time to time (Talib Kweli, Mos Def, enter your favorite “boom-bap rapper” here), but a lot of it got boiled down to an artsy-fartsy expression of some hybrid black thought. You’re hardly ever gonna find a cat fresh on parole mentioning any of the above artists. From my experience, cats on parole are much more likely listening to Immortal Technique than the Street Sweeper Social Club – even if its artistically similar. A lot of Knit Cap Rap arguably has some of the most musically eclectic execution, but very little of it appeals to the youth on the block. For real though, if you had to pick up your boy from jail, what you think he wants to hear when he jumps in the ride? What speaks to him on an emotional level?

In my opinion, Killer Mike‘s “Bad Day to Worst Day” outdoes all of the last decade’s “conscious” Knit Cap Rap combined. Some of the only rappers today who bring that legitimate political anger to the mic today include Immortal Technique, Zion I, and T-KASH. Other emcees of note who spit some of that realness include Ice Cube (still killing it), Dilated Peoples, Planet Asia, Bun B, Amir Sulaiman, Ras Kass, Brother Ali, Rhymefest and One Be Lo. There are a few others, but the list is devastatingly short.

When people talk about us living in a “Post Racial America,” it’s partly because Knit Cap Rap spun out discussion of the real issues dealing with young black men and women. Knit Cap Rap allowed Hip Hop to get hijacked by the political left. Now every issue that supposedly important is everything but something that addresses perspectives solutions by and about African American youth. All these dudes with the tight sweaters on got cats marching for everything but the hood. When the creator of all of the elements in Hip Hop (young Black males and females) becomes last in line the on social and political discussions in Rap, it’s about time for me (your ’88er) to go.

In my opinion, the creation of the soft-conscious rapper has almost singlehandedly ruined Rap. In order for Hip Hop to redeem itself across the board, we’re gonna need some politically active rappers to bring harder beats, rhymes and imagery on the mic. We need to bring the hood back into the classroom of beats of rhymes. The streets have to be included in the conversation, or they won’t hear us. This is change you can believe in.

Adisa Banjoko is the Founder of the Hip-Hop Chess Federation. For more info hit

The views and opinions expressed in the following feature editorial are those expressly of the writer of this piece and do not necessarily reflect those of HipHopDX.