The Strange Famous Records artist B. Dolan recently released his latest project, Kill The Wolf which can be bought here. The album features lead single “Safety Theater,” a track that should be in line with his revolutionary messages. Delivering a guest editorial for DX, East Coast emcee B. Dolan offers his ten top politically charged rap songs.
Scarface ft. Ice Cube – Hand of the Dead Body
“America’s been always known for blaming us niggas for they fuck-ups
And we were always considered evil
Now they trying to bust our only code of communicating with our people”
Maybe the first political rap song I ever gave my full attention to. I was 12 years old when I first heard this album, and was dimly aware of the ongoing push to censor rappers and rap music.. as much as any 12 year old is up on current events.
When I heard this song though, Scarface’s message to the government instantly made sense and spoke to an anger in me. Plus Ice Cube said “Fuck Bill and Hillary / Ice Cube it ain’t no killing me.” which was the hardest thing I’d ever heard in my life. I was sold instantly.
Public Enemy – Shut Em Down
“I like Nike but wait a minute
The neighborhood supports, so put some money in it
All corporations owe, they gotta give up the dough
To my town or else we gotta shut ’em down”I remember a long winter of shoveling snow with Apocalypse ’91 in my Walkman. Songs like ‘Can’t Truss Em’ and ‘By The Time I Get to Arizona’ had a huge impact and educated me at a young age. Of course the influence of Public Enemy can’t be ignored when it comes to political rap. They inspired me to read more and different books, question everything and everyone in authority, and see the flipside of history and American society. I’ve never worn Nike since.
De La Soul – Patti Dooke
“(Tell me somethin’ huh?)
(How come they never cross over to us, huh?)
(I never seen five niggas on Elvis Presley album cover!)”
De La Soul aren’t generally considered political rap, but are a great example of how ‘personal is political’. De La said real shit, and told stories about themselves and others that conveyed real feelings and who they were. Patti Dooke addressed racism in the music industry in a way I’d never understood so clearly, and De La made for some great protagonists… making points that still mean something today.
Nas – Want to Talk to You
“Mr. Mayor imagine if this was your backyard
Mr. Governor imagine if it was your kids that starved.”
The first protest I ever attended was in New York City in 1999, demonstrating against police brutality after the shooting of Amadou Diallo. I’d grown up 3 hours north of the city in Rhode Island, where the political ideas I learned from rap music were only my own in isolation. When I moved to NYC and stepped into the streets for the first time at 18, I was powerfully impacted by seeing thousands of people all around me who felt exactly the same as I did. While we marched that day, everyone around me started chanting the chorus of this song at one point.
“I wanna talk to the mayor, the governor, the motherfuckin president
I wanna talk to the FBI, and the CIA, and the motherfuckin congressman.”
Hearing rap music in that context forever changed what it meant to me and how I thought about it. I remember feeling like I’d finally ended up in the right place… like this was where the music I loved had been trying to lead me to.
Mos Def – Mathematics
“Numbers is hard and real and they never have feelings
But you push too hard, even numbers got limits”
An instantly classic DJ Premier beat and Mos Def flipping it incredibly. The concept of writing around numbers and statistics could’ve been really stale if not executed correctly, but instead Mos gives them life and relates them to the listener. “New World Water” from the same album also inspired and educated me at the time I heard it. I remember feeling like the bar had been raised after hearing that song.
Vince Staples – Hands Up
I picked this song as a great introduction to newcomers, but everything Vince Staples has been doing lately is killing me. His Summertime ’06 just dropped and is full of sharp writing and political content. ‘Lift Me Up’ and ‘Norf Norf’ also would’ve made great introductions here. This dude is the most recent proof that political rap music never went away and is still as relevant and powerful now as ever, and that the best political rap is personal too.
Sage Francis – Makeshift Patriot
“I’ll show you which culture to pump your fist at, and what foot is right to kiss
We don’t know who the culprit is yet, but he looks like this.”
Couldn’t make this list without bigging up the home team, and the guy that runs my record label. Sage’s background in journalism shone through on this track, which he made in the days following 9/11. I didn’t hear this song until a year or two later when we met in Providence, but it was exactly what I and a lot of other people were looking for at that time. Sage’s poetic and skeptical approach to political rap inspired me, as did the career and fanbase he’d built by doing it. He showed me at a critical time that an audience existed who wanted to hear this type of stuff, even if it wasn’t happening in the mainstream.
Dead Prez – Happiness
“I feel great even though we got mad things to deal with
Happiness is all in the mind. Let’s unwind, and find a reason to smile.”
I had already become actively engaged in social justice work when Dead Prez’s “Let’s Get Free” dropped, and it hit me at the perfect time, in the perfect way. Dead Prez made music for people trying to live struggle and resistance, and the way they did it on this album was holistic and dope. The secret to that was in this song, for me. Every activist knows that you will reach various roadblocks and feelings of burnout, hopelessness and frustration. On Let’s Get Free, DP was not only giving us fuck-shit-up classics like “Bigger Than Hip Hop,” they were reminding us to eat healthy, and occasionally just appreciate a nice fucking day and recharge our batteries. This might sound obvious, but to those in the fight this advice can get lost, and is critical.
Papoose – Law Library
“Take these bars and put em in your commisary…
Aquire this knowledge by any means necessary”
I struggled for a lot of years with what power, if any, political music could have. If Chuck D didn’t write the song that sparked a revoltuion, what were the odds that I was going to? I didn’t just want to make bumper stick rap for people to pump their fist at and go home feeling righteous… I wanted to make political rap that actually contributed something to the movement for social justice.
When I heard Papoose’s “Law Library” mixtape, the lightbulb went on. I realized this was a way rap could be used to create something completely practical and useable. Songs like “R.S.V.P.” and “Film the Police” were the direct result of that kind of thinking.
Skipp Coon – Ruremarm
Bite claw scratch
because the pigs and the rats
Cooperating in the trap.”
Skipp Coon is the shit. If you don’t know, get familiar. I came across this guy’s music last year and we’ve been talking a lot about doing some work together in the coming year. He’s the political rapper I’ve been listening to the most of late, and he’s doing some really exciting stuff out of Jackson, MS and walking in the footsteps of powerful contemporaries like Killer Mike and David Banner. Remember that I told you he was a man to watch.