Without a doubt, 2016 was the year that forced our playlists to stay woke. As racial tensions rose last year, socially and poltically conscious rap found itself yet again fighting for its resounding voice within hip-hop. It became almost impossible for many rappers not to address the issues going on within their communities. Trust and believe that the souls of black folk have been tired and yearning for expression, outlets, lyrical relief. Are we going to get more of that in 2017? *Sees Kendrick Lamar dropping album from his high and humble Compton condo.*
Yes, all rap has its varying levels of consciousness, but socio-politically conscious hip-hop is rap music that critically engages with and/or uplifts the every day struggles of the community; both those rooted in the past and those finding new ways to reveal themselves, ranging from police brutality to ill-resourced public schools. The 80’s and 90’s found themselves filled with conscious rap artist such as Talib Kwali, Queen Latifah, A Tribe Called Quest and so many more. Rappers like Common have been out here keeping us woke for a minute, but even in ‘94 he felt the grip on conscious rap loosening, making way for gangster rap, as he expressed in I Used to Love H.E.R. Fastforward to this decade and the hottest songs are fun club-bangers that we love to turn up to, but most of which are not addressing topics that go beyond the surface.
This past year life got so real, it summoned the likes of Common and A Tribe Called Quest to push through with Black America Again in December 2016 and We’ve got it from Here, Thank You 4 Your Service in November 2016. Certain albums like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly (2015) and Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book (2016) have finessed the art of serving both club-bangers and conscious music. Like, really finessed it. The King of the South himself, TI, dedicated an entire album to discussing police brutality and an hypocritical system in US or Else: Letter to the System. J Cole also came out of hiding as 2016 wrapped up and left us 4 Your Eyez Only, an album that touched on the impact of absent fathers, brothers being targeted for the profit of our incarceration system and the lack of opportunity that leads one to street economics.
While Lupe and Wale don’t always get their due respect in the game with conscious music, that did not stop either artist from dropping relevant singles as the year came to an end with Lupe’s Made in the USA and Wale’s Black is Gold.
Childish Gambino proved that he is not to be slept on when he dropped, Awaken, My Love. This album gave us an old-school groove while helping us stay about as woke as his FX show Atlanta, which was equally, unapologetically black and all too real.
While we are on the topic of 2016’s greatness, even though we’re only discussing rap, I CANNOT NOT shout out the Knowles Sisters for providing us with A Seat at The Table and a shot of Lemonade for the culture. Before this year even started to turn up on us, Beyonce let us know what it was about to be with her black panther tribute during her super bowl half time performance. With that first quarter play, it’s safe to say we started off 2016 ready for music that speaks to us, capable of evoking both thought and action.
As we enter the second quarter of 2017, is this resurgence of socio-poltically conscious music going to keep going at the same rate as it did in 2016? Is there still a demand for rap that feeds the soul or are we good now? Word on the street is that K. Dot is blessing us with an album in a few hours and given the singles he’s already dropped (and every 16 he spits), I’m not banking on disappointment. Let’s see if our playlists stay as woke as they were last year as we continue to navigate 2017 and whatever it may in store.
By: Naa-Shorme, Creator of Write to Live