ZU Magazine is a publication of ZU Media. The following is an article from Issue 5: Revolution.

Staff Writer and ZU Radio General Manager | Toph Buzzard

Rap and hip-hop music were bred by revolutionary people seeking to create change.

Dr. Justin Smith, an Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Azusa Pacific University and a rap junky said, “It starts with DJ Kool Herc throwing a party to raise money to get books and clothes for school kids.”

Around the year 1975, the so-called godfather of rap and hip-hop, DJ Kool Herc, introduced rap to the world centered around social activism. Now, music and social movements have been linked. Using music as the attraction to fundraise money was revolutionary at the time.

Early hip-hop DJs figured out a way to radicalize the bridge in funk music. They answered the question, “How can I take this really cool break in the funk record and make it two minutes long?”

Smith, speaking from the DJ’s perspective said this in his tenured rap jargon, “Well, I get two copies of the record. I’ve got my mixer so I can manipulate the record so I’m playing the 15 seconds here and the 15 seconds here. I can keep going back and forth so that … it’s not this bridge that takes us from chorus to chorus … but this is the really cool funky part of the song. We’re going to make this the whole song.”

From the jump, it is clear that rap was destined for continual revolution. DJ Kool Herc’s desire to provide for the community and his ear for the funky bridge in a song started it all.

Since the beginning of rap, artists were using their music to talk about the problems they faced personally or saw in their communities. Rap and hip-hop artists that talk about these things produce what is known as conscious rap.

Consciousness is a staple in rap music. In July of 1982, the song “The Message” was released by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five to give a voice to the poverty they saw in their hometown of New York City.

It goes, “Rats in the front room, roaches in the back/Junkies in the alley with a baseball bat/I tried to get away but I couldn’t get far/’Cause a man with a tow truck repossessed my car.”

Although consciousness aligns with the birth of rap, conscious rap was not found in the mainstream media.

That all changed in 1988 because of Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, MC Ren and DJ Yella. These were the five members of the renown rap group, NWA.

By rapping about what they were experiencing, NWA popularized conscious rap.

In their song “F— the Police,” NWA emphasized police brutality, saying, “And on the other hand, without a gun, they can’t get none/But don’t let it be a black and a white one/’Cause they’ll slam ya down to the street top/Black police showing out for the white cop.”

Even today, thirty years after the release of that song, they’re still played because nobody rapped with the vulgarity that NWA did. No one did it with the hardness that NWA did. They expressed their lives as African Americans in South Central LA.

Conscious rappers continued to emerge out of the wake of NWA. In the 90s, it was Tupac.

His song, “Changes,” discussed what it’s like to be of low socioeconomic class and African American in the US.

Tupac said, “Give the crack to the kids, who the hell cares/ One less hungry mouth on the welfare!”

Today, Kendrick Lamar is one of the most prominent, modern-day, conscious rappers. In his track “Alright,” he preaches a message of hopefulness amidst extreme trials.

He said, “Wouldn’t you know/We been hurt, been down before/N—-, when our pride was low/Lookin’ at the world like, “Where do we go?”/N—-, and we hate po-po/Wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho’.”

One of Lamar’s peers goes by the name of Logic. This is arguably the latest rap artist to contribute to a revolutionary movement.

Like NWA, Logic showed courage and talked about something that no one else would. For NWA, it was race relations and police brutality. For Logic, it was mental health.

His 2017 Grammy-nominated song titled “1-800-273-8255” is the number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. His performance at the 60th Annual Grammys boosted the song into the top three on the US Billboard Hot 100. It will likely go down as one of the most powerful performances in music history.

In the Netflix series “Rapture,” Tuma Basa, Spotify’s curator of their Rap Caviar playlist said, “It’s really courageous to even take on something like that, especially in hip-hop where mental health is a stigma. People don’t talk about it. They’re ashamed. It’s not in their interest to show that level of vulnerability. But I think the game is changed, and it’s guys like Logic who are changing the game.”  

The DJ Kool Hercs, the NWAs, the Tupacs, the Kendrick Lamars and the Logics of rap and hip-hop music are unique and continue the long-held reputation for revolutionary music.

Revolutions will come. It’s just a matter of who is next.