My Top Five Anti-Capitalist Hip-Hop Songs

Hip-hop has a long and storied history, from its humble beginnings in the hood to its current stronghold on global mainstream culture today. These days hip-hop is so mainstream that the Mighty Mighty Roots Crew is the Tonight Show’s house band with Jimmy Fallon. Who knew a music genre created by working-class black and brown youth in early 70s New York City would change music forever.

I was born in 1983 when hip-hop was still in its adolescence; by the time I was five years old, Kid n’ Play, Digital Underground, and Public Enemy dominated the rap game. In the late eighties, we saw the rise of gangsta rap with West Coast supergroup N.W.A drop their 1988 smash hit and protest anthem of the era, “Fuck tha Police.” By the 90s, party and conscious rap merged or faded, depending on your perspective, with gangsta rap; Bone Thugs N’ Harmony, 2Pac, Biggie Smalls, the Fugees, and Wu-Tang, came to dominate the game.

By the end of the 90s, the “bling-bling” era began, and the Southern rap began to take its place among the top of the game, which continues to this day thanks to those who laid the groundwork. Cash Money Records, No Limit Record, Three Six Mafia, Lil’ Jon, Scarface, Killer Mike, and Outkast. In the current era, we have emo-rap that’s mixed with gangsta and ballin’. I wrote about that a while ago. There have been many criticisms of hip-hop. Once record labels, big and small, saw the profitability in gangsta rap. Those critics have called out sexism, homophobia, materialism, violence, and glorified drug usage rampant in hip-hop music.

By no means is hip-hop the only art form guilty of these things. I contend that rap music is a reflection of American society. It’s an art form created by brown and black youth. However, it sprung out of an era where there was a diversity of political thought in mainstream USA culture. The 1970s was a decade when the United States was still in a tailspin from the political, cultural, and social upheavals of the tumultuous 1960s. That diversity of political thought was still fresh amongst black people during the time period hip-hop was birthed. Diverse of political thought goes back in our throughout black history, from Fredrick Douglass to Sojourner Truth, to W.E.B. DuBois to Booker T. Washington, to Malcolm X to MLK to the Black Panthers to Shirley Chisholm to Cornel West to Barack Obama.

Hip-Hop music is many things, and this diversity in thought is not always reflected in hip-hop, especially today. Much of mainstream rap though entertaining, is all about partying, strippers, and bullshit. I’m not of above any of those things either from time to time. But the rise of gangsta rap and the “bling-bling” era ushered in a sustained period of unchecked materialism in rap music. On the flip side, a different perspective has been reflected in the art form since its humble beginnings. Reflecting the darker side of chasing money and trying to live this American dream as a poor black or brown youth. Hip-hop music and culture do deserve its critique of glorifying rampant consumerism and materialism. But there are times when anti-capitalist thought broke through. Sometimes it came from the most surprising and not so surprising of places. So without further ado, here are my top five anti-capitalist hip-hop songs! 

  1. It All Falls Down by Kanye West

It seems we livin’ the American Dream
But the people highest up got the lowest self-esteem

The prettiest people do the ugliest things
For the road to riches and diamond rings

We shine because they hate us, floss ’cause they degrade us
We tryna buy back our 40 acres
And for that paper, look how low we’ll stoop
Even if you in a Benz, you still a nigga in a coupe

2. Caught in the Hustle by Immortal Technique

“I’m like the little kids on TV that dig through the trash
I hustle regardless of the way you talk shit and laugh
A lot of niggas drop science, but they don’t know the math
Because their mind is narrower than the righteous path
It’s funny how on the block niggas will kill you for cash
But never raise the gun and cry out, “Freedom at last!”

3. $timulus Plan by Dead Prez

Don’t ever think slavery was just about race
Slavery was about money
They say the USA was founded on freedom
But slavery built this country

Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln
Hamilton, Jackson, Grant
Were all slave-owners

4. The Message by GrandMaster Flash and the Furious Five

My son said, “Daddy, I don’t wanna go to school
‘Cause the teacher’s a jerk, he must think I’m a fool
And all the kids smoke reefer, I think it’d be cheaper
If I just got a job, learned to be a street sweeper
Or dance to the beat, shuffle my feet
Wear a shirt and tie and run with the creeps

‘Cause it’s all about money, ain’t a damn thing funny
You got to have a con in this land of milk and honey

5. C.R.E.A.M by Wu-Tang Clan

I guess that’s the time when I’m not depressed

But I’m still depressed, and I ask: what’s it worth?
Ready to give up so I seek the old Earth
Who explained workin’ hard may help you maintain
To learn to overcome the heartaches and pain

We got stick-up kids, corrupt cops, and crack rocks
And stray shots, all on the block that stays hot
Leave it up to me while I be livin’ proof
To kick the truth to the young black youth

But shorty’s runnin’ wild, smokin’ sess, drinkin’ beer
And ain’t tryna hear what I’m kickin’ in his ear
Neglected for now, but yo, it gots to be accepted
That what? That life is hectic

Photo from article Marx on the Mic

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