Forty-fifth President of the United States of America, Donald Trump, is the latest in a string of topics that rappers are reacting to. During his 2016 presidential campaign, Los Angeles rappers YG and Nipsey Hussle released the single ‘F**k Donald Trump’, rated by HipHopDX as the 6th “most lit” track of 2016. The single failed to chart, but was viewed by over 16 million people on YouTube with the remix, which featured rappers Macklemore and G-Eazy, garnering a further 3 million views.
The lyrics set out the rappers’ reasons for disliking Trump, with YG rapping, “Don’t let Donald Trump win, that ni**a cancer. He too rich, he ain’t got the answers. He can’t make decisions for this country, he gon’ crash us”, and Nipsey Hussle criticising Trump’s wealthy background and lack of political experience: “Reagan sold coke, Obama sold hope, Donald Trump spent his trust fund money on the vote”. YG later offered to perform ‘F**k Donald Trump’ at the presidential inauguration for a fee of $4 million dollars, but was not selec ted to perform.
‘F**k Donald Trump’ is one of the latest instances in a long tradition of rappers speaking about issues that affect the communities they come from. Since the late 80s, hip-hop artists have been at the forefront of speaking out about the issues the y faced in their communities. Aware of the influence they have over their listeners, hip-hop artists have used their reach to raise social issues in a way that resonates with the man on the stree t, creating catchy, often expletive-ridden sing-along anthems that counter the establishment. In an article titled ‘Day of the Dre ’, published in Rolling Stone magazine in September 1993, then Dr Dre prodigy rapper Snoop Dogg said, “I feel like I’m one of the power speakers, like a Malcolm X figure now.” Since then, the world has changed, and so has hip-hop, but a catchy, curse-filled line has remained a popular way to raise issues tha t hip-hop artists’ communities feel strongly about.
It started in 1988, with legendary rap group NWA’s debut album, Straight Outta Compton. While the title track had a few choice words for police, the anti-police brutality protest anthem ‘F**k tha Police’, which featured on the album, stood out as a song of resistance against the continuous harassment o f black youth by police in America’s urban centres. With lyrics including “and not the other colour so police think, they have the authority to kill a minority”, ‘F**k tha Police’, which was later ranked 425 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, earned NWA the title of “the world’s most dangerous rap group”, a warning letter from the FBI, and worldwide notoriety. Founding member of NWA, rapper and actor Ice Cube, continues to perform the song today, and the song made a resurgence in the wake of the #BlackLivesMatter protests, which broke out in the US in 2015 after multiple instances of police brutality resulting in the deaths of unarmed black people across the US.
Gangsta rap, the subgenre of rap music that most of these songs fall into, has been blamed for many of the social ills faced by African-American youth. While gangsta rap has been declining in recent years, its influence on American youth remains a debated topic. American newspaper The Michigan Chronicle, in an article titled ‘The damaging effects of gangsta rap’, published on 9 October 2013, said of gangsta rap: “the fa ct that the music has been embraced by so many young African- Americans, especially males, speaks volumes about their misguided mindsets, their (usually) undesirable backgrounds, their bleak futures, and the problems they create in the Black community”. Ice Cube hit back at critics of gangsta rap with th e track ‘Gangsta Rap Made Me Do It’, from his 2008 album Raw Footage. The song adopted an ironic approach, and included lyrics such as “If I call you a ni**a, ain’t nuthin’ to it, gangsta rap made me do it”, analysing the way that gangsta rap was blamed for the social issues being faced by African-American society, even though the majority of the social conditions faced by African-Americans are a product of the environment created by social oppression and institutional racism, and that gangsta rap served as a reflection of the environment black youth lived in.
In South Africa, the hip-hop scene has a mainstream focus, with elements of gangsta rap, but is still developing. Dookoom, a rap group from Cape Town, scratched the surface with their controversial protest song, ‘Larney Jou P**s’ – an aggressive bi-lingual rap song that tackled the issue of coloured farmworkers being exploited by wineries in the Cape. The song, which featured on Dookoom’s 2014 album A Gangster Named Big Times, included lyrics such as “you robbed and screwed the natives, now who’s the savage?”. The lyrics of the song led to Afrikaner civil-rights group AfriForum threatening to go to court to have the song declared hate speech. The music video featured a scene where the Dookoom logo was burned into a piece of farmland. In an article titled ‘Why is Dookoom so angry?’, published by City Press on 14 October 2014, Isaac Mutant, lead singer of the group said of the burning scene in t he music video, “We’re burning our logo onto the land because we want to reclaim it. We’re definitely not burning any farms.”
In an opinion piece titled ‘AfriForum, jou ma: Who’s likely to win the “Larney” battle?’, published by Daily Maverick in October 2014, University of Cape Town Law professor and Constitutional expert, Professor Pierre de Vos, described ‘Larney Jou P**s’ as “a hip-hop track, a genre of music that is steeped in anger against the status quo; in aggression; in feelings of alienation and torment.” De Vos argued that the song would not constitute hate speech, as it is “a bona fide engagement in artistic creativity”, which is protected by the Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act.
Hip-hop is not only a reflection of the reality of its artists, but a way for an entire community to find its voice.
Illustration: Kago Kola