Hi-Caliber – Freedom-Enemy of the State

Hi-Cal was a construction worker from New Jersey, who after 9/11 became a Christian and starting calling himself a “Republican rapper.” He has performed for many thousands at Tea Party rallies, serenading this movement in their efforts to move the USA more to the right of the political spectrum.

Fans and experts of rap and hip hop might find Hi-Cal’s rhymes and beats to be pedestrian. But perhaps there is room for ideological diversity in all styles of music.

Perhaps we can now have a rap battle not of boasting but of political debate?

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Lil Wayne – God Bless Amerika

Lil Wayne, in 2013, critiques his country for a foreign policy that lives and dies by the sword. The same point is made for domestic policy in terms of police and jail. The rapper then seems to get off track, describing performing a sex act on his girlfriend. Maybe it’s all somehow related? It could be about the country having no soul, being even aimless, putting disparate things together. Regardless, the image of seeing a butterfly in hell is vivid.

 

Rage Against The Machine – Without A Face

A 1996 update to Woody Guthrie’s song, Deportee, about illegal immigrants to the USA.

To Rage Against The Machine, these undocumented people don’t just cross borders but graves to make new lives for themselves. Then poorly treated, they give up their souls. Yet, without a face, their plight can go unrecognized.

Government permission with a “visa” is required to legally enter the USA. Visas come with expiry dates, meaning those that came legally may remain illegally.

Estimates for how many illegal immigrants there are range from 7-30 million, an imprecision that is not illuminating. Most are from Mexico.

 

Wyclef Jean – Million Voices

Hopefully Rwanda isn’t repetitively sung  as a refrain only because it rolls of the tongue!

Wyclef Jean cites various passages from the Bible to rap about the importance of a united, and peaceful Africa. Of course, even before colonization, Africa was not one political unit but many, based not just on country but ethnic, tribal and other divisions. The singer is speaking more metaphorically, to be united for peace.

The song is from the soundtrack to the 2004 film, Hotel Rwanda, which was about the violence between the Hutus and Tutsis. A kind of African Schindler’s List, the story is of a hotel owner sheltering people from genocide.

In 1994, something approaching one million Tutsi and moderate Hutu peoples were killed – about one-fifth of the total population – by the Hutu majority.  The conflict is said to have stemmed from failures to find ways for these two ethnic groups to share power and govern together. While causes of genocide are contested and it is a mistake to write too simplistically, it is widely accepted that the Hutus were driven to wipe out the Tutsis, who they felt would wish to do the same to them.

Company Flow – Patriotism

Caution: strong language.

Brooklyn hip hop outfit Company Flow sound off on just about everything they can think of; they are considered abstract, experimental and underground artists. It would take time to dissect all that’s raised, including:

…weapons, Cuba, advertising and the media, censorship, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), religion, party politics, assembly line manufacturing, sweat shops, dairy products, the justice system, sexuality, electronic surveillance and privacy, unmanned drones, economic sanctions…

Perhaps this line sums up the 1999 tune: You just stepped into the spectrum of paranoid word rainbows.

Stetsasonic – A.F.R.I.C.A. (Free South Africa)

Early American hip hop group Stetsasonic included pioneering beatboxing. This song looks at challenges in several African countries, and is from 1986. It laments constant war, being as common as a heel on a shoe, and (in different versions) is more explicit in its rejection of apartheid – that until South Africa is free, we are not.

Apartheid is briefly defined in this post: Peter Gabriel, Biko and also here, referencing the great anti-apartheid champion, Nelson Mandela: Simple Minds, Mandela Day.

Rage Against The Machine – Voice Of The Voiceless

Mumia Abu-Jamal is serving a life sentence for killing a police officer in 1981. Not all agree this is just and some question whether a fair trial occurred. The man was a member of the Black Panther Party.

Black Panthers weren’t a political party, but an interest group active during the 1960s through to the 1980s. The organization was initially created to draw attention to the need for greater police protection in African American neighbourhoods. It became something else, linked to Marxist ideology, and more generally focused on poverty alleviation in the USA. Black Panthers were seen by the establishment and US government as some sort of domestic, internal terrorist threat. This may be over the top, though Black Panthers did stroll neighborhoods armed, and violence sometimes occurred. As the group struggled to evolve and find its purpose, though, a fair amount of this violence was internal.

Rap metal musicians Rage Against the Machine sang in 1989 how we are at war until Abu-Jamal is freed.

Also by RATM: Killing In The Name