2007 Brings “Ultimate Victory” for Conscious Rap


Published: October 25, 2007

Dating back to 1982 when Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five released the song “The Message,” hip-hop has acted as a vehicle for commenting on social and political issues, but today that is less often the case. Throughout the 80s and 90s many artists gained notoriety for their politically conscious lyrics, such as Public Enemy, KRS-One, N.W.A., Tupac, Nas and Eminem. In 2007, politically conscious rap is not as prevalent, especially on the mainstream level. More often than not, the TV and radio countdowns are mostly comprised of self-congratulatory ditties by artists bragging about material wealth, as evidenced by 50 Cent’s “I Get Money” making the Billboard Top 10 for the last 10 consecutive weeks.

If you want to hear something a hair more thought-provoking, it’s necessary to go online or check out the mixtape scene. While socio-politically conscious hip-hop at the mainstream level currently seems to be an endangered species, it is not quite dead. Thanks to late summer efforts by Chamillionaire, Common and Talib Kweli, we can hold off calling the morgue.

Ultimate Victory, southern rapper Chamillionaire’s sophomore effort, which dropped Sept. 18, is not only a refreshing dose of intelligent rap, but it is also a legitimate contender for album of the year. In August, Chamillionaire released “Evening News,” the first single off of “Ultimate Victory.” This track and its accompanying video exhibit intelligence, creativity and wit. It spoofs political analysis programs and sees Chamillionaire costumed as an ignorant reporter delivering the news.

The song’s hook immediately draws attention to contemporary political, economic and social issues: “Gas prices raises the money keeps burning/ Dropout rates rising so what are they learning?/ Sending the troops in the war so I turn in/ To today’s Evening News.” Chamillionaire argues that certain issues such as Hurricane Katrina have been relegated by the mass media: “I would talk about Katrina/ But every time I talk about Katrina/ They look at me like it’s a misdemeanor.” Through sarcasm he criticizes mass media for giving more attention to celebrity gossip over real social issues: “There’s way more important stuff that we can discuss/ *NSYNC, Makin Da Band and Milli Vanilli had broken up.”

Last month’s release by Common, “Finding Forever,” is another great album with lyrics that address societal problems. On the Kanye West-produced “U, Black Maybe,” Common comments on racial issues: “We talk about situations/ Of people of color and because you are that color/ You endure obstacles and opposition/ And not all the time from other nationalities/ Sometimes it come from your own kind/ Or maybe even your own mind.”

“Misunderstood,” another must-listen track from “Finding Forever,” is a narrative that tells of life on the “hard streets,” particularly focusing on corrupt police, the AIDS epidemic and the obstacles that underprivileged youth face in accomplishing dreams: “You get to God questionin’/ Can’t find a job so ya robbin’ and hustlin’… Some dreams get lost never to be found again/ At first strippin’ seemed so empowerin’/ Most every girl wanna do it now and then/ But bein’ meat every day is devourin’.”

Another late August release by an emcee with a track record for writing insightful material is “Ear Drum” by Talib Kweli. While it doesn’t match the lyrical quality of the aforementioned albums, the content is nevertheless intriguing. Kweli definitely brings it in “Eat To Live,” a story about a starving boy who has problems at home and is being bullied at school.

In “Hostile Gospel,” Kweli broaches the subject of health care: “What become of the vets? They drugged

up, they f-cked up, they in debt/ There ain’t no love and no respect.”

These albums are diamonds in the rough that is contemporary mainstream rap. There are only so many times that one-dimensional songs about wearing Louis Vuitton and downing bottles of Patrón can be heard before it gets old. In recent years, rap has been labeled violent and misogynistic, a reputation more fitting of the sub-genre gangsta rap, but not representative of hip hop as a whole.

The best way for the hip hop community to put its best foot forward is to embrace artists who respect the craft and comment intelligently on their environments. Though these qualities are subjective, in my opinion the quest of artists to maintain rap’s role as “the inner-city CNN,” as it was once declared by Public Enemy’s Chuck D, is far more important than which rapper’s chain hangs the lowest.