Fight the Power: From Message Rap to Hardcore

Sylvia Robinson (above), CEO of Sugar Hill Records and the so-called “Mother of Hip Hop,” released “It’s Good to Be The Queen” in 1982. Robinson, in the tradition of MC boasts, raps about her success and the material comfort it conveys. But she samples the “Black national anthem,” “Lift Ev’ry Voice,” which suggests something deeper than boasts about conspicuous consumption. Why do you think she does this?

The pioneering “message rap” song, “The Message” (1981), credited to Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five:

Melle Mel and his colleagues suggest that the personal tragedies that Kurtis Blow rapped about in his 1980 “The Breaks” have social causes and social consequences.

Run-DMC’s 1981 “Sucker MC’s” is a classic of the MC boast genre:

In 1984, Schoolly D riffed on this genre, adding lyrics that pointed in the direction of gangsta rap, with “Gangsta Boogie”:

A Tribe Called Quest’s 1990 “We the People” uses irony to argue for unity:

And “U.N.I.T.Y.” is the name of Queen Latifah’s 1993 song schooling men on how to treat women:

Lauryn Hill’s 1998 “Doo Woo,” encouraging men to respect women and women to respect themselves:

Sister Souljah’s 1992 “African Scaredy Katz in a One Exit Maze”:

Souljah’s disturbing album cover evokes the Soweto student uprising of 1976, one of the events that opened the eyes of the world to South African apartheid:

Public Enemy’s “911 Is A Joke,” in which MC Flava Flav invokes images of blackface minstrelsy to blast the lack of basic services in Black neighborhoods:

The song that led journalists to coin the term “gangsta rap” (NWA called it “reality rap”):

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