We like it when artists go against the grain, even when it could mean certain career suicide. A lot of artists think the way we do. They know they are part of an industry that is drowning in banality, capitalism and false images. But only a few are willing to convey it in song, some even going as far as releasing it as a single. This gives us hope. In compiling this list, we came across more songs that were willing to take the industry to task back then, as opposed to now when things are considerably worse. Check out this list of seven songs, in no particular order, that challenged the state and culture of music. Don’t forget to add your choices in the comments.
1. Leela James: “Music” (A Change Is Gonna Come, 2005)
funky ode to music’s past plays like our elders coming together and
reminiscing on the “good ol’ days,” invoking the likes of Chaka, Gladys and Donnie.
Although she says “all the soul is gone,” we can submit that Leela is
part of a small class that is attempting to keep it alive.
Damning Lyric: “I can’t even turn on the video without somebody hollerin’ ’bout a b**** and a h*.” [YouTube]
2. dead prez: “Hip Hop” (single, 1999)
dead prez has earned the distinction of being more than simply “conscious.” They are generally pissed off about a lot of things and aren’t afraid to say it. “Hip Hop” speaks to issue of how fake some popular rappers are. How amidst all the bling and posturing, they would have you believe they aren’t completely owned. How they are so distracted with earthly things, they almost completely ignore the other issues they could be making songs about. This isn’t hating, this is healing.
Damning Lyric: “MCs get a little bit of love and think they hot / Talkin’ bout how much money they got, all yall records sound the same / I’m sick of that fake thug, R&B, rap scenario all day on the radio / Same scenes in the video, monotonous material.” [YouTube]
3. The Roots feat. Raphael Saadiq: “What They Do” (Illadelph Halflife, 1996)
When have The Roots never represented true Hip Hop? The message here, although delivered in a more tame fashion, isn’t any different than what dead prez would eventually convey. But what makes this song a classic is the video that accompanied it, mocking the visuals employed by mainstream Rap artists at the time–the mansion rented for the video shoot, half-naked honeys gyrating by the pool, fancy cars, and copious amounts of champagne. Here we are 12 years later and not much has changed.
Damning Lyric: “The principles of true hip-hop have been forsaken / It’s all contractual and about money makin’ / Pretend-to-be cats don’t seem to know they limitation / Exact replication and false representation.” [YouTube]
4. De La Soul: “Stakes Is High” (Stakes Is High, 1996)
Although “Stakes Is High” is about more than industry, Dove’s contribution to Verse 1 provides the most bold, succinct commentary on the sameness of popular Hip Hop. Seriously, what was going on with music in the late ’90s that had these guys so fed up?
Damning Lyric: “I’m sick of b****** shakin’ asses / I’m sick of talkin’ about blunts / Sick of Versace glasses / Sick of slang / Sick of half-ass awards shows / Sick of name brand clothes / Sick of R&B b****** over bulls*** tracks / Cocaine and crack which brings sickness to blacks.” [YouTube]
5. Common Sense: “I Used To Love H.E.R.” (Resurrection, 1994)
What is generally considered a painful letter detailing Hip Hop’s questionable evolution (in metaphor) brought about a lot of debate and led to a beef with Ice Cube. Regardless of the reaction, Common said some things that needed to be said, and it is a conversation we are having to this day. Luckily for Common, he has the skills to back it up. This track is hailed as his brightest moment and to this day is considered one of the best Hip Hop songs of all time.
Damning Lyric: “Now she be in the burbs lickin rock and dressin hip / And on some dumb sh*t, when she comes to the city / Talkin about poppin glocks servin rocks and hittin switches / Now shes a gangsta rollin with gangsta b*tches.” [YouTube]
6. EPMD: “Crossover” (Business Never Personal, 1992)
When it comes to decrying the practice of sacrificing authenticity on the alter of mainstream viability, EPMD’s “Crossover” speaks volumes. We have to wonder if the message had any impact, especially since the song itself was a major hit for Erick and Parrish and Hip Hop had not reached the gangsta-glam heights of the following decade. They would probably be screaming bloody murder on this track if it was released today.
Damning Lyric: “The rap era’s outta control, brother’s sellin their soul / To go gold, going, going, gone, another rapper sold.” [YouTube]
7. Esthero: “We R In Need Of A Musical ReVoLuTIoN” (Wikked Lil’ Grrrls, 2005)
Esthero is one of the most fearless and criminally-underrated acts out, period. While the title track from Wikked Lil’ Grrrls made it’s way into promos for Desperate Housewives, she also had a track from the same album that put foot in music’s ass called “We R In Need Of A Musical ReVoLuTIoN”. The Damning Opening Lyric sets the tone for a song that practically begged to never be played on terrestrial radio: “I’m so sick and tired of the sh*t on the radio / On MTV they only play the same thing / No matter where I go I see Ashanti in the video / I want something more.” She also calls out R. Kelly and Britney by name. Chick’s got more balls than gym class. Peep the video: