From its genesis, hip hop was a voice for underrepresented and oppressed youth in America. Born in the Bronx, this genre is not the "hip hop" that is in the Top 40 hits on the radio today. True hip hop demands change, and the music and movement behind the lyrics gave these demands power.
Freestyle rap was a way of commanding attention and pointing out the flaws in society. In the early days of hip hop, there were often soap-boxes and mics ready for anyone to get up and spit about whatever was on their minds. This was a venue for black youth to be heard, which was hard to find in the 70s, 80s, and even today.
Harry Allen, a journalist and important figure in the hip hop world, points out the recent demonstrations in Ferguson, Mo., and across the country to end police violence against people of color. "These grassroots movements are being led by youth organizers: the Dream Defenders, the Black Youth Project, the National Council of La Raza, and others who identify with the language and energy of hip-hop. Like freestylers, these young adults of color aren’t afraid to step up to a microphone and speak their mind."
Jelani Cobb, author of ,To the Break of Dawn: A Freestyle on the Hip Hop Aesthetic,' explains that this culture is still alive and well even though it is hidden beneath the showy-rap that you'd find featured on MTV or Z100. “Freestyle is to hip hop as street ball is to the NBA.” There has always been a place for both the party-oriented and socially conscious emcee. The art form is still there, and its political legacy is alive and well."
For those of you who need a dose of quality, intelligent hip hop, I've included classic Public Enemy and the song that inspired an entire generation.
Be sure to read the article on Take Part for a more in-depth look at hip hop for social change.