Is the younger generation of rap fans annoyed by progressive, positive leaning hip-hop? According to Stic.man from the legendary political hip-hop group Dead Prez, the answer to that question is no, it’s just something adults assume.
”My son is 16, right? Basically, my house is a hub for all the young brothers around our neighborhood,” he explained. “[They dream of being the] next Future, the next Metro Boomin. But what I think [is] it’s not that they are against progressive hip-hop. I think there’s an assumption being made, maybe on both sides, that because they like certain things, they don’t want to hear other things.”
Earlier in hip-hop — namely in the ’80s — groups like Boogie Down Productions, X-Clan, Poor Righteous Teachers and Public Enemy were considered cool and made it fashionable in many areas of the U.S. to embrace social consciousness.
Some might say the conscious music of the ’80s and ’90s didn’t have the youths marching in the streets like those in the civil rights movement, but a lot of kids were wearing beaded African necklaces and Malcolm X T-shirts, and Black TV shows like “Different World” that spoke to Black issues were huge hits.
According to Stic, P.E. was able to deliver important messages to kids because their music and overall presentation were so strong.
“No one cared about Public Enemy’s message at first,” he said. “[They were like] ‘This s– is the hardest, most creative, dopest, new hip-hop possible.’”
If you’ve been following Dead Prez’s career since they dropped their classic 2000 debut “Let’s Get Free,” then you know that, like P.E., they’ve connected with legions of fans, particularly younger ones, by incorporating some of the youths’ interests into their music.
Stic, who also released some brilliant solo projects, including “The Workout” and “Manhood” albums, says it’s crucial for other progressive rappers to do that, especially the older ones who want to connect with the younger generation.
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In addition, The Dead Prez member plans to release an album called “Learning How to Swim,” produced entirely by his 16-year-old son. By hanging out with him and his friends, Stic said he’s learned what turns them off about positive music.”
“I also feel like the way people come at young people with quote un-quote positive things, it makes them go the other way,” the Florida-raised rapper added. “Because all youths always want to discover their own art in that rebel stage. These are young people expressing their hopes, dreams, frustrations, aspirations in a rebel language, trying to carve their own little experience of life on their own terms.”
New Orleans MC Dee-1 agreed, saying it’s normal for kids to rebel against what was before them, whether music, fashion or otherwise.
“I think the fans show resistance when they’re young because when you’re a little kid, I think violence … being rebellious … that stuff is more exciting,” he said. “Not everybody wants their mom or their dad to like what they’re listening to. They want to feel like ‘Hey, I’m being edgy, I’m being bold.’
“Shock value targets young people, and the negative music has a lot more shock value.”
But what does listening to music with that shock value ultimately do to young fans? Does it directly affect their behavior and make them want to mimic some of the things they hear?
According to a study by researchers from Iowa State University and the Texas Department of Human Services, violent or sexual lyrics in music raise violent and sexual feelings among young people that could have lasting effects.
“This [study] provides the first clean demonstration of violent lyric effects,” said Dr. Craig Anders of Iowa State University and the lead author of the study.
But how do we get more young Black people interested in uplifting rap music? Clearly, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole have done something right, considering they’re arguably two of the biggest rappers of our day.
According to Stic, the two MCs have done a stellar job of combining old-school methods of incorporating consciousness into their music, but they also talk about things young people are interested in. He said that approach is extremely important in order to reach our young people.
“I can’t say ‘My son likes trap music, he’s a knucklehead.’ It’s like ‘Why does he like trap music? What does he like about it?” he explained. “If we want to make a difference in our communities, we have to connect with the youths. It doesn’t mean we have to do no ignorant s– to be relevant, but we have to know how to appreciate [some of the youths’ interests].”
Stic, who’s also releasing a sequel to his “Workout” album, was somewhat critical of some of the conscious rappers of the ’80s and ’90s and said a lot of those artists shunned capitalism, which today’s young people are seemingly against.
“There was a lot of rhetoric, a lot of slogans, a lot of marching, but a lot of people — especially people that wasn’t academically upward bound, just the average person — what was the real benefits on a mass scale?” he asked. “What did we do in terms of the conscious community? We were thinking ‘capitalism is the root of all evil and the people with money [are evil], and we was creating this polarization away from finance.”
Dee 1, who scored a huge hit with “Sallie Mae Back” in 2016 and is set to release his new album “Slingshot David,” said another reason many young kids don’t care for progressive hip-hop has to do with the pressure of those who live around them and the lack of proper role models. But it was different for him growing up.
“For me, my standard of what real is is set by my family,” he stated. “Thankfully, I had a family that was very involved in my life, and I could look to them and I was like ‘Wow, this is my definition of real.’ I see my daddy go to work everyday. I see him married to my mom and working hard to be a provider as well as a great husband.
“I see this [and] because I see this, I have a definition of what it means to be real right in front of me.”
Later this month, the New Orleans rapper will partner with Sallie Mae for the second time on his “Dee 1 Knowledge for College Tour,” which visits high schools to talk about financial literacy. Last year, they awarded $95,000 in scholarships. This year’s tour kicks off Sept. 20 in Cleveland, Ohio.
So, will there ever be a time, like back in the day, when it’s fashionable for young people to be socially conscious and listen to uplifting rap?
It may be impossible to predict, but Stic said it’s important not to judge young people. Give them time to learn from the older ones, as well as from their own experiences, he said.
“It just shows that each generation needs to have the scrutiny of the one before it,” Stic said. “They have to have the ignorance of youth itself, and then they have to have the best of both of those worlds.
“That’s what keeps the culture moving forward, in my opinion.”