Old School Conscious Rap

The early 1980s saw the Old School introducing Hip Hop to the world, straight from the South Bronx, with driving beats, scratches and thunderous voices like that of Melle Mel. Then Old School rappers like Kurtis Blow ushered in the New School by introducing us to rockin’ groups like Run DMC.

And as we moved into the late 1980s, into the Golden Age of Hip Hop, we began to see an even rougher, but more socially-conscious brand of rapper. Seemingly bombing the scene with gangsterism, what was really taking place was the movement toward more politically relevant Hip Hop through these up-and-coming and innovative artists.

We began to see groups like Public enemy; with Chuck D’s booming voice, those high-pitch tea kettle sounds in the background of a rough beat, and a strangely effective anti-music produced by the Bomb Squad that was meant as an irritant to the brain that would sink the message in even deeper. It was imposing, but effective, made you want to hear more and, more importantly, learn more.


And then we had Boogie Down Productions with lead vocalist KRS ONE: Vegetarian, teacher, philosopher. The group hailed from the Bronx, with DJ Scott La Rock, who early in the group’s history was gunned down in the street trying to rescue a crew member. KRS, once homeless and also a former Hare Krishna (hence, the name) carried on the music after Scott’s death. And the music was deep, moving, educational.

As we went on through the 80s and into the early 1990s, conscious rap became a mainstay in Hip Hop and we saw a plethora of groups, many focusing on religious messages born of the youth ministering movement of the 5 Percenters, or the Nation of Gods and Earth, with such groups as the Poor Righteous Teachers.

This mix is a good representation of the sound of Hip Hop during this era, as it moved into the 90s; it includes beats from Poor Righteous Teachers and other such groups like Brand Nubian; also, Ice Cube is mixed in, as he made a brief move into conscious rap from his gangster roots. Though Cube’s message has always had a socially and politically relevant flavor and still does.

The Golden Age of Hip Hop saw the diversification of the arts of Hip Hop, with its music taking many innovative routes, from gangterism, to Alternative, to the socially-conscious. Hip Hop was at its height and hasn’t returned to that level of creativity and pure message since.

Featured Image: Jason Persse, Flickr Creative Commons

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