The Class Divide in Conscious Rap And "FDT"

On May 25, 2016

By Michael Penn II


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“Conscious rap” is bullshit. Rather, the contextualization of a prevailing idea of conscious rap - a division insinuating a higher state of enlightenment, reserved for the booksmart, headwrap-donned “woke” MCs- is bullshit. Tired. Played out forever, yet still going unchecked. It’s a long-heralded flavor of racist, classist bullshit tucked in the underbelly of rap thought, spanning the recesses of hip-hop’s greatest minds and its most suspect consumers.

The intentionality rings clear: the "conscious" term was born of a protectiveness of hip-hop culture, an alternative to combat long-perpetuated stereotypical images of Blackness on a massive scale in the media. Yet the impact of this new iteration of the idea veers far from the origins; it proposes intelligence, subjective on its own grounds, as an alternative while silencing the voices of poor Black bodies in the process and erasing their realities.

Black poor bodies are unintelligent and incapable of representing themselves, needing those privileged with higher education and higher levels of awakening to speak since they cannot. Common has the answers, while Chief Keef is the reason Chicago is violent. We should turn to the verses of Tribe and Outkast well before we’d stand to gain anything from the Glory Boyz or the Freeband Gang. These notions are byproducts of systemic trickery, the poisons that dare to push hip-hop by further uprooting hip-hop: an art born in the ghettos, born of narratives of oppressed individuals.

An abbreviated list to detect a “conscious mind”

  • I like this underground rapper, it’s better than all that nonsense on the radio.

  • Wow, this white rapper is so much better than that Black rapper with that one song. Look at how fast they rap! Aren’t they adorable?

  • This white rapper is the only one my kids can listen to, they’re not filthy like those hoodlums you see on MTV.

  • I like this Black rapper more than that other Black rapper because they’re positive and not pushing the white man’s agenda to sell dope and shoot each other.

  • Trap rap is cool to turn up to, but I’ll put that ‘90s shit when I want something real!

  • Mainstream rap is a capitalist firestorm slowly destroying the Black community from the inside out.

YG and Nipsey Hussle - a Tree Top Piru Blood and a Rollin’ 60s Crip - released a song called “FDT” on March 30, 2016. It’s the best conscious rap song to drop this year, in an unadulterated defiance of said stereotype. For those confused, question not why the men responsible for “Bitches Ain’t Shit” can make a song of such magnitude, but why one would consult such an irresponsible, racist, classist bullshit thought like that. In an ideal society, we’d be leagues beyond such unnecessary interrogation of when the gangster rappers we love - that soundtrack our functions nationwide - link up for explicit political efforts against a common enemy. It places this duo in the same ilk of the NWA, BDP, and Public Enemy before them. That’s not a conflation of movements, of flavors that don’t mix, but a tried-and-true commonality piercing through the art.

Politicking aside, the “FDT” visual is an impeccable showcase of a shunned humanity. Director Austin Simkins laces the visual with a bombardment of concentrated angst and fearless celebration. But this time, the narrative is clearly defined and clearly controlled by the community it represents. Little kids are cripwalking, people are doing donuts, and the homies are smokin’ n drinkin’ to push through their woes. YG contemplates going Black Panther and Nipsey invokes a revolution around how much he fucks with Mexicans: “If it’s time to team up, shit, let’s begin / Black Love, Brown Pride in the sets again.” YG and Nip threaten to “fuck it up” if Donald Trump comes to town, and the people where they’re from will take full responsibility should he bring the perpetrating around L.A.

Nipsey says: “I’m from a place where you prolly cain’t go / Speakin’ for some people that you prolly ain’t know.” Is this not invoking the responsibility a “conscious rapper” takes when they’re elected spokesperson of their community and colors? Civic engagement occurs in the everyday dialogues of people all over; to vilify children of the hood over the “gangster” they’re branded with - as if they’re incapable of mobilizing and effectively exercising their democratic rights - is a systemic failure on the hands of every individual laying their name and claim to hip-hop’s betterment. “FDT” is a moment of dialogue from people of color who are silenced and hunted; the same reasons why the L.A.P.D. were eager to bring their shotguns out to shut down the shoot:

If Coachella was any indication, “FDT” will ring for the rest of the year whether or not we’re prepared for the remains our election season will leave. Are YG & Nip not conscious rappers because they lack the locks or kufis to denote their consciousness? OutKast taught us all better than that. Consciousness, should we subscribe to the idea, can arrive from any party willing to impart their wisdom. How does truth maneuver through an 808? It’s never clean-cut, it’s almost always fearful, but it’s reserved for no one.

Grumblings about today’s hip-hop removing itself from the essence of its origins aren’t completely unfounded, but such arguments should be reserved for whatever party decides to recycle and rob such culture from its practitioners without crediting or building upon it in a constructive manner. Those weapons should never take aim at its own citizens, especially when they’re doing their job: preserving the culture while upgrading the swagger. Putting on for where you come from, and giving a damn about the world around you.

Profile Picture of Michael Penn II
Michael Penn II

Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.

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