“Conscious” Hip-Hop Takes on Two Forms: Protest and Respectability Politics


CyHi The Prynce returned with the second installment of his Black Hystori Project mixtape, BHP 2: NAACP. Black Hystori 2 is redefining the idea of the NAACP and gave new life to the acronym, renaming it: New Artists Aligning Cultural People. The original Black Hystori Project came at a time when mainstream rap was seriously lacking in the political and conscientious music. BHP celebrated incredible leaders in the Civil Rights and Black Power movements as well as provided intellectual commentary on the War on Drugs and black excellence. Since then however, hip-hop has evolved. The killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner ignited #BlackLivesMatter and a revolution amongst Millennials. Several of rap’s elite have been on the frontline both in grassroots demonstration and have protested through their art.

Fresh from Kendrick Lamar’s powerful and moving “The Blacker The Berry”, CyHi announced BHP2 just days before it was set to release. Although CyHi is considered underrated, despite being signed to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music, those that are aware of his true prowess were expecting a radical collection that truly showcased his writing skills as he pushes a provocative and conscientious agenda.

CyHi is one of the most slept on writers in the rap game and Black Hystori Project 2, as all of his previous works, highlights his stellar ability and artistic cleverness over feel good and heavily instrumented production. However, rather than containing tracks like “Huey,” “Mandela” and “Coretta” like the original BHP does, the BHP2 tracklist has offerings like “Weak People” and “Get Money”. Surprisingly, instead of being the pulse of conscious hip-hop, CyHi actually sounds disconnected from the movement.

The opening rhetoric of “Weak People” and interludes throughout the project feature excerpts from Reverend James David Manning’s sermon from ATLAH World Ministries. “I don’t wanna be one of you, I don’t wanna be one of you weak men, weak people. I would rather die, death is welcomed, rather than to call myself you spineless black men.” Stemming from the philosophy of respectability politics, CyHi proceeds to condemn a very generalized group of black men in America based on the magnitude of intraracial crime.

CyHi’s verses get more attacking as the record evolves and he spits in his closing verse, “Y’all ain’t trying to start a revolution/ y’all looking for a restitution/ niggas kill each other everyday ain’t no evolution/ My partner shot a hundred niggas and it was never proven/ We just labeled him a gangster and kept it moving/ Let me give you the same outcome separate shootin’/ A white man kill a black we holla persecution/ So instead of lootin’ it’s time to find some better schoolin’.” It is daunting how prevalent people in power attempt to use the media-driven ‘black on black crime’ dialogue to minimize police brutality and the overall oppression of people of color in this country.

CyHi may have been trying to channel his frustration and process trauma while calling for peace in the black community. But the problem with that language and the media in general pushing sole emphasis on black on black crime, is the way it attempts to silence the progressive and active efforts of the Black Lives Matter movement that has been monumental in the United States and abroad. Simultaneously, the false narrative that the black community is not concerned with intraracial homicide minimizes the long-standing work of black leaders and organizations that have been steadily working to eradicate the very problem he’s addressing.

Frustratingly, the absence of comprehensive media focusing on intraracial crime as a whole in this country, heavily contributes to the misunderstanding of how biased that dialogue really is. Intraracial crime is the most common form of crime among all races and notably high for white people (83%), yet the term ‘white on white crime’ simply does not exist. So many artists have vilified the idea of black on black crime, bolstered by the press’ complete lack of coverage or acknowledgement of on-going community and national efforts that labor vigorously to counteract crime in marginalized communities. Instead they place the blame on young black men, absent fathers etc… without ever publicly recognizing the institutional racism or any of the numerous other factors that help fuel this vicious cycle of violence.

CyHi isn’t the only one, Drake, Childish Gambino, and even Kendrick Lamar (who the song is dedicated to) have utilized their incredibly powerful platforms to criticize Twitter activism and the revolution, which has been majorly in effect since Michael Brown’s murder. Ilyasah Shabazz, daughter of Malcolm X recently penned a remembrance of her father’s principles, in relation to the current Black Lives Matter movement. She examined the detachment between Civil Rights activists and young protestors today. But instead of propagating blame on people of color, which respectability politics commonly enforces, Shabazz analyzes the infrastructure of that division. “This disconnect cannot be dismissed as the hubris of youth; it is a symptom of our failure to teach this generation about black history and the way our economic and social systems actually function.”

Our need for educators, storytellers and artists to pass along the teachings of Malcolm and other trailblazers in the fight for freedom is as crucial as ever and some emcees are undertaking that admirable task. Killer Mike directly revealed the racist and terrorizing nature of law enforcement with the compelling “Reagan”. “They declared the war on drugs like a war on terror/ But it really did was let the police terrorize whoever/ But mostly black boys, but they would call us “niggers”/ And lay us on our belly, while they fingers on they triggers/ They boots was on our head, they dogs was on our crotches/ And they would beat us up if we had diamonds on our watches/ And they would take our drugs and money, as they pick our pockets/ I guess that that’s the privilege of policing for profit.” Luckily we have leaders in hip-hop like Killer Mike, J. Cole and Talib Kweli who are releasing protest music and are active in demonstrations happening all over the country. But I can’t help but feel disheartened by the brazen divide amongst rap’s young leaders.

Q-Tip recently shared an eloquent expression with Iggy Azalea via Twitter to educate her on hip-hop’s commitment to the political, clarifying, “1 thing it can never detach itself from is being a SOCIO-political movement.” There has been a constant debate among artists and activists, whether it is the responsibility of the artist to be involved and vocal about politics and/or a leader in the fight for social justice. Although I am still developing my own views surrounding artists’ accountability, what I am clear on is that us young people tend to idolize hip-hop artists and rappers regardless.

Yes, we need music that stimulates us, challenges us to think deeper and provokes meaningful discussion, however, CyHi did not provide much room for discussion. Instead, The Prynce and much of the rest of the world has set prerequisites to be treated as a human being, yet more specifically and detrimentally, requirements to be a black man and have human rights. In a country where people of color have been made to feel inferior for centuries in every institution of existence, the last thing we need is Fox News type racist commentary infused in rap while being packaged as “conscious”.