Socking It To The Suits: Hip-Hop As Political Protest

Tanyel Gumushan /
Jan 3, 2017 / Music

Everybody is sick of listening to the so-called grownups wearing suits. Where have the so-called grownups wearing suits gotten us? Take a look around. A flick through the news channel and a certain orange faced man’s Twitter profile clarifies it: we’re all fucked.

Giving honest commentary for the clued-up Generation Y, hip-hop music is becoming more of a political protest with every mixtape. So much so, that Run the Jewels dropped their latest album RJ3, three weeks early on Christmas day. It’s almost as though they couldn’t wait any longer. Some things just have to be said.

The Run the Jewels duo, made up of rappers Killer Mike and El-P, put the new record on their website for free. The site couldn’t keep up with demand and crashed whilst others enjoyed their Christmas dinners, or tuned in to the Queen’s speech.

Following their usual pattern of ‘socking it to the man’, the album bleeds with urgency. Fast paced and rollicking, it’s burning hot in its delivery and lashes honesty; recalling the pain of a friend’s death (‘Thursday in the Danger Room’) and consoling a concerned mother (‘Oh Mama’).

RTJ sample Martin Luther King with another one of their respecting nods on ‘Thieves! (Screamed The Ghost)’, for ‘riots do not appear from thin air.’

In contrast and almost in response, in an uncompromising battle cry from inside of a rattled cage,  RTJ compare Trump to the devil on first released track ‘Talk To Me’.

From ‘Talk To Me’ to ‘Nobody Speak’– a notion that we can all relate to with every news bulletin and conversation with a family member with contrasting Brexit views. The video for Run the Jewels’ collaboration with DJ Shadow sees a United Nations meeting turn into a blood brawl. The selfishness and the chaos, ‘viciously foul victory / burn towns and villages / burning lotting and pillaging’, feels dangerously close to home.

In 2016, Killer Mike was outspoken following the notorious US Election, publicly denouncing the two candidates, especially on his Twitter page. He discussed how he believes poor people of all races to be pitted against each other, and encouraged voters to ask questions.

Whilst on a panel on TV show, The Real, he said:

I think poor white people are mad, because the system that promises you something based on that isn’t ever going to give you that,

I think that people who look like all the people on this panel — black, brown and all types of hues in between — I think that we have been used by a party to the liberal side that, once in office, has not enacted policy that was reflective of stuff that would bring our communities up.”

It isn’t the only time Run The Jewels have used their critical acclaim and social power to speak up about politics. In 2015, the streetwise duo spoke to kids about feminism, responsibility and drug laws. In the video the artists take the time to discuss the political issues, sharing advice with a healthy mix of humour and seriousness.

Advocates against gun crime, ‘Early’, a chilling track that features on Run The Jewels 2, tells the story of a police-shooting narrative. It’s closely linked to the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. ‘My life changed with that sound…’

RTJ3 however includes ‘Panther Like A Panther’, the soundtrack to videogame, Gears of War 4. It is a shooter game, and you can play as the duo with weapon skin adorned with their hand and gun logo.

162 days into 2016, America experienced it’s biggest mass shooting to date in Orlando. It was the 133rd mass shooting of the year. According to the Gun Violence Archive, on the last day of the year, the mass shooting incidents stand at 382. More than one a day.

Gears of War 4, however isn’t a street game. In it players take out swamp monsters with guns. So is the endorsement distasteful? Making money from killing machines, fictional or not? Or is the game just a trip into the nerd game culture they have always love?

Hip-hop music has always faced backlash for its political nature. In 1992, Republican Vice President, Dan Quayle, called legendary rapper Tupac’s acclaimed debut, 2Pacalyse Now, a disgrace to American music. He called to remove it from stores when a Texas State trooper was shot to death by a suspect who was listening to the album at the time of the attack.

The infamous album discusses racism, police brutality, poverty, teenage pregnancy and aggression. For Quayle, it had no place in his society. Yet, the album was inspired by the said society, in which Tupac lived among many others.

Can music that is a reaction, be blamed for the reaction to the music?

As the likes of Billy Bragg and Beans on Toast strum their guitars in local pubs, to gig-goers that cradle pints, even more is happening outside on the streets.

Grime is quickly gaining momentum with every spat candid observation, and in turn is immortalising and documenting everyday urban life.

Hip-hop is making blistering statements and advocating education and action. It isn’t whining or praying, instead it’s rattling cages and riling up listeners.

There’s a particular strength to that. No dressed up metaphors or fluttering tunes, but full-bodied intent.

Volume 16 is available now. Order here

Join our club for 2017.

Words by Tanyel Gumushan

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