In the Black community, music has long served as both a message and a refuge, from call-and-response spirituals to current hip-hop hits and beyond. As Black Music Month coincides with people coming together across the globe to fight racial inequality in light of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Rayshard Brooks, and many others before them, the need to uplift and amplify Black voices takes on even more importance.
Throughout Black Music Month, SiriusXM will highlight significant moments in Black music and history — from the early 1900s to now, each week featuring some of the iconic artists who paved the way for other Black musicians and fought for social justice.
Public Enemy Fight the Power
N.W.A. Express Themselves
From the beginning, Public Enemy was determined to bring the noise sonically and politically. Formed in the mid-1980s on Long Island, the legendary hip-hop group including Chuck D, Flavor Flav, Terminator X, and Professor Griff pioneered “political hip-hop,” speaking out against social issues, honoring Afrocentric themes, and incorporating innovative sampling. In the beginning, many didn’t believe the Public Enemy hype, but the collective became stars with the albums It Takes A Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (1988) and Fear of a Black Planet (1989), which included “Fight the Power,” the politically charged anthem featured prominently in Spike Lee’s iconic 1989 film, Do the Right Thing. At the time, Chuck D called Public Enemy’s music “Black people’s CNN”; today, their groundbreaking hits, as well as their new music, continue to soundtrack Black Lives Matter protests.
Some called it “gangsta rap,” while others viewed it as “reality rap;” either way, this was hip-hop with an attitude. When N.W.A. hit the scene in the late-1980s, their pioneering music, “street” fashion, and media attention not only inspired Black people hailing straight outta Compton, California, but also bridged the racial divide in hip-hop by informing surburban white teens about gang violence, racism, and poverty. Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Ren, DJ Yella, and Arabian Prince billed themselves as the “World’s Most Dangerous Group” and, especially on their earth-shaking debut album, Straight Outta Compton (which featured their song of the same name), coupled funky bass-driven samples with raw, explicit lyrics that documented — and even celebrated — realities of the West Coast gangs in Southern California.
Hear Public Enemy, N.W.A., and more on LL COOL J’s Rock The Bells Radio (Ch. 43).
Tupac Calls for Changes
Tupac Shakur’s life goes on through his music. It’s been nearly 25 years since 25-year-old Tupac (aka 2Pac) was killed in a drive-by shooting in 1996, yet his timeless, prolific musical output, powerful political messages, and global cultural impact have outlived him. Known as a gangsta rapper who championed THUG LIFE and a central figure in the notorious East Coast-West Coast hip-hop feud of the 1990s, “Makaveli” was also paradoxically a heartfelt activist poet who delved deeply into Blackness, systemic oppression, poverty, feminism, and more in actual poems, as well as in his enduring hits like “Changes,” “Keep Ya Head Up,” and “Dear Mama.” Tupac is now one of the best-selling artists of all time with lyrical commentary that has presaged the future social unrest. Since his death, he has released a number of posthumous albums and even resurrected (virtually or, according to conspiracy theorists, literally).
Hear Tupac and other Black hip-hop icons on SiriusXM FLY (Ch. 47).
Lauryn Hill Connects Classic Soul & Hip-Hop
While recording her landmark 1998 album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, Lauryn Hill sought to “make honest music” with “songs that lyrically move me and have the integrity of reggae and the knock of hip-hop, and the instrumentation of classic soul.” Hill, then known as a member of the influential hip-hop trio Fugees, accomplished her goal with her one-and-only solo album. With Hill’s mix of clever rap verses and vulnerable R&B on hits like “Doo-Wop (That Thing)” and “Ex-Factor,” The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill expanded the limits of a genre that, at the time, predominately featured male-driven gangsta rap, and helped bring it to the mainstream after she became the first hip-hop artist to take home the GRAMMY for Album of the Year, as well as the first woman to win five GRAMMYs in one night (indeed, the future of hip-hop was female). In the time since, Hill’s soulful, woke music spawned the popular neo-soul music genre and still inspires the sound and sentiment of artists like Beyoncé, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Kendrick Lamar, and countless more.
Hear Hill and other Black hip-hop/neo-soul icons on SiriusXM FLY (Ch. 47).