Pulse of the People: Political Rap Music and Black Politics

Pulse of the People: Political Rap Music and Black Politics

Pulse of the People: Political Rap Music and Black Politics

Pulse of the People: Political Rap Music and Black Politics


Hip-Hop music encompasses an extraordinarily diverse range of approaches to politics. Some rap and Hip-Hop artists engage directly with elections and social justice organizations; others may use their platform to call out discrimination, poverty, sexism, racism, police brutality, and other social ills. In Pulse of the People, Lakeyta M. Bonnette illustrates the ways rap music serves as a vehicle for the expression and advancement of the political thoughts of the urban Black community, a population frequently marginalized within American society and alienated from electoral politics.

Pulse of the People lays a foundation for the study of political rap music and public opinion research and demonstrates ways in which political attitudes asserted in the music have been transformed into direct action and behavior of constituents. Bonnette examines the history of rap music and its relationship to and extension from other cultural and political vehicles within Black America, presenting criteria for identifying the specific subgenre of music that is political rap. She complements the statistics of rap music exposure with lyrical analysis of rap songs that espouse Black Nationalist and Black Feminist attitudes. Touching on a number of critical moments in American racial politics--including the 2008 and 2012 elections and the cases of the Jena 6, Troy Davis, and Trayvon Martin-- Pulse of the People makes a compelling case for the influence of rap music in the political arena and greatly expands our understanding of the ways political ideologies and public opinion are formed.


Scholars of popular music treat it as a truism that African Americans
have always turned to music to voice their discontent, their
grievances, and their outrage.

—Zillman et al., “Radical Rap: Does It Further Ethnic Division?” 1–2

Y’all got me, well I got y’all, long as I know y’all listenin
I’ma always bring food for thought to the table in the kitchen

—Big Boi of Outkast, War, Speakerboxx

In 2006, comedian Dave Chappelle released Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, a documentary chronicling a 2004 concert he produced in Brooklyn, New York. Featuring socially and politically conscious rap artists such as Dead Prez, Erykah Badu, The Roots, The Fugees, Lauryn Hill, Talib Kweli, Kanye West, Common, and Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def, the secret and free event was easily the rap concert of the year. It was reminiscent of the many street rap battles that existed on New York corners when HipHop first came into existence. Chapelle is a vocal fan of not only Hip-Hop but political rap in particular, and his documentary features interviews with Dead Prez and Fred Hampton, Jr., son of slain Black Panther Fred Hampton Sr. During a performance by New York rap artist and half of the duo Black Star (with rapper Talib Kweli) Yasiin Bey, Hampton took to the stage briefly to remind the concert goers to continue supporting and fighting for the release of political prisoners. Now rewind about forty years when Fred Hampton, Sr., also advocated “power to the people” and used music to . . .

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