Many Hip-Hop scholars said and wrote that the golden years of Hip-Hop was the years between 1987-1999 in the same time span we saw and taught the raise of conscious rap. Now I must be up front, I love Hip-Hop especially political/Conscious Rap but like everything/everyone that you love, you want to improve on it to make sure what/who you love is a reflection of you and your whole identity and heart!
This is where I must speak with love and critically about the failures of the first popular wave of the conscious rap movement in the 1990’s. As a Black straight man, the first wave of Conscious Rap movement spoke to me even some of my growing feminist side at that time in the 1990’s. During this first wave of conscious rap it was diverse of different kinds of Black lyrics from Da La Soul to Queen Latifah, Public Enemy and much more!
However during that same time period the Disability Rights Movement had its second legal achievement and in the beginning and middle of the nineties we see the rise of the disability arts/cultural movement and disability studies, as I argue in the upcoming Krip-Hop book the disability right movement was first started by upper middle class White parents passed down to their middle class disabled sons and daughters and at the same time Hip-Hop grew up in Black/Brown communities in NY. All above can be some but not all of the reasons why I write that Hip-Hop missed the disability movement so it’s not surprisingly that movements in Hip-Hop have no clue about disability even though Black/Brown youth and adults make a majority of both movements but they were separated and oppress by people within the movements.
The above situations plus the hyper-masuclinity aka what is the approve Black male body should look like has added to the reasons why I argue that people especially Black/Brown people with disabilities missed the first wave of Conscious Rap back in the 90’s. So in 2017 we are seeing the 2nd wave of Conscious Rap with Chance The Rapper and Kendrick Lamar to name two mainstream popular Hip-Hop artists however at this time more diverse disability movement and more disabled Conscious Hip-Hop artists like Namel TapWaterz Norris of 4Wheel City, Wheelchair Sports Camp aka Kalyn Heffernan and Keith Jones along with a loose but strong Black/Brown disabled activists, cultural workers, bloggers, journalists we still hear ableist lyrics and putting disability into negative spotlight like Lamar’s 2017 album, DAM where he puts a blind woman in shoes of the devil who shot Lamar.
So even what we call Conscious Rap yesterday and today still have a long way to go to even reach disability awareness to rights to disability justice. We can go back to the 1998 song from gangster rapper at the time, Ice Cube, Ghetto Vet, and call that a disability awareness song from inner city Black man who becomes a wheelchair user returning home from war in the army living as a disabled gangster. But like most rappers, Ice Cube, has a record of ableist lyrics and playing the charity game.
We can all point to songs and Hip-Hop videos like Common’s 2002 song/video, Come Close, where he is professing his love to a Deaf woman by using big drawing boards that have an uplifting disability/Deaf themes but Hip-Hop as a whole have not been force to make that shift from charity to disability awareness to disability rights to disability justice, although two major national organization that aren’t grassroots control and are predominantly White control have had major advocacy input into Hip-Hop on big mainstream level I am talking about The Association of Retard Citizens, The ARC, with Black Eye Peas’s original song, Let’s Get Retarded of 2003 and all the bullying from 50 Cents against autistic people from 2009 to his latest in 2016 in which again a national organization who like the ARC have almost no real contact with grassroots autistic activists and is mostly predominantly White run, Autism Speaks. On top of all of that the birth of Bay Area Hip-Hop movement, the Hyphy movement that had a long history of mocking disability in the late 90’s
We must ask the question why two national organizations that has very little to do with grassroots of people with disabilities can have so much power and resources in the Hip-Hop arena? Although I and many activists who are autistic or have a developmental disability might not want to admit the importance of the actions of these two national organizations in the Hip-Hop arena, we must see the shift Hip-Hop made because of their “advocacy”! We, disabled activists, can say that this shift that The ARC and Autism Speaks help to make is/was not a deep and radical shift.
This is frustrating as a network of Hip-Hop artists with disabilities whose main goal is to advocate and educate the music arena about disability awareness to disability rights, to disability justice. It is frustrating to see movements pop up like Black Lives Matter and not be embrace after all the Hip-Hop cultural work disabled Hip-Hop artists have done inside and outside of Krip-Hop Nation on the issue of police brutality against people with disabilities. Also there was a small push back toward the Hyphy movement in both underground Hip-Hop and writers/journalism, like George TraGic Damon who put out a Hip-Hop song, Handicap-Hop in 2006 and Black feminist scholar, Moya Bailey wrote an essay, “The Illest’: Disability as Metaphor in Hip Hop Music”, in the 2012 book, Blackness and Disability: Critical Examinations and Cultural Interventions (Forecaast; V. 21)
This second time around for Conscious Rap 2016 onward so far, we, the people and Hip-Hop lovers can point to the underground for a growing push back by Hip-Hop artists with disabilities for examples, FEZO Da’ Madone’s 2017 EP, Vocal Tai Chi, Vol. 1 is full of political massages with a disability justice theme and if you want in your face disability stories check out Wheelchair Sports Camp first official album, No Big Deal, with a real life hard hitting song, It’s Hard Out Here For A Gimp & their latest song that was done for protesting Donal Trump’s administration attack on entitled, Speakin My Mind. We can go back in the day when Krip-Hop Nation just started out with 4Wheel City 2000 album and their movement called, The Movement For Improvement, where they had a song entitled, Welcome To 4Wheel City, that told NY how inaccessible it was and still is. We had also uplifting Hip-Hop songs by Toni Hickman, like Cripple Pretty to People Pleaser and Deaf Hip-Hop artists have put out their political stories like the Helix Boyz to Wawa to Signmark all and more Deaf Hip-Hop artists spitting about oppression from the hearing community & inside the mainstream Hip-Hop arena all in their lyrics.
So the question has been flip from did Hip-Hop artists with disabilities missed the second time around of Conscious Rap to has the mainstream Hip-Hop arena still haven’t embrace underground Hip-Hop artists, activists and journalists with disabilities?
Pic: Guy sitting on the ground against a red brick wall that says Hip-Hop. He is holding a sign that reads: ” Keep Your Consciousness, I Want Change”
Leroy F Moore Jr.
Founder of Krip-Hop Nation