The Top Ten Black Power Themed Rap Acts…according to Marcus Reeves

Even though real Hip-Hop can seem like it has gone to the pallbearers lately, its legacy is safe in the good quills of brilliant writers like Marcus Reeves.

As a feature writer and editor, Reeves was an integral part of The Source Magazine’s Mind Squad during the magazine’s golden age. From there, he hit the ground running and his by-line appeared in The Village Voice, Rolling Stone and Vibe, among other high end media conglomerates.

A decade and a half on the grind, Marcus penned the comprehensive Somebody Scream: Rap Music’s Rise to Prominence in the Aftershock of Black Power (Faber & Faber), a thorough document of the major acts and movements of Hip-Hop’s storied timeline. This proven scribe enlightened us on his top ten rap groups that make us proud to be young, gifted and Black.

1. PUBLIC ENEMY

“It’s not just because of the message, but because of genius behind what they were. The Bomb Squad was a genius production team. They way Chuck D formulated everything with Flavor Flav being the comic relief, S1W’s giving you the visuals of movement, and Terminator X being the sound power behind the whole thing was like Funkadelic or what James Brown put together as far as the super group concept.”

2. RAKIM

“Before Public Enemy, Rakim introduced not only a new way of saying a rhyme, but a new language that the rhyme could be in. When “Eric B. is President” came out, it was a taste for what was coming. It was a new type of sampling sound. It sounded like an old record and it was funky. Then there was the way Rakim rhymed, which was very musicianlike, very much like Coltrane, There was off rhymes. There was multiple rhyming words. Then he would drop Five Percent messages in there. When ‘My Melody’ came out, you heard a new black language that just changed the game completely. ‘Now tear it up, y’all, and bless the mic for the gods.’ When he said that, I was like, and I wasn’t one to think this, ‘Oh my god, did he just the say the Black man is god on the radio?’”

3. KRS-ONE

“He introduced a new consciousness of rap to music. [Even though] he came out with stuff like ‘Criminal Minded’ [and] ‘The P is Free,’ he also had stuff like ‘South Bronx’ which was going at Shan, but it was also trying to clarify the history of Rap, saying that we’ve come this far, but let’s keep it grounded where this thing is from. And also there’s ‘Poetry.’ I was in high-school when that song came out and I was like, ‘Wow, he’s calling rap poetry.’ He’s letting you know that we understand the power that we have as rappers and we’re gonna remind you as well.”

“Where Public Enemy would actually say it, N.W.A would get in the costume of the people and then let that costume speak for itself.”

4. N.W.A

“Besides introducing gangsta rap, they were, like Public Enemy, a highly conceptualized group. Public Enemy wanted to take the group and use it as a means of raising the consciousness, promoting knowledge and social awareness. N.W.A was like, ‘We’re gonna take your voice and we’re gonna take the voice of the gangsta to show you how desperate things are.’ It was part serious and part comedic. They used that voice as a means to critique the same community that they began to speak for. ‘Dopeman,’ while it’s basically showing you an archetype of somebody who is killing the community and who gets massive respect from the community, criticizes the Black community for giving that man that much power because of a substance. It’s a very high minded way of critiquing society. It just was a little deeper than what Public Enemy was putting out. Where Public Enemy would actually say it, N.W.A would get in the costume of the people and then let that costume speak for itself.”

5. X-CLAN

“N.W.A and Public Enemy were the Black Panthers. X-Clan were what you would call the Organization Us [or US Organization]. Back in the 60’s, there were the Panthers, all kinds of revolutionary nationalists. Organization Us with Maulana Karenga were cultural nationalists. They came up with Kwanzaa. They’re thing was freedom through Black unity, self-awareness through going back to your heritage and your roots to recapture that Africanness of your culture. X-Clan picked that up and turned it into their own concept for a rap group. Not only did they turn into a concept, but they turned into a dope language that just worked. My favorite song is ‘Grand Verbalizer.’ The stuff he’s talking about—if anybody else said it, it would be weird. ‘Stalkin’, walkin’ in my big black boots, livin’ off the earth eatin’ herbs and fruits.’ They’re talking about living off the earth and making it sound cool. ‘Chilly and Magilla, chocolate and vanilla/How can polar bears swing on vines with the gorillas? Please.’ It was secret language, but you understood it. He’s saying the same things, bragging about himself, but he was also talking about heritage, and dissing the white power structure calling them polar bears.”

“Big Daddy Kane was the Jay-Z of his day, somebody who was flashy, but had enough street cred to speak politically on behalf of his audience. He was that guy who walked the fine line between being flashy and being knowledgeable.”

6. BIG DADDY KANE

“Big Daddy Kane was a Five Percenter. He was the Jay-Z of his day, somebody who was flashy, but had enough street cred to speak politically on behalf of his audience. Big Daddy Kane was bigger for other reasons. He changed the game and the whole concept of the punch line and created the whole idea of metaphors. He’s a pioneer in his own right, but as far as speaking the language, he was that guy who walked the fine line between being flashy and being knowledgeable.”

7. MOS DEF

“He can just drop it. If you ever listen to the album they did together, Black Star, he’s talking about shooting holes in the sky until she bleeds sunshine. That’s the kind of poetry that Mos Def brings to political awareness. He drops it in a sensible way for the gangster rappers, positive rappers, or the guys trying to be alternative. You can’t listen to him and say he’s preaching to you. When he did ‘What’s Beef,’ he’s right. Beef is ‘what George Bush would do in a fight.’”

8. TALIB KWELI

“As a writer, he’s just incredible. He has learned how to take a whole concept—right now, they say you can’t be too preachy and you can’t talk down to hustlers in the street—and present that same picture a gangster rapper shows you, but show it to you as an emotion, without telling you it’s an emotion. His biggest example is ‘Get By.’ “We sell, crack to our own out the back of our homes/We smell the musk at the dusk in the crack of the dawn.’ He paints the picture and says, ‘Dude, you’re doing this because you wanna get by. Do you wanna continue doing it?’ But he presents it in a poetic way. It’s like sunshine coming out of the radio. It’s the equivalent of a rapping Stevie Wonder.”

9. SALT-N-PEPA

“I’m sorry they just…did it. Besides challenging society, they challenged Hip-Hop to rethink what a woman MC could do. She could sing, could talk, the power she could have and the audience she can reach, just hands down. They’re number nine.”

10. JAY-Z

“Because he has age, power. He basically mixed street consciousness and political consciousness all in one. He’s been doing it since the beginning. He’s been able to do it and he still does it well. It’s Jay Z…it’s all I could really say.”

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