Hip-hop is a multifaceted and diverse art form and culture that has, over the last 40 years, come to represent many different truths for different people. Its most potent incarnation, however, has arguably been as a documentation of—and a response to—systematic oppression.
As part of Harvard’s Hip-Hop Fellowship, revered producer 9th Wonder hopes to play a role in solidifying hip-hop as the “genius art form that it is,” and in a new interview from the City University of New York, 9th highlights how hip-hop’s response to oppression was one of the driving forces behind its political potential.
When asked whether or not he believes hip-hop today is political enough, the Jamla Records founder and hip-hop scholar made some poignant comments about the motivations behind hip-hop’s most politicized artists:
"Hip-hop has always took a turn for the way of who was actually in office as president. When we as hip-hoppers feel like we're backed against a wall, we do our best. People in hip-hop, we span the idea of people that are trying to get ahead, or feel like they're oppressed. This is not a color thing. So it seems like every time we feel like we're oppressed, our music gets better... So the Kendrick Lamar album couldn't come along at a better time, Chance The Rapper couldn't come along at a better time. Because now, we don't have it as great as we had with certain people in office, right? So now we feel like we need some source of inspiration."
9th Wonder positions some of hip-hop’s most inspired moments as a direct reaction to the political climate of the country, with an emphasis on the potential for oppression against the people who hip-hop artists have come to represent. Not only does an influx in the threat of oppression fuel the fire of artistic inspiration, the art ultimately produced has historically had some very impactful real-life influence.
9th goes on to remind us that music has and will always be the voice of revolution, and points to a handful of today’s artists as those carrying a torch that has existed for as long as the need to fight oppression:
"Because music has always been the voice of revolution. If we talk about Haight Ashbury in the 1960s, all the way up to now, it's always been the voice of revolution. The message has always been a part of it. So it seems like when we feel like our backs are pressed against the wall and we need a music or a soundtrack to push us forward... so we have our Kendricks, we have our Chance The Rappers, our Rapsodys, we have our Joey Bada$$...we have several people that have a voice that want to say something instead of it being just a party."
Of course, there’s a place in hip-hop for every facet of the culture’s diverse offerings, but 9th’s words—as they so often do—place an important emphasis on the very real power that hip-hop possesses when it comes to politics.
Hip-hop is a mouthpiece for the underrepresented, and as the genre continues to broaden its reach throughout the country and the world, its potential for affecting real change will only continue to increase.