There is much to question regarding the current state of mainstream hip-hop, minus a few, fresh glimmers of hope (ahem J. Cole). For the most part, it’s become monotonous, overproduced, and lacking comprehensive, lyrical depth. But when a rapper is removed from his clichéd natural habitat (on top of a saturated beat, their mansion in the hills, the Rolls Royce dealership, the jewelry store, Nicki Minaj…kidding) and placed on a stage, grasping a mic in front of a crowd, there is a vigor released that almost make one forget how prominent they are. Instead of celebrated, entertainment symbols, these seven rappers are vulnerable, emotion-filled spoken word poets. And even if it only lasts a couple of minutes, it’s a breath of fresh air in an otherwise polluted environment.
Common—“God is Freedom”
Common is one of the few rappers that seems more comfortable on a stage than on top of a beat. He’s so publically revered that First Lady Michelle Obama invited the rapper to the White House in May for a poetry reading, infuriating the always open-minded Fox News.
KRS-One and Doug E. Fresh—“2nd Quarter-Free Throws”
It’s unfortunate that myself and this general cohort of readers are too young to understand the essence of KRS-One and how revolutionary he was in his prime. With a foundation of social activism, KRS-One isn’t as much a rapper as he is a teacher. His songs, like the one above, don’t implore you to sit back and listen, but rather to get up and act. KRS-One would be the perfect alarm clock.
Kanye West—“Bittersweet Poetry”
Both pieces from this video may sound familiar. The showy intro is from West’s verse in Rhymefest’s 2006 hit, “Brand New,” and “Bittersweet Poetry” is a bonus track from his 2007 release Graduation, which features John Mayer (Don’t worry, he isn’t in this performance). Nowadays, West tends to steal the stage from others during their special moments, but in this 2006 video, the limelight is all his.
The Brooklyn native and once NYU student has garnered moderate commercial success, while juggling the status as an intellect and poet. In addition to that balancing act, what makes Talib Kweli special is no matter the song he is featured on, his diction and overall message is constantly thought provoking. “Hell” being a great example of his bright, hip-hop infused poetry.
Hey! DMX is happy about something! Just kidding. He is pissed about the record business. But it’s quite refreshing to see him so stripped-down and open.
Footnote: With that growl, I suspect DMX could rap about his fondness for daisies and guinea pigs and I would come away thinking he has a deep seeded hatred for both.
J. Ivy—“Dear Father”
You may or may not know the name J. Ivy as the guy who rapped that really inspirational verse in Kanye West’s song “Never Let Me Down” from West’s debut release, The College Dropout. But it’s the lasting effect of “Dear Father” that should make him much more memorable than being featured on an elite rapper’s album.
Sekou tha Misfit—“I’m a Rapper”
Sekou tha Misfit is an accomplished slam poet and entertainer. He is not a rapper, despite what the title suggests. Although, in this piece, he embodies the character of a rapper, who flaunts all of the amenities noted at the top of this page. “I’m a Rapper” deliberately exploits the current culture of mainstream hip-hop in a compelling, conscious MC effort.