Wednesday, October 17, 2018

What Is Conscious Hip Hop?

November 24, 2014 by  
Filed under Ent., Music, News, Opinion, Weekly Columns

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( Sub-genres are hard to define because they usually appear organically, derived by the fans of the music. They are nuanced in subtle ways that make a big difference to the insiders. To the uninitiated, the manifestation of a sub-genre can pose a good question, “what’s the difference?”

Instead of being too cool for school and saying something like, “You just don’t get it man,” I’m going help define the nuances in a sub-genre that is near and dear to me, conscious hip hop. To those of you who are unfamiliar with conscious hip hop, this article will help you identify and (hopefully) fall in love with it.

To give structure to my definition, I’m going to describe conscious hip hop by two main characteristics and a bonus one. The two main characteristics of conscious hip hop are content and quality. The bonus trait is truthiness, (I’ll let you know why it’s a bonus trait later on). Without further ado, let’s delve into what conscious hip hop is all about. 


The content matter of a conscious hip hop song challenges the dominant cultural, political, philosophical and economic consensus of society. I’m paraphrasing the Wikipedia definition because it’s on point. Conscious hip hop songs make you think twice about the dominate cultural perspective.Conscious-Hip-Hop-2014 The main focus of conscious hip-hop is the lyrical content of what the artist is saying. Listeners of conscious hip hop ask themselves, “What is the message in the song?” Many times I ask myself, “Is this track shining a new light on the way we view culture, politics, philosophy or economy as a society?” These are the types of questions we should ask ourselves whenever we listen to music, conscious or not.

Some people think that conscious hip hop has to gush with positivity, but this isn’t the case. Conscious hip hop reflects what is currently going on society, which is not always sunshine and rainbows. Some of the lyrical messages are bleak and appalling, like in gangster rap. But what separates conscious hip hop from gangster rap is that gangster rap glorifies the negative aspects of society, whereas conscious hip hop would shed light on the situation. It’s one thing is to talk about pain and suffering (as in conscious hip hop), but it’s another to advocate and defend it (as in gangster rap). Conscious hip hop doesn’t glorify negativity in the world. It acknowledges it as part of reality and makes listeners aware of the negativity.


It is impossible to objectively define the quality of a song so I won’t  try to. When I talk about the quality of music, I’m referring to the tastes and textures that I feel when listening to a song. What makes a song great is subjective to the listener. So how do you measure quality in music? The way I do it is take note of the negative or positive actions I make towards the song. I’ll explain what I mean about the supporting positive or negative actions below.

How many times do you listen to a song you like? I bet a lot. So do I. When I listen to a song I like, I’m all over it like cheese on pizza. I add the song to my playlist and turn the volume to the max when it comes on. If you do those things, it proves the song is good to you.

If I don’t like a song I cut the song off, turn the volume down or don’t seek it out at all. If you find yourself doing those actions, of course, it proves you don’t like the song. 

I explained, thoroughly, how I define the quality of music because many people think that conscious hip hop is something that they should like and, in reality, they don’t actually like it. I heard a comedian once say that if you want to succeed as a singer on Amateur Night at the Apollo, all you have to do is include Jesus in your song and you’ll be able to get the crowd on your side, regardless of how good you sing. I don’t know if this is true, but what I’m trying to say is that conscious hip hop is not like Jesus. It’s not something you like because you should. You like it because it’s good. If it’s not good, it’s not conscious hip hop. I want to rid the world of bad music rap songs getting a pass by riding the coattails of conscious hip hop music. Let’s just call it what it is… crap.


Truthiness is a bonus characteristic of conscious hip hop because it is incredibly hard to nail down and verify. When truthiness is achieved it turns a good song into a great one. Truthiness in conscious hip hop music relates to the amount of truth that is in the song, the more the better.

The truthiness of a song is hard to determine because the question, “What is the truth?” is still being debated amongst philosophers of today. For the purposes of our discussion, let’s use Google’s definition which is “that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality.” To determine truthiness ask yourself the following questions:

  • Is the message of the song in accordance with facts or reality?
  • Does the message of the song make senses, logically?
  • It may challenge dominant ideals, but is it true?

A listener has to dig deep and go beyond the music to get a good sense of its truthiness. Grasping the truthiness of a song is a challenging  aspect of conscious hip hop, and frankly very difficult to even verify. I mention it here because this element transforms a song from contemporary art to something that is cherished throughout the ages. (Great point and very well and clearly written!)


 As I said above, sub-genres are hard to define and conscious hip hop music is no exception. When I tell people I make conscious hip hop music, I usually add a definition to be clear they know what I mean. Describing it by the characteristics of its content, quality and truthiness really give the uninitiated a good idea of what the music is about.

I hope this is helpful to you when you’re talking about conscious hip hop. If you have anything to add or if I’ve missed something please leave a comment and let me know.

Staff Writer; Rey Beyond

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2 Responses to “What Is Conscious Hip Hop?”
  1. Steve says:

    Your article was very important and insightful but it never really seemed to shift gears. I wished you would’ve developed your thoughts on why conscious hip hop is not always positive and if that’s a good or bad thing. My take on it is this: while a lot of artists are brilliantly articulate about what they see there don’t seem to be that many who are equally as brilliant when it comes down to articulating a vision. It seems that artist from previous generations who lived under an arguably more hostile social and political environment were better able to balance their reality and their vision. I don’t see that as much today, or perhaps I’m simply inundated with the auditory porn that is being passed off as hip hop music today.

  2. Sabrina says:

    Very interesting article!

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