by Mike Vinti
The last week or so has seen the release of two of the most anticipated projects in recent musical history; Skepta’s fourth album Konnichiwa and Chance the Rapper’s third mixtape Coloring Book.
With both MCs having made a name for themselves over the past couple of years as being pioneers in their respective fields of rap music, the release of their full length efforts has served to cement their reputations and effectively crown them as kings of their respective sides of the Atlantic. However, while both projects are excellent musically speaking, what’s most interesting about the hype surrounding both Chance and Skepta is that they’re both totally independent artists.
To forge largely positive, progressive musical movements in these environments is not only a testament to talents of each MC and those around them, it’s radical
Not only this but both MCs hail from areas of their homelands where it’s not exactly easy to forge your way as an artist without some serious capital behind you. Chance the Rapper hails form Chicago, often referred to in hip hop parlance as ‘Chiraq’ due to the level of gun crime in the poorer parts of the city, while Skepta hails from London, more specifically Tottenham, where gang-violence and piss poor police-community relations have been a constant blight on the chances of young men growing up there. To forge largely positive, progressive musical movements in these environments is not only a testament to talents of each MC and those around them, it’s radical. In every sense of the word.
Rap, be it hip hop or grime, has long been accused by its detractors as being materialistic. Since its inception, rap has been attacked time and time again for being too concerned with wealth to be a truly revolutionary art form. Never mind Gil Scott Heron or Saul Williams, to many, even on the left, hip hop is comprised exclusively of the likes of Rick Ross. Indeed, it’s a constant frustration of mine to encounter people who consider themselves otherwise ‘radical’ yet dismiss almost all rap music on the basis of lazy stereotypes and refuse to even attempt to understand the culture they criticise. Never before have this criticism, and these critics, looked so out of touch.
it’s a constant frustration of mine to encounter people who consider themselves otherwise ‘radical’ yet dismiss almost all rap music on the basis of lazy stereotypes
While it’s true that there is a large segment of rap music both in the UK and US that falls into what some might call the “bitches and bling” category, if you were to take a deeper look at the two biggest records in rap music at the moment you’d find nuanced projects that deal with everything from anarchism and anti-establishment sentiment at large, to inspections of love in the modern age. When it comes to radical music that actually connects with a large audience and inspires its fans to create their own movements, as Skepta and BBK have done with grime – a genre now almost entirely comprised of unsigned and independent talent – and Chance does through his community work in Chiacgo, rap is the future.
Radical politics is at its most effective when in touch with popular, progressive culture. Whether it was the summer of love in the 60s and the anti-war movement, punk and anarchism or acid-house and collectivism, since world war two, the times when radical ideas have met their widest audience, and therefore been most effective, has been when the left has understood and worked with musical and popular culture.
Instead of clinging on to the legacy of punk, the left should be at grime raves and hip hop shows.
Today, however, there is something of a disconnect. Anti-establishment and even socialist ideas form the core of the music made by the likes of Skepta and Chance the Rapper, they’re even releasing it themselves, undermining the hyper-capitalist business models of the music industry, yet the radical left is nowhere to be seen.
In order to communicate its idea effectively the left needs to connect with popular culture as it has done in the past. Instead of clinging on to the legacy of punk, the left should be at grime raves and hip hop shows. Those who purport to oppose capitalism should be supporting independent artists who defy the stereotypes forced upon them by the music industry and the media, they should ally with those MCs who express an interest in anarchism and anti-establishment politics and they should be listening to and taking an active interest in rap music.