”Good evening, America, this is your President…After careful consideration and research, Vice President Duke, Congress, and myself have concluded that black people have not advanced technologically We are left with no other choice than to put slavery back into effect. All blacks will report to the designated camps in their area to receive further orders.”
No, this isn’t part of a deranged science-fiction flick. Set in 1995, it’s the opening of ”The Final Solution: Slavery’s Back in Effect,” a new single by Public Enemy’s honorary female member, Sister Souljah. As Souljah raps on the chorus, ”We are at war!”
Sister Souljah’s record and Public Enemy’s ”By the Time I Get to Arizona” are the latest examples of the genre known as militant rap. Not to be confused with the ”gangsta” rap of N.W.A and others (which glorifies criminal and sexual violence), militant rap addresses political agendas — and if those involve violence, so be it. The music — hard, heavy beats and dense, punching-bag rhythms — matches that anger; there’s nothing pop or crossover about it.
”Rap is based on the real deterioration and the real lives of black people as a whole over the past 10 years,” says Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau. ”There’s a substantial portion of the black population that has given up any commitment to society. Rap clearly reflects, rather than causes, this rage.” In other words, says rapper KRS-One of Boogie Down Productions, ”The question isn’t Public Enemy’s video — it’s why the album will go double platinum, because of it. The politicians should analyze why they’re so hated.”
Other militant rappers include Paris (the San Franciscan who calls himself the Black Panther of rap), Laquan (”Imprison the President”), Movement Ex, X-Clan, and of course, former N.W.A member Ice Cube, whose Death Certificate is the most controversial album of 1991. On the album, which has sold nearly 2 million copies, Cube rails against homosexuals, a Jew, and Korean grocers.
Playing a substantial role in this genre is the Black Muslim group led by Minister Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam. The group preaches that whites are the root of all evil, that they have stripped blacks of their culture, and that the drugs, guns, and AIDS of the ghetto are part of a white plot to suppress blacks. Such feelings are rampant in songs like Paris’ ”The Devil Made Me Do It” and Ice Cube’s ”I Wanna Kill Sam,” which angrily spits on the government: ”(You) try to give me the HIV, so I can stop making babies like me/You’re giving dope to my people, chump/Just wait till we get over that hump.”
Newsweek, in a 1990 article called ”Rap Rage,” called such records ”appalling expressions of attitude,” and Billboard attacked Death Certificate for crossing ”the line that divides art from the advocacy of crime.” Yet some fans say militant rap may have other, less sinister effects. Known for songs that advocate education and self-awareness, KRS-One wrote an antipolice song (”Bo! Bo! Bo!”) in response to police brutality. ”Everyone wants to snap a bottle over the head of a cop,” he says. ”It releases the tension of actually going out and doing it. It’s extremely healthy.”
Black music writer Nelson George sees much of militant rap as ”a lot of guys posturing more than politicking.” Yet he also applauds the genre for its educational value. ”Aside from Jesse Jackson,” he says, ”no political movement has had an impact since the black nationalism of the early ’70s. And anything that makes young people, especially black youth, think about politics is a good thing.” Regardless of whether their rants make you cheer or cringe, militant rap will be with us for a while — or, at the very least, until 1995.