2016’s Boldest & Most Important Political Statements In Hip-Hop & Beyond

2016 has been a rough year. From seemingly endless celebrity deaths to a political campaign unlike any other to racial tensions dominating headlines, these last 12 months have been riddled with great sorrow. But as history continues to remind us, out of great pain comes great resilience, and actors, athletes, authors, and MCs are just a few of the groups who spoke out and showed up for social and political causes this year. Today, we celebrate only a fraction of the mighty voices we heard from in ’16, and salute those brave enough to make some noise.

T.I. “Warzone”/Us Or Else

The Summer of 2016 was a tumultuous one and served as fertile ground out of which many of the year’s biggest political statements grew. Included therein are the recent works of T.I., a rapper more commonly associated with chart-topping pop-culture phenoms than “conscious” Hip-Hop. But as he demonstrated in the game-changing video for “Warzone” and his Us or Else EP, some issues are simply too hard to ignore. The video stars a Black police officer who fatally shoots a White child, a potent reversal of fate that inspired a much-needed conversation about empathy. Us or Else, as T.I. came about, as he told The Daily Show‘s Trevor Noah in September, because “I just really want to create dialogue that will promote change.”

Killer Mike Says It’s Time To Take Down The System By Taking Our Money Out Of It

On the heels of the killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of police, a justifiable anger was swelling in millions of Americans, frustrated with a broken record that forced us to hear the same old story again and again. Killer Mike, long since an outspoken political voice (and Ambrosia for Heads’s choice for Hip-Hop Person of the Year in 2014), provided the forlorn a way to channel said anger into an effective means of revolution, and it was all about economics. Speaking with Atlanta’s HOT 107 he said, “We don’t have to burn our city down. But, what we can do is go down to our banks tomorrow. You can go to your bank tomorrow and you can say ‘until you as a corporation start to speak on our behalf, I want all my money. And, I’m taking all my money'” elsewhere, adding “What we’re going to do is to start to divert money from the system. And this works. Apartheid ended in South Africa because students in America said ‘We not flying Delta anymore. We’re not drinking Coca-Cola anymore. We’re not supporting any corporation that supports that Apartheid and enslavement of people who look like us.'” Just a week later, it became evident his words had a powerful effect; more than 8,000 new accounts were registered at a single Black-owned bank.

Colin Kaepernick Takes a Profound Stand By Taking a Seat

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick reminded the world that symbolic gestures can be as influential as any organized movement. By choosing to take a knee or sit out the national anthem at football games, he inspired similar actions in athletes and citizens across the globe. Not only did his act of silent revolution land him a historic Time magazine cover, but it earned him the support of President Obama, Marshawn Lynch, J. Cole, and many others. In his own words, Kaepernick explained his controversial actions, saying “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color.” On or off the field, he has become a central figure in the ongoing movement for civil rights, and one who has redefined what it means to be a standup guy.

A Tribe Called Quest Return Triumphantly With “We the People”

There is no summation of music in 2016 without mention of A Tribe Called Quest. Period. The iconic Queens, New York Hip-Hop Group may be a favorite amongst Heads, but there is no denying their influence well beyond, and their appearance as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live in November was exemplary of their rightful place in American popular culture. The release of their first album in 18 years, We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service, was enshrouded with as much pain as it was joy, due to the tragic loss of Phife Dawg in March. However, Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Jarobi seemed to make the collective decision to ensure Phife’s presence loomed large nonetheless, as it does in the video for “We the People.” Certainly the group’s most political single in a 25-plus year history, it’s a reflection of Trump’s America, a place where Muslims, gays, women, and the disabled are treated with the same disdain reserved for Black and Brown Americans. After having taken such a long hiatus and suffering the loss of a founding member, A.T.C.Q was brave to return to our collective embraces with such an outspoken piece of work, but they are proven to have arrived at exactly the right time, and continue to heal us through song.

Kenneth Whalum featuring Big K.R.I.T. “Might Not Be O.K.”

In November, Big K.R.I.T. explained to Genius that his heart-wrenching collaboration with musician Kenneth Whalum arose in part due to the frustration with a criminal-justice system whose allegiance consistently lies on the White side of history, particularly when it comes to the way police officers are punished after killing an unarmed person of color. “It’s still somebody that lost their life, it’s still another civilian…we’re gonna sit there and we’re gonna watch, we’re gonna tweet, and then they’re gonna go through the whole judicial system and the [cop] is probably gonna get off again and we’re right back where we started,” he said. “Might Not Be O.K.” is, by far, Krizzle’s most important contribution to Hip-Hop yet, and his unforgettable performance at the BET Awards, in which he appeared clad in a police officer’s uniform, reminded us of the power in unbridled Black pain. This auto-play video is available at its original post.


Marc Lamont Hill On Why 4 Years Of Trump Is Good for the Revolution

Author, activist, professor, and media personality Marc Lamont Hill has made a career out of discussing social and political issues from a distinctly contemporary perspective. His August appearance on The Breakfast Club came amidst the presidential election and during a summer plagued with police-involved killings, and he took the opportunity to share some controversial opinions. “I would rather have Trump be President for four years and build a real Left-Wing movement that can get us what we deserve as a people than to let Hillary be president and we stay locked in the same space where we don’t get what we want,” he shared. With a Trump presidency becoming a reality in just over one month’s time, Hill’s words should serve as a call to action: there’s work to be done.

Snoop Dogg & The Game March with the LAPD

2016 marked a watershed year for Snoop Dogg who, despite having more than 20 years of recording experience under his belt, continued to remain a relevant and inspirational figure in Hip-Hop. Beyond his being given the “I Am Hip-Hop” award by BET in October, he and fellow Los Angeles Rap star The Game led a march to police headquarters in their hometown, alongside Chief Charlie Beck. As reported by The L.A. Timesit was “a unification march for men of color” that came only hours after five police officers were shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. Posting on his Instagram page, Game explained the march was organized to “make the Californian government & it’s [sic] law branches aware that from today forward, we will be UNIFIED as minorities & we will no longer allow them to hunt us or be hunted by us !!!” Onsite, Snoop told reporters that “the mission is to reintroduce our community to the LAPD… just to get some understanding and dialogue. We’re the ones they’re going to be dealing with, we’re the ones that are going to be pulled over. … We’re here on peace.” It was a bold and controversial look from the two rappers, who have both been criticized in the past for “glorifying” street violence through their music. Nevertheless, Snoop Dogg and The Game reminded us that there is much more to the story, and a show of unity is far more powerful than any one song.


Jesse Williams Uses the Spotlight to Set Forth a Blueprint for Revolution

Much like Big K.R.I.T. would do months later at the Hip-Hop Awards, actor and activist Jesse Williams used his time on stage during June’s BET Awards to stand up, unequivocally, for Black Americans. He was being bestowed with the Humanitarian Awards, due in large part to his involvement in social-justice issues and his work on the Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement documentary. But rather than recite a list of thank yous, Williams instead delivered what can only be called a sermon, saying things like “a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do,” “I don’t wanna hear any more about how far we’ve come when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on a 12-year-old boy playing alone in a park in broad daylight, killing him on television and then going home to make a sandwich,” and “we’re done watching and waiting while this invention called Whiteness uses and abuses us, burying Black people out of sight and out of mind while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil, black gold.” But what will likely prove to be the most potent takeaway from his remarkable speech are his words about the dichotomy of existence faced by people of color in the United States: “The thing is though, that just because we’re magic doesn’t mean we’re not real.” This auto-play video is available at its original post.

Beastie Boys’s Ad-Rock Challenges the World to Stand Up to Hate

Adam “MCA” Yauch Memorial Park in Brooklyn, New York was defaced with swastikas and the words “Go Trump,” the timing of which coincided with Donald Trump’s recent victory in the presidential election. In fact, in the weeks following Election Day, an immense uptick in hate crimes was reported across the country, a sign that racists have been emboldened by Trump’s rhetoric. The late MCA’s fellow Beastie Boy and swarms of like-minded New Yorkers descended upon the park, not to violently protest the hate crime, but to offer a message of compassion and forward-thinking, with Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz leading the way. Calling Yauch “someone who taught non-violence, in his music and his life, to all of us and to me,” Horovitz when on to say “these incidents and this type of graffiti has been popping up all over our country because we’ve elected a president that’s given our children the message that it’s okay to write ‘White Power’ in their high school hallway, that it’s okay to attack women and girls, that Latinos and Muslims and Jews are bad people, and that you can electro-shock the gay out of somebody. C’mon! This is real. It’s happening at a rapid rate. We gotta stand up against hate.”

Vic Mensa “16 Shots”

One of the most politically active MCs of his generation, Vic Mensa spent much of 2016 marching and protesting, appearing alongside his fellow Chicago, Illinois natives to express outrage at the handling of the death of Laquan McDonald at the hands of a trigger-happy police officer. Shot 16 times in the street, McDonald was a teenager whose worst crime was holding a knife while walking away from police, and it cost him his life. His death – and the city’s horrendous handling of the investigation – inspired Mensa’s “16 Shots,” a video which includes Black men hanging from nooses and violent encounters with the police. But it’s not all a fictional adaptation of real-life events; in the video, actual footage of Chicago police officer and McDonald’s killer Jason Van Dyke’s dash-cam footage is included. Mensa was not afraid to include the searing imagery of McDonald’s death, and for that, he stood up for those no longer able to fight back.

Also this year, Mensa wrote a powerful open letter about how politicians use race as a distraction, joined protestors in Standing Rock, and took part in the movement to register new voters (as did fellow Chicagoan Chance the Rapper).

Mike Pence Gets Booed at Hamilton & Is Sent a Plea For Justice

Politics and pop culture met head-to-head in November when Vice President-Elect unwittingly walked into a premeditated personal appeal directed squarely at his person. Attending a performance of the theatrical phenomenon Hamilton, he was booed by members of the audience, presumably due to his far-right political views. But the moment turned into something more when cast member Brandon Victor Dixon delivered a heartfelt speech in which he urged Pence to “uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us,” those of us who make up the citizens of a “diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights.” Two days later, Dixon expanded upon his statement, saying that he hopes “it was the beginning of a conversation…we can continue to have.”

Macklemore Implores Us To Acknowledge Our White Privilege

As “Black lives matter” continued to be a recurring theme in protest movements throughout 2015, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis stood up loudly at the top of this year and exposed a sense of helplessness for the world to see in the form of “White Privilege II.” Released in January, the song features Jamila Woods and includes questions Macklemore asked of himself (and, by extension, was urging his fellow White Americans to ask of themselves) like “Is this awkward, should I even be here marching?,” “Am I in the outside looking in, or am I in the inside looking out?,” and “Is it my place to give my two cents, or should I stand on the side and shut my mouth?” Luckily, he did not shut his mouth, and instead he invited activists and artists of color to join him in a full-fledged movement to educate White people on how they can be effective allies in the modern-day civil rights era. In fact, the song has its very own website still active today, and includes invaluable information, including a database of Black-led organizations in need of support. Macklemore also spent much of 2016 working to bring awareness to America’s opioid epidemic, even sitting down with President Obama to deliver a sobering call to action.

 Jay Z Explains How The War On Drugs Really Is A War On People Of Color

Jigga’s rise to his current position as one of the most powerful businessmen to emerge out of Hip-Hop has been well documented, particularly through his music. He’s never shied away from boasting of his prowess at selling drugs in his early life, nor has he remained modest about enjoying the life of luxury the street hustle provided him. But the majority of his career has been about achieving success in ways that allowed him to leave behind d’evils and land on the pages of Forbes. That trajectory has given him a unique perspective on the “war on drugs,” a devastating political initiative launched under the Nixon administration and which has resulted in mass incarceration, the criminalization of nonviolent drug users, and far-reaching structural racism that has devastated entire communities of color. As such, Jay Z was the perfect narrator for a New York Times animated short in which the war on drugs is illustrated with no-holds-barred imagery and language. “The History of the War on Drugs: from Prohibition to Gold Rush” included references to the government’s plan to make drug dealers into monsters, with Jigga explaining the fact that “even though White people used and sold crack more than Black people, somehow it was Black people who went to prison,” adding the sobering statistic that “when the war on drugs started in 1971, our prison population was 200,000. Today, it is over two million.”

From police brutality to mass incarceration, climate change to arguments for an entire restructuring of our economic and political systems as we recognize them, this has been a monumental year for progressive ideals. Movement has been made on many fronts, and there are signs of progress towards a fairer and more equal society. But with January 20 just over a month away, a new presidential administration devoid of any real diversity, there is no doubt next year will be one fraught with struggle. Nevertheless, we look to 2017 to bring us the resolution and strength to see these movements – championed by Killer Mike, Colin Kaepernick, Ad-Rock, Jay Z, and many, many others – all the way through.