With the success of Straight Outta Compton and a new wave of hip-hop artists pushing the form and expanding the range of rap-worthy topics beyond bling and bottle service, the socially conscious side of hip-hop culture is slowly shining through over the gangsta rap cliche that conservative parents fear.
As far back as "old skool" anthems like "It's Tricky", a track that has Run DMC's now-ordained Reverend Run rapping about "sleazy girls", respecting people's privacy, and claiming, "We are not thugs, we don't do drugs, but you assume, on your own." What follows is a list of rappers, hip-hop recording artists, who rap about more meaningful or politically relevant things, are outspoken activists, or active philanthropists, or defied impoverished, violent upbringings and bigotry to reach the heights of success.
No list of hip-hop role models is complete though without mentioning entrepreneur and Def Jam records founder Russell Simmons, without whom most of the artists on this list would have never been heard (including Russell's younger brother, Joseph, also known as Reverend Run). Russell Simmons is himself a prolific giver to charity, a vegan and holistic medicine fan, so it is no coincidence that hip-hop history has had an enlightened bent to it from its beginnings. Outside of the Simmons brothers and some first gen rappers like Will Smith, here is a list of 12 Genuine (Positive) Role Models In Hip-Hop.
11 Yasiin Bey
10 Kanye West
9 Queen Latifah
7 Missy Elliot
6 Talib Kweli
3 Kendrick Lamar
2 J. Cole
Common is, and may be the only rapper on this list who is, an animal right’s activist and PETA member. On top of maintaining that the former lover of Kerry Washington, Taraji P. Henson, and Erykah Badu has pledged to never use homophobic slurs in his music, claims to be a “pescaterian” after being vegan for a time, supports HIV/AIDs awareness, founded a non-profit called Common Ground Foundation dedicated to developing underprivileged youth into community leaders and social conscious citizens, and on top of all of this has found time to appear in activist documentary #Bars4Justice about the injustices perpetrated in Ferguson, MO.
Sources: elitedaily.com, mtv.com, progressive.org, vibe.com
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