Today in Music: Rap, the New Folk

Brother Ali, the next Woody Guthrie?

Twenty years from now, will we look at rap lyrics the same way we now look at folk music? When asked the about music of the 60’s and early 70’s, the time before disco, people often talk about Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, John Lennon, musicians who wrote about protest and empowerment. The words “folk music” in particular seem synonymous with protest, as if every hirsute balladeer sang about uniting to face the greater powers that conspire against the common man.

But that’s certainly a skewed picture. For every “Blowing in the Wind” there were plenty more “Daydream Believers.” Just as today in rap music there are more songs that make you shout “You Know I’m a Hoe” than songs that make you go hmm. Of course, there are a good number of those too, and like rock ‘n’ roll of the early days, rap, by nature, is a protest of form. That’s what makes it so suitable for speaking out boldly against the establishment today. Just listen to what the newer rappers, like Blue Scholars, Brother Ali, and the Iraqi-American Timz, are saying.

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Among protesters, the Iraq War draws many comparisons to Vietnam, sometimes correctly and sometimes not so much, but it is certainly an increasingly polarizing war. Like folk singers of the 60s, rappers often speak out very directly against it, as the Blue Scholars do in their video for “Bring Them Home”:

Although Michael Franti, of Spearhead, is not exactly a rap artist, his reggae influenced style is likely to land him in the same side of your local record store, and his message here in “Time To Go Home” is quite similar:

For comparison, here’s Pete Seeger performing “Bring Them Home” to a television audience in 1969:

A young San Diego-based rapper name Timz is getting a lot of press lately, thanks to his head-turning new song “Iraq.” Timz, a first generation Iraqi-American, is outspoken against the Iraq war and is personally trying to educate others about the diversity of Iraq (Timz and his family are Catholic-based Chaldeans) — i.e. that not all Iraqis and others of Middle East descent are violent and fanatic. Here’s the controversial video:

Timz appeared on the right-leaning Fox Network news show Hannity & Colmes and was (attemptedly) grilled by guest host Chuck Norris! Watch Chuck try his best (which is not very good) to take Timz to task:

You can catch both of these videos and listen to more songs by the 2006 San Diego Annual Music Awards nominee for Best Hip-Hop Album on his MySpace page (although “Reppin for My City” ain’t no “Iraq”).

Some rappers like Brother Ali and Sage Francis vocalize their protests at other or broader targets. In Brother Ali’s “Uncle Sam Goddamn,” the perpetuation of racism in America is his primary concern…

while Sage Francis’ “Hoofprints in the Sand” shows that there’s a lot more going on wrong:

All of the songs presented here come from the artists’ most recent releases. Be sure to support them!

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