Hip-Hop Homage: 7 Rap Songs That Salutes Icons Of Black History

Posted on February 9th, 2018
Staff Editor

During Black History Month, we celebrate the excellence, culture and beauty of Black people across the globe. An important element of Black History Month is recognizing those who have existed in previous generations that paved the way for social and political movements of the present and future. Not allowing their legacies to be forgotten nor tarnished, educators, activists, political figures and more echo legendary stories, recite the speeches and pay their respects to icons of black history. Hip hop artists are not excluded.

Lyricists often pay homage to historical figures through their music. Whether it be a hot line or a hot song, rappers have always acknowledged the people whose talents and tenacity paved the way for many aspects of life enjoyed daily.

From Public Enemy, to Kendrick Lamar, to Rapsody and more, here are seven hip hop tracks that serve as important odes to black history.

Sassy – Rapsody

“Diamonds tween my knees,
oil wells in thighs,
does my sassiness upset you?
Oh you mad cuz I survived?”

Grammy nominated artist Rapsody’s song Sassy from her album Laila’s Wisdom is the ultimate salute to Maya Angelou. The song’s empowering and confident lyrics perfectly capture the attitude of Angelou’s iconic prose Phenomonal Woman and Rapsody even repeats “Does my sassiness upset you” , one of the poems most stand-out lines as well as other notes from the poem.  Sassy and Phenomonal Woman champion the black woman as powerful and free, despite the downtrodden opinions held by others.

HiiiPoWeR- Kendrick Lamar

“Visions of Martin Luther staring at me
If I see it how he seen it, that would make my parents happy
Sorry Mama,
I can’t turn the other cheek”

HiiiPoWeR salutes the Black Panther Party’s resistance against poverty and recognizes the differences in Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr’s quest for equality. Featured on Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80. The song reflects on Kendrick Lamar’s attitude toward civil rights leaders Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, while aligning his views with Black Panther Party co-founders Huey Newton and Black Panther leader Fred Hampton. Acknowledging that taking the approach of Martin Luther King Jr. would make his mother happy, he’s unable to adopt peaceful ideals and turn the other cheek.

Black History – Master P,  Romeo

“Times real though
Kickers kick no field goals
Harriet Tubman  
Built The Underground Railroads”

Master P enlisted help of son, Romeo to rap about multiple figures of black history. The duo deliver rhythmic lines, giving shout-outs to icons such as Bessie Coleman, Frederick Douglass, Booker T.t and  Washington and Medgar Evers. Black History not only recognizes the names these important historical figures, Master P also raps about the strides made advancing society from slavery however remains diligent on the remaining work that needs to be done.

My President Is Black – Young Jeezy, Nas

“My president is black
My Lambo’s blue
And I’ll be goddamned if my rims aint too”

For eight years My President Is Black was a joyous descriptor of American life. Nas joins Young Jeezy for the most recognized hip-hop salute to President Barack Obama.  Young Jeezy and Nas captured the feelings of most of Black America when in 2009, Obama made history as he was elected to the oval office. My President Is Black reflects harsh realities of life yet also feeling of hope provoked by Obama. Jeezy even gives a shout-out to Jackie Robinson, Booker T. Washington and  Sidney Poitier

By Any Means – Wale, Meek Mill, Pill, Rick Ross

“Word, how they say that we not fly?
How they say we not workin?
They just need convincing like Malcolm LIttle
‘Fore he converted”

Using Islamic phrases and lyrics referencing political and social disparities prevalent in minority communities, this song pays homage to civil rights leader Malcolm X.  Meek Mill, Pill, Rick Ross and Wale adapt the mantra by any means” popularized by Malcolm X during a notable speech, ensuring that equal rights would be obtained no matter the cost. The rappers detail how their hustle and drive will lead them to their material and career goals, by any means, certifying their street realness.

A Song For Assata – Common, Cee-Lo

“I’m thinking of Assata, yes
Listen to my love, Assata yes
Your power and pride is beautiful
May God bless your soul”

The ultimate tribute, Common gracefully rapped the powerful story of Assata Shakur’s arrest, mistreatment by law enforcement and the criminal justice system and her escape from prison to Cuba, living under political asylum. Common raps “I read this sister’s story and new that it deserved a verse” as he wonders what would the end-game have been if he had been Assata Shakur’s.  A Song For Assata explores the range of emotions felt by Shakur as she fought against numerous felonious charges.  The rapper’s song devoted to Assata Shakur closes with words from Shakur herself, on freedom.

By The Time I Get To Arizona – Public Enemy

“Why I want a holiday? Damn it, cause I wanna
So what if I celebrate it standing on a corner”

With a powerful intro from Sista Souljah, Public Enemy channelled frustrations stemming from the state of  Arizona refusing to observe Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a national holiday in 1990. The song relays feelings of urgency with a protruding sense of desperation to reach Arizona and enforce Martin Luther King Jr. Day. By The Time I Get To Arizona features Chuck D airing his militant woes while affirming the necessity of a nationally recognized Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

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