The 10 Greatest Conscious Rappers of All Time

The 10 Greatest Conscious Rappers of All Time

Table of Contents

We know that the current state of hip hop is dead.

We know that we need better options than trap music, hoe music, and club bangers that rot the brain with poisoned, ignorant lyrics.

We know that there is a psychological covert War on Hip Hop that keeps real conscious music off the airwaves.

Mainstream hip hop makes me dry heave.

The problem is that it can be hard to find conscious rappers that you want to support (you DEFINITELY wont find them on BET). A few of these rappers make mainstream (Jay Electronica, Common), but for the most part hip hop has become a sewer (admit it, you know I’m right!)

But the art and the artist are far from dead.

Here are the top 10 greatest black conscious hip hop artists of all time. I keep these MCs on heavy rotation as an alternative to the poor quality of mainstream music being forced down our throats.

KRS-One

The 10 Greatest Conscious Rappers of All Time

“I’m suggesting that in 100 years, this book will be a new religion on the earth… I think I have the authority to approach God directly, I don’t have to go through any religion [or] train of thought. I can approach God directly myself and so I wrote a book called The Gospel of Hip Hop to free from all this nonsense garbage right now. I respect the Christianity, the Islam, the Judaism but their time is up. …In a hundred years, everything that I’m saying to you will be common knowledge and people will be like, ‘Why did he have to explain this? Wasn’t it obvious?’” – On his self-published book, The Gospel of Hip Hop

This man is a powerhouse of Black conscious hip hop. Since 1977, KRS has been dropping bombs on the hip hop industry, producing 27 collaborative and solo albums, winning the 2004 VH1 Hip Hop Honors Award, the 2007 BET Lifetime Achievement Award, and the 2009 Urban Music Living Legend Award.

KRS-One has kept his message pure over the years, becoming known for his furiously political and socially conscious rap, giving him the nickname “the Teacher.”

Some things you might not know about KRS – One:

*KRS-One has written and published 4 books, including the hard-to-find 1996 classic, The Science of Rap.
*He has appeared in 25 films and documentaries
*His name is an acronym for Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone
*In 2012, KRS-One endorsed Congressman Ron Paul for President over Barack Obama
*KRS-One has been a vegetarian since he was a child

Mos Def

The 10 Greatest Conscious Rappers of All Time

“Old white men is runnin’ this rap sh*t,
Corporate forces runnin’ this rap sh*t,
Some tall Israeli is runnin’ this rap sh*t,
We poke out our asses for a chance to cash in.
Cocaine, is runnin’ this rap sh*t,
‘Dro, ‘yac and e-pills is runnin this rap sh*t,
MTV is runnin’ this rap sh*t,
Viacom is runnin’ this rap sh*t,
AOL and Time Warner runnin’ this rap sh*t.“

– 2004, A New Danger

Mos Def has been rapping since the age of 9 and professionally acting since age 14. He has been nominated as the Best Supporting Actor, is a 7-time Grammy Award nominee, and won Best Indie Actor for his role in The Woodsman.

His dedication to his musical craft has paid off for him and for the conscious community. These days, Mos Def is more of an actor/activist than a rapper , but he still blesses the industry from time to time with albums like The New Danger in 2004.

His classic breakthrough albums — Black Star (1998), was a collaboration with Talib Kweli and Hi-Tek; and Black on Both Sides (1999), his solo debut — is legendary in the underground hip hop community.

Mos Def has used his fame to protest in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Jena Six incident in 2007, for instance.

Sa-Roc the MC

The 10 Greatest Conscious Rappers of All Time

Chances are you havent heard of Sa-Roc, and if thats the case – Im sorry for you. Her lyrics are divine and all encompassing: SA–ROC music is the sound track for what she calls the “GOD HOP MOVEMENT.”

Her musical soundtrack was a clash of sounds, from gogo, to rock, to hip hop. This foundation began an aural quest for different sounds and concepts in music.

Her sound is 1 part hood poetry, 2 parts otherworldly, and totally new and fresh. From subject matter ranging from melanin to pyramids, Saroc spits metaphysical ideas over melodic hip hop beats, seeking to fuse knowledge of self with great music. She seeks to create not just a couple of albums, but a full-fledged musical movement.

This is my second time mentioning Sa-Roc ( check out Conscious Culture Friday: NYOIL, Kalik Scientific, and Sa-Roc).

She is one of the most talented, creative, and under-appreciated female lyricists of our time. Beauty, talent, intelligence, spirit – there is nothing this Queen is lacking. Support her at http://godhopmovement.org/

Professor X and the X-Clan

The 10 Greatest Conscious Rappers of All Time

Remember The Box? Remember when Rap City was dope?

These are the first two places I can ever remember seeing Professor X and the X-Clan. If you are younger than 24, you dont even know what the X-Clan meant to music in the 80s and 90s.

For you younggins, X-Clan is a hip hop group from Brooklyn, New York, that consisting of Grand Verbalizer Funkin’ Lesson Brother J, Professor X The Overseer, Paradise the Architect, and Sugar Shaft the Rhythm Provider. The current incarnation of the group features leader Brother J, Master China, Kumu, “Ultraman” Ra Hanna, ACL, Lord Cza, DJ Fat Jack and Zulu. Professor X passed into legend in 2006, and the group continues to inspire and produce MCs along the same lineage.

They dont make music like this anymore. This is hip hop. This is the beginning. This is the language of the Black Conscious soul. Listen and learn.

M1 and Stic Man of Dead Prez

The 10 Greatest Conscious Rappers of All Time

Ayo my life is like Roots it’s a true story
It’s too gory for them televised fables on cable
I’ma a runaway slave watching the north star
Shackles on my forearm , runnin with the gun on my palm
I’m an African , never was an African-American
Blacker than black I take it back to my origin
Same skin hated by the klansmen
Big nose and lips, big hips and butts, dancin, what
-I’m A African

Any rap or hip hop list that doesnt have Dead Prez on it is an incomplete list. The Dead Prez duo (M1 and Stic Man) was a product of Florida A&M University (FAMU). Their first album, Let’s get Free, became an instant classic, and threw them onto the national scene. Most people hadn’t even heard of Dead Prez until they heard the Hip Hop instrumental on the Dave Chappelle Show.

Like all the artists listed here, the duo uses their lyrical superpowers for the good of our community: their 2002 compilation CD, Red Hot + Riot raised money for various charities that fight AIDS in Africa.

Recently, while most rappers are rocking blood diamonds, and pretending that they’re the first N*ggas in Paris, Dead Prez used their fame to discuss issues that actually matter – like the injustices surrounding the Trayvon Martin case.

Teamed up with Mos Def and Mikeflo, the group recently came together to discuss the murder and record a tribute track which addresses the issue of what happened to Trayvon Martin as well as how blacks should best respond.

M-1 and Stic.man epitomize the spirit of 21st century Black consciousness. Listen and Learn.

Rakim

The 10 Greatest Conscious Rappers of All Time

We were children of the most high, so we fell
From paradise to holy hell
Probably descendants of the Holy Grail
Another part of history they won’t reveal
Times’ll only tell
You waiting for Judgment? It came
In the form of a thug in the game
To create a strong position, there’s blood in my vein
The chemical is identical, we one and the same
With seven letters in all three of my government names
Walk on water? Nah, neither did Jesus
It’s a parable to make followers and readers believers
From Egypt to Budapest, Rakim is the truest left
Understand the Scriptures like the minister Louis F
I told you who God is, you ignored me like most the prophets
Jesus, Solomon, Abraham, Moses and Muhammad
I showed the scholars, we’ll fulfill the broken promise
I spit this truth to predict the future like Nostradamus
Like Revelations, I’m hoping my quotes reveal
The seven spirits of God when I open the seal
Interpret the holy Qu’ran, these flows will guide you
Translate the Torah, and decode the Bible
-Rakim, Holy Are You

Rap pioneer Rakim infused the teachings and symbols of the Five Percenters throughout his music and videos. This reputation brought fans of Rakim, in particular, to refer to him as the God MC. Early on in his career, he paired up with other Gods, including the Brand Nubians, the Poor Righteous Teachers, the Wu-Tang Clan, Killarmy, Sunz of Man, Gravediggaz, Public Enemy, Godbliss and Gang Starr. The music became a message that sparked a boom of new NGE students.

So much has been written about the God Rakim that it would be useless to try to include it all here. All I can say is hearing is believing.

Lord Jamar of Brand Nubian

The 10 Greatest Conscious Rappers of All Time

Yes, last Sunday of the month, so to Harlem we went
No clubbin’, for parliments and Harriett Tubman
Peace to the Gods, peace to the Earths
Peace to the Seeds, peace to the Birth
Of the Nation of the Five Percent, rap sent
Intelligent brothers, to represent
Allah Justice made the knowledge born
You find the Gods from the jails to the colledge dorms
You got to ‘know the ledge’ to ‘wise the dom’
-Lord Jamar – Original Man

Another obvious inclusion into the The 10 Greatest Conscious Rappers of All Time. Lord Jamar is 1/3 of the group, Brand Nubian, which also consists of Sadat X and Grand Puba.

You might remember him as playing role of Supreme Allah on the TV series Oz. Since then Lord Jamar has turned to acting with roles on the Sopranos, Law And Order SVU and the series, Rescue Me. He is really making an impact on the screen, but I doubt it will be bigger than the impact he has made on conscious hip hop.

As a confirmed and committed member of the Nation of Gods and Earths, Lord Jamar co-authored the book that lead me to the Nation: Knowledge of Self. He is a spiritual mentor of mine, and a supreme lyricist. Listen and learn.

Jean Grae

The 10 Greatest Conscious Rappers of All Time

South Africa-born Tsidi Ibrahim, known to us as Jean Grae, moved to New York shortly after birth. As a young protege, she learned to read at the age of 3 and, following in her parents’ footsteps, developed a love for music and the performing arts.

Jean was also an excellent dancer, and by age 13 she had become the youngest person accepted to Alvin Ailey’s renowned second dance company.

She studied Vocal Performance at the LaGuardia School of Music & Art before majoring in Music Business at New York University. She later dropped out after 3 weeks of class because she already knew what her professors were teaching her…and she was right.

In 2002, she collaborated with the likes of The Roots, Talib Kweli and the Herbaliser, Atmosphere, 9th Wonder, Pharoahe Monch, Styles P, Masta Ace, and Immortal Technique moving Jean into the public eye. Her second album, This Week, was released in 2004.

Immortal Technique

The 10 Greatest Conscious Rappers of All Time

Nostradamus was a white man’s prophet who predicated European supremacist logic
Because the pilgrims and conquistadors columns killed more innocent people than Hitler and Stalin (Yes)
I guess the fortune teller skipped an Antichrist or two
Brother give this to the OG’s doing life with you and
Pray for the problems with the popes psychology so the Vatican will offer an apology, (for what?!)
for destroying the peoples liberation theology
Snatching the spirit of Jesus from people in poverty
Business decisions like keeping people in prisons but had the opposite effect incarcerating religion
That type of crooked politics imposed on a populous is obvious if you read the Northwood documents
Forget the compliments for what I recorded
And live the revolution instead of always dying for it
Remember a bullet can never stop me
My legions are led by the spirit Haile Selassie watch me

-Immortal Technique, Sign Of The Times

Immortal Technique was born a revolutionary – literally – being born in a Peruvian military hospital. His family emigrated in 1980 to Harlem, where he would face multiple incarcerations. Honing his rapping skills in jail, and unable to find decent wage-paying employment after his release, Immortal Technique began selling his music on the streets of New York while battling with MCs whenever the opportunity arose.

After winning numerous freestyle rap competitions of the New York underground hip hop scene, he developed a reputation for his ferocious and politically conscious lyricism.

Fast forward to today, and Immortal Technique has gained international acclaim because he truly speaks truth to power. For instance:

This vid sounds like he’s reading straight from United Black Americas archives!

I’m new to Immortal Technique, but I’m quickly catching up. He is proof that the indigenous people all over the Earth are waking the hell up.

Professor Griff of Public Enemy

The 10 Greatest Conscious Rappers of All Time

Now that you’ve realized the prides arrived
We got to pump the stuff to make us tough
from the heart
It’s a start, a work of art
To revolutionize make a change nothin’s strange
People, people we are the same
No we’re not the same
Cause we don’t know the game
What we need is awareness, we can’t get careless
You say what is this?
My beloved lets get down to business
Mental self defensive fitness
(Yo) bum rush the show
You gotta go for what you know
Make everybody see, in order to fight the powers that be
Lemme hear you say…
Fight the Power

The question: “Who is the face of hip-hop today? Whoever says ‘Jay-Z’ is an idiot,” Prof Griff of the legendary hip-hop group Public Enemy bluntly responded during a recent forum in Muskegon Heights. Griff was addressing more than 150 people who attended the event, which was held Saturday at the Muskegon Heights Boxing Club.

The program, sponsored by local radio station 103.7 The Beat, is one of a series of culturally related workshops that the station is hosting this year. “The face of hip-hop today is white — white, corporate America,” added Griff.

Professor Griff is directly responsible for making Public Enemy the titan that it became. Public Enemy took hip-hop to new places, combining enormous beats and hooks with politically-charged and intelligent lyrics to create music that moved people and frightened the suburban parents of America in the early ’90s.

When Public Enemy spoke, people listened, and they used that platform as fully as they could while also delivering straight-up great hip-hop.

Support Conscious Hip Hop!

By supporting these artists and conscious hip hop, you are raising your consciousness by taking control of your media. We need better options than the trash we have, so support these artists with your time and your dime.

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Tieji Williams

Thank you to the pioneers but we need more contemporary conscious rappers on this list. Mama Sol should be on this list. Royce the 5’9 should be on this list. Narubi Selah should be on this list. There’s lots more; Rocky Riveria deserves to be on anybody’s list of conscious anything. She’s fire.

Asad Malik

Thank you for putting her on the radar. Im checking her out now ✊?