Since its beginnings, rap music has tackled the social issues in the cities that gave rise to the musical form. For instance – “The Message,” from Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five in 1982.
“Broken glass everywhere. People pissing on the stairs, you know they just don’t care. I can’t take the smell, I can’t take the noise. Got no money to move out, I guess I got no choice.”
Nearly 30 years later, garbage, pollution, and unemployment are still part of rap’s message and that’s given rise to a small but growing genre of Green Hip Hop. Living on Earth and Planet Harmony’s Ike Sriskandarajah reports.
[MUSIC]: Young Jeezy “My President” from the Recession (Def Jam records 2008).
SRISKANDARAJAH: Young Jeezy and Nas wrote one of the most recognizable hip-hop anthems of 2008.
SONG: My president is black my lambo’s blue and I’ll be goddamned if my rims ain’t too.
SRISKANDARAJAH: The election of president of Barack Obama is still being celebrated by hip-hop artists- now- it’s a different color getting the praise.
[MUSIC]: Doo Dat “The Dream Reborn (My President Is Green) Self Produced
SONG: My President is black, but he’s going green. My president is black, but he’s going green.
SRISKANDARAJAH: Ayana Meade is an environmental writer researching the growing trend of green hip-hop.
MEADE: Yeah, it’s a small genre. You may not hear it on some of the pop radio stations in New York that play hip-hop, you know your 97.1’s or on your BET’s. But, there are a few people who, I don’t know if they exclusively rap about green issues, but they exist.
SRISKANDARAJAH: So, who do you see taking up this ‘green lantern’?
MEADE: Markese Bryant is definitely a star already. He organizes on his campus and his community teaching other young folks about green issues. And then, of course, he moonlights also as a rapper, and his stage name is DooDat, which we probably all should do, you know, DooDat- DooDat with the green movement.
[MUSIC]: Doo Dat “The Dream Reborn (My President Is Green) Self Produced.
SONG: … Doo Dat got a message for the hood. It’s time to go green, we gotta go green The food ain’t fresh and the air ain’t clean…
SRISKANDARAJAH: Markese Doo Dat Bryant, has made a name for himself as a green rapper. But he isn’t thrilled with the label.
BRYANT: Actually, actually no. I consider myself to be a rapper that just happens to be an eco-conscious individual
SRISKANDARAJAH: He’s an Oakland native. But his ecological awakening came while he was living in Vallejo.
BRYANT: And while I was staying in Vallejo, California, we stayed right next to a Chevron refinery. And, so, as far as the fumes, it actually contributes to the asthma rates in the community. And, I just felt that it was very important to speak on it, because a lot of us, especially in the hood, really don’t even understand where our electricity is coming from.
SONG: …In my backyard…The refinery. Something like my neighbors ain’t doin’ me no favors…. We need green jobs, we don’t need no jails…
SRISKANDARAJAH: So how is your song received by people in your community?
BRYANT: It was well received. It was very funny though, because I actually shot that video right in the hood, right on the block, everybody was excited, and then once the song started coming on, and I was talking about, ‘it’s time to go green, it’s time to go green,’ you know, I got a few looks, like, OK, what is he talking about?
SRISKANDARAJAH: Markese may draw some funny looks. But he’s hardly alone. Eco conscious songs have slowly been making headway.
[MUSIC]: Dr Octogon “Trees” from The Return Of Dr. Octogon (CMH Records 2006).
SRISKANDARAJAH: From Dr Octagon AKA Kool Keith lamenting the loss of Trees…
SRISKANDARAJAH: To the Trunk Boiz promotion of tricked out bicycles on Scraper Bike…
[MUSIC]: Trunk Boiz “Scraper Bike” Self Produced.
SONG: …My scraper bike go hard, I don’t need no car…
SRISKANDARAJAH: And then there’s the Dead Prez fitness plan – Be Healthy
[MUSIC]: Dead Prez “Be Healthy” from Lets Get Free (Relativity 2000).
SONG: I don’t eat no meat, no dairy, no sweets, only ripe vegetables, fresh fruit and whole wheat…
SRISKANDARAJAH: These rappers and their environmentally minded tracks have won praise from fans and activist groups. The Bay Area’s Green for All and Grind for the Green and DC’s Hip Hop Caucus have started using rap as a vehicle for their green message. And, one of the most popular performers of the year, Drake, even signed on to the Green the Block tour. But environmental writer, Ayana Meade says there’s still a long way to go.
MEADE: The green rap genre is still under the underground.
SRISKANDARAJAH: So if we’re looking back at hip hop history, Chuck D calls rap music the black CNN. Do you think rappers like Markese are bringing news to their communities?
MEADE: Information about the green movement is not information that a lot of these young people in urban communities are not aware of.
[MUSIC]: Dan Mahle “A Better World” from the Green For All Song Contest.
MEADE: Hip Hop really needs to embrace the green movement, and get kids interested and engaged. I mean, look at the election of Barack Obama, look at how many kids grasped on to that because they need a movement, they need something to feel alive, I think the green movement can be that for young people today.
SRISKANDARAJAH: For Living on Earth and Planet Harmony, I’m Ike Sriskandarajah.