Political rap is a style of rap characterized by the political dimension of lyrics dealing with societal themes, reflecting both a commitment as well as a desire for collective emancipation. In the African continent, the theme of political rap is used as a way to express a vision of the world which denounces inequalities. For many francophone African artists, it seems as though the political unrest in each of their countries has allowed them to denounce certain social issues such as the place of the government, corruption, education and violence through music. In order to further understand the notion of political rap, I have made a mixtape composed of five francophone artists that each criticizes the government and discusses similar themes throughout their respective songs. The playlist begins with “Revolution” by Comores artist Cheikh MC, followed by “Castration Mentale” by Togolese hip hop MC Elom 20ce, “Fosse Commune” by Ivorian female MC Doksy, then “Le cri du peuple” by Senegalese artist Didier Awadi, and finally “Levez- vous” by Cameroonian artist General Valsero. Just by looking at the nationality of these artists, each of their countries has dealt with issues such as political coups, poverty, and uprisings. Therefore, all five of these songs are connected through their political as well as social themes seen throughout each song. The first important theme is that of the role of the government and leaders.
Government/ Political leaders
Every song on the playlist makes some sort of mention of the government or the role of the political leaders. For instance in the first song “Revolution” by Cheikh MC, he states that “l’escroquerie est le fondement de nos dirigeants” meaning that fraud is the foundation of our leaders. Hence, Cheikh MC is criticizing those that are in power and believes that they are corrupt leaders unable to lead the country in a way that benefits the whole population. However, he is not the only one to criticize the leader of his country, both Elom 20ce and Didier Awadier called out the political leaders of their countries. In “ Castration mentale”, Elom 20ce’s opening verse is “Mentalement castré, nos leaders n’ont rien de Castro, du glaçon ou de la graisse à la place du cerveau” meaning mentally castrated, our leaders have nothing like Castro, ice cube or fat in place of the brain. Elom 20ce much like Cheikh MC condemns their political leaders as not being qualified for the positions they hold but never calls out a particular leader within the government. However, on the other hand Didier Awadi directly attacks the president by stating “Le président t’oublie pourtant c’est toi qui donnes le pouvoir […] Le président t’oublie, oublie le président” in Le cri du peuple. Hence, Didier is directly stating that the president does not acknowledge his citizens so they should also forget the president.
Although they do not directly castigate the political leaders Doksy states that “L’etat n’est jamais au rendez vous de nos ambitions” meaning the state never meets the ambitions of its citizens and General Valsero also states in “Levez-vous” that”40 ans de pure dicta finis les présidents le pouvoir est au peuple” meaning that after 40 years of dictatorship finished with presidents, the power is with the people. Hence one can see that the government or the political leaders seem to be a very common topic in terms of political rap due to the fact that for these artists their governments or political leaders have never made choices that benefited or helped the people even though that is what they’re meant to do. Another theme present through this mixtape is poverty.
As most of these artists are from underdeveloped countries in Africa, poverty is another theme due to the fact that it is a social issue that is relatable for all of these artists whether it is something that has personally experienced or it is something that they see often. For instance, both Didier Awadi and Doksy make mention of poverty in both of their songs. Didier Awadi makes a couple references to poverty by stating: “Les prix augmentent tous les jours et tout est devenu cher […] L’eau le gaz et le courant oui tout est devenu cher or “la ville est pleine de planeurs, la ville est pleine de chômeurs” meaning prices are increasing every day and everything has become expensive and that the city is full of unemployed people. Similarly, Doksy explicitly mentions poverty by stating that “Pays pauvre et on se permet certaines folies” which signifies that she comes from a poor country but people allow themselves to do nonsense. Hence, through both of these mentions of poverty as a social issue within political rap it can be argued that poverty becomes an obstacle for many. Another theme present within this mixtape is hope
Even though each and everyone of these artists uses political rap as a way to denounce the broken system of their respective countries by criticizing the government or political leaders, as well as making mention of obstacles such as poverty, or other themes such as education or violence, they still have hope that the power of the people will prevail and come out strong. This was very clear in General Valsero’s “Levez vous” in which he repeats in the chorus “Levez vous” as a way to tell the Cameroonians to stand up and not to give up. He also reassures them by saying that their years of suffering will soon end and that they have already endured the worst. This notion of pushing through and not giving up through the hard times is seen in Elom 20ce’s “Castration Mentale” when he says “Dis-toi que la force est en toi, quand le mal donne des coups violents dans les points vitaux” meaning his audience should tell themselves that the force is in you, even when the evil gives violent blows in the vital points. Similarly, Doksy states in “Fosse Commune” that she sees a bright future through the lyric “Le futur j’y vois que du bleu comme L’ONU, le ghetto sera une force commune “ meaning the future I see only blue like the UN, the ghetto will be a common force. Hence, Doksy preaches about unity as being a force for all and that although they are facing hardships in the end they will come together stronger. Finally, the theme of hope is also seen in Cheikh MC’s “Revolution”, he states “nous souhaitons le changement mais reposant sur de solides fondations […]Pour qu’il y ait espoir ne pas juste rester mendiants.” This lyric signifies the fact that We want change but resting on solid foundations and that there’s hope so to not reduce to being beggars.
Link to the playlist
Follow Cheikh MC’s instagram
Follow Elom 20ce’s website: http://elom20ce.com
Follow Didier Awadi’s instagram
Follow General Valsero’s instagram