Social and Political Representations

Tanzanian hip-hop pioneer Sugu, aka Joseph Mbilinyi, who is currently serving as a Member of Parliament in the Tanzanian government.

Chapter Overview

Hip-hop is more than music genre to those involved in its culture. Hip-hop has often been used for protest or social commentary. To understand the role hip-hop plays in social change, it is important to refer to Franz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth (1961), where he discusses his theory of protest literature versus combat literature. This chapter follows Franz Fanon’s stages of the colonized writer in relation to the hip-hop artist. The role of the hip-hop emcee is one that involves giving verbal accounts of the social events in their nation. Examples of hip-hop’s influence on political issues are seen in Egypt, Tunisia, Burkina Faso and Senegal. This chapter speaks on the growth and influence of hip-hop. Interestingly enough hip-hop has forced political leaders to take notice, and either censor the genre or embrace it in an effort to use it to their benefit, while also focusing on specific circumstances where African artists were involved in political agendas, human rights issues, racial tension, gay rights, and various conflicts.

Discussion Questions

Burni from the group Godessa | South Africa
  1. Which act of social commentary or protest do you find most groundbreaking for hip hop artists?
  2. How do you feel about political leaders using hip-hop’s influence to promote their own campaigns?
  3. What examples of political leaders using hip-hop in their campaigns do you find in your own country?
  4. The Arab Spring and Y’en a Marre were youth led movements that were successful in un-seating presidents. How did the two movements differ in terms of structure, methods, and/or ideology?


Relevant Songs

Relevant Podcast Episodes

HHAP Episode 3: Xuman and Keyti on Hip Hop Culture in Senegal
HHAP Episode 6: Kwanza Unit, Hip Hop, and Pan Africanism in Tanzania
HHAP Episode 10: Hip Hop and the State in Cuba
HHAP Episode 11: Bavubuka Foundation and Indigenous Hip Hop in Africa
HHAP Episode 22: Thiat of Keur Gui on Hip Hop and Activism Beyond Senegal

Relevant Scholarship

DJ Coulers | Democratic Republic of the Congo

Ariefdien, S., and R. Chapman. 2014. “Hip Hop, Youth Activism, and the Dilemma of Coloured Identity in South Africa.” In Hip Hop and Social Change in Africa: Ni Wakati, edited by M. K. Clark and M. W. Koster, 94–111. Lanham: Lexington Press.

Clark, M.K. 2012. “Hip Hop as Social Commentary in Accra and Dar es Salaam.” African Studies Quarterly 13 (3): 23–46. http://sites.clas.ufl .edu/africa-asq/files/Clark-V13Is3.pdf.

Fanon, F. 2004. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press.

Gueye, M. 2011. “Urban Guerrilla Poetry: The Movement Y’en a Marre and the Socio-political Influences of Hip Hop in Senegal.” Journal of Pan African Studies 6 (3): 22–42.

Haupt, A. 2001. “Black Thing: Hip-Hop Nationalism, ‘Race’ and Gender in Prophets of da City and Brasse Vannie Kaap.” In Coloured by History, Shaped by Place: New Perspectives on Coloured Identities in Cape Town, edited by Zimitri Erasmus, 173–80. Cape Town: Kwela Books.

Haupt, A. 2008. Stealing Empire: P2P, Intellectual Property and Hip Hop Subversion. Cape Town: Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC).

Künzler, D. 2007. “The ‘Lost Generation’: African Hip Hop Movements and the Protest of the Young (Male) Urban.” In Civil Society: Local and Regional Responses to Global Challenges, edited by M. Herkenrath, 89–128. Zurich: Deutsche Nationalbibliothek.

Künzler, D. 2011. “Rapping against the Lack of Change: Rap Music in Mali and Burkina Faso.” In Native Tongues: An African Hip-Hop Reader, edited by P. K. Saucier, 23–50. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.

Ntarangwi, M. 2009. East African Hip Hop: Youth Culture and Globalization. Champaign: University of Illinois Press.

Ntarangwi, M. 2010. “African Hip Hop and Politics of Change in an Era of Rapid Globalization.” History Compass 8 (12): 1316–27.