Culture Feature

12 of the Best Political Voices in Hip-Hop

There's a potent strain of leftist politics woven into the history of rap and hip hop, and these artists have been pushing it harder than ever in recent years.

With all the negative attention that Kanye West has been earning for himself in recent days...and months...and years, it's important to remember that he is a political outlier.

The vast majority of the time when rappers involve themselves in politics, they do not align themselves with figures like Donald Trump. There is a long tradition of hip hop artists using their platforms to call attention to important social movements and endorse liberatory left-wing politics.

These 12 artists are some of the most significant voices in hip hop and politics who have made serious efforts to spread important messages, and in some cases have done a lot more than that.

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New Releases

Noname Serves Up the Perfect Response to J. Cole with "Song 33"

The J. Cole and Noname beef has a clear winner.

Just a couple of days after J. Cole dropped a petty track supposedly aimed at her, Noname has issued her response.

In her first new solo song of the year, "Song 33," the fan favorite Chicago rapper teamed up with prolific producer Madlib for a jazzy track that touches on the deaths of numerous Black people, especially Black trans women. She references Oluwatoyin Salau, a young Black woman in Florida who was found dead after tweeting about her sexual assault. "Why Toyin body don't embody all the life she wanted?" Noname raps in her trademark smooth flow. "A baby, just nineteen / I know I dream all black / I seen her everything, immortalizin' tweets all caps / They say they found her dead / One girl missin', another one go missin'."

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MUSIC

Coachella 2020 Might Be Its Most Female-Inclusive Lineup Yet

Though the headliners are all male, Coachella's latest lineup boasts a pretty hefty roster of women.

Coachella 2020 is officially on the horizon.

The most Instagrammable weekends of the year are coming in April, and for those who want to see some live music in-between snapping photos, the lineup has just been released. Surprisingly, this might be Coachella's most female-populated lineup yet.

To refresh your memory on the perpetual gender imbalance of the music festival industry, Ariana Grande's headlining slot at Coachella last year marks only the fifth time in the festival's 20-year history that a woman has held the honor, following Bjork (twice), Lady Gaga, and Beyonce. While this year's Coachella unfortunately boasts all-male headliners, as the font gets smaller on the poster, there's a surprising number of women performing.

The top-billed woman is Lana Del Rey, who—and I say this with utmost respect to Frank Ocean—should absolutely be headlining after just releasing arguably the strongest project of her career. The second slot in each day's lineup includes multiple solo ladies who just dropped notable records of their own: Megan Thee Stallion, Summer Walker, FKA Twigs, Ari Lennox, and Marina. Reigning pop princesses like Charli XCX, Kim Petras, and Carly Rae Jepsen will have their time onstage, as well as rising rappers like Princess Nokia, Noname, and Doja Cat. Sets from newcomers like Koffee, Raveena, Amber Mark, and girl in red are sure to wrangle in a plethora of new fans, but loyal listeners will be happy to see established acts like Bishop Briggs, Jessie Reyez, and Lauren Daigle on the setlist, as well. Indieheads can check out Snail Mail, Weyes Blood, and beabadoobee, but if you're looking to get your dance on, sets from Peggy Gou, Yaeji, and virtual Japanese star Hatsune Miku should strike your fancy.

These and many more female artists prove Coachella 2020 has shaped up to provide the festival's most diverse lineup yet. If we can't have a woman headliner, it'd be nice to see more of these names in larger fonts, but this roundup is a step in the right direction.

MUSIC

6 New Songs You Should Hear this Week: Music in the Eye of the Storm

Featuring Tash Sultana, Anderson .Paak and Smokey Robinson, Khalid, Lostboycrow, MADELIN and more

This was an incredible week for music, with releases from the likes of Khalid, Sara Bareilles, Aurora, Marina and the Diamonds, Weyes Blood, Mac DeMarco, Vampire Weekend, and Anderson .Paak promising to brighten your day no matter what kind of music you're into.

Here are some of the week's best new tracks—some by lesser-known artists, some instant classics, but all finding some kind of peace within chaos, whether through forgiveness, self-love, wistful nostalgia, or comfort in one's makeshift family.

1. Anderson .Paak and Smokey Robinson: Make It Better

Anderson .Paak - Make It Better (ft. Smokey Robinson) (Official Video) www.youtube.com

This is the sonic equivalent of a long, deep drink of water at 3 AM; somehow refreshing on a soul-deep level, it's enhanced by cinematic strings and Smokey Robinson's '50s soul-style harmonies, which rise and fall over a punchy beat. It all comes together to form a song that's joyful and full of life, equal parts experimental and true to its influences. "Make It Better" is about deciding to work on a relationship instead of letting it fade away, and it's the perfect soundtrack for anybody trying to do the same. It also sounds tailor-made for a walk in a park on a spring day after a long, dark winter, or for a reconciliatory dance in the kitchen as the sun rises; in short, it sounds like a quiet redemption.

2. Tash Sultana: Can't Buy Happiness

Tash Sultana - Can't Buy Happiness (Official Video Clip) 4K www.youtube.com

Tash Sultana has returned with a luxuriously dreamy new single, her first release since 2018's excellent Flow State. "Can't Buy Happiness" is a slow burn, beginning with a still, quiet reflectiveness that bursts into full-on ecstasy about halfway through. Sultana has never been one to hold back, and here she unleashes the full scope of her voice, guitar, and creative vision, creating a psychedelic firework display that ebbs and flows with all the violence of a tropical storm. You might have to take a breath afterward because this is a rollercoaster in the best way, a wild ride through rich sonic textures, crashing waves, and flawless, emotive guitar riffs.

3. Noname: Song 32

Noname - Song 32 www.youtube.com

Noname is one of the best in the game right now, and she's returned to solidify this representation with a subdued new track called "Song 32." Her crystalline bars fit neatly over a sparse beat and erupt on the chorus, before settling back down into the rhythm and then rising back up again. It's a calm, gentle, and yet softly assertive composition; and ultimately, it sounds like a woman at peace with herself, keyed into her own strength. "I'm the best of America," she repeats, letting the music take over for a moment before launching back into her effortless, intricate verses.

4. Lostboycrow: Cody in the Valley

Cody in the Valley www.youtube.com

The rising singer from East L.A. has been touring relentlessly and steadily releasing bits of his first LP Santa Fe. This week, he dropped a new addition featuring the title track as well as "Cody in the Valley." The latter is misty, mournful pop at its purest; it's a sultry and unaffected tune that begins with pristine piano and builds up to a guitar-streaked chorus, fleshed out by rich harmonies. It's a song for sunsets and smoky nights and carries with it some of the nostalgic, saturated gloom of early Lorde; and it's a promising addition to Lostboycrow's growing body of impressive work.

5. MADELIN: Monarch

Monarch www.youtube.com

Experimental pop artist MADELIN just released a new single, and it's an eclectic and euphoric dance track that carries with it all the energy of a summer night in New York City. She told Popdust, "Monarch is inspired by the colorful intensity of the New York City and Brooklyn queer nightlife scene. I wrote it at a time in my life when going out and seeing all the unique, beautiful, artistic drag queens and club kids was the only thing making me feel truly alive. It's about being inspired by other people's creativity and getting closer to your own, feeling the collective energy of misfit humans together in one space, getting lost in the adrenaline, love, and beauty of a fleeting moment."

"Monarch" does justice to this mission. It's a gleaming collage of synths and beats, a danceable and energy-filled celebration of all the joy, strangeness, and communion that Brooklyn nightlife and queerness have to offer. Check out Popdust's 2018 interview with her here.

5. Khalid: Paradise

Khalid - Paradise (Audio) www.youtube.com

Though he's no longer a young dumb broke high school kid, Khalid is still just as good at creating effortlessly catchy tunes as he was back then. His songwriting talents have grown over the years, though, and Free Spirit showcases his knack for turning ordinary experiences into cinematic events. "Paradise" in particular is a casual, ultra-relaxed tribute to escapism, a song that seems made for smoke-filled rooms and late nights. His falsetto rises above a fluorescent beat, and a buoyant guitar outro adds to the song's carefree, dreamlike atmosphere. It's one of the highlights of his all-around fantastic sophomore album.


Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York City. Find her on Twitter @edenarielmusic.


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MUSIC

Popdust's Top 20 Albums of 2016

On their final end-of-year list, our music writers highlight the year's best albums.

Popdust's E.R. Pulgar and Jason Scott wrap their Best of 2016 series with the release of their final scorecard: albums.

Despite streaming biting into digital downloads and sales figures, the album remains a stalwart reminder of the throbbing beat of creativity and storytelling. This year alone, major releases from Beyoncé to Miranda Lambert left indelible marks on the industry, further proving that full-length records are still viable and necessary placements of our cultural heritage. Read on for our picks for the 20 Best Albums of 2016, and we welcome personal attacks and shoulder shrugs in the comments.

Also, check out Popdust's reads of Best Songs of 2016 and Best EPs & Mixtapes of 2016.

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Top Stories

Jeremih and Chance Pull Up On Us In A Sleigh

9 reactions to the duo's surprise Merry Christmas Lil Mama mixtape.

Jeremih/Instagram

"For Chicago". This is what the digital gift tag says on what might be the most appreciated surprise gift I've received this year. I say, "I" as if the mixtape from Chicago's most influential rapper this year (name another, I dare you) and Chicago's most underrated and talented singer-songwriter personally left the digital download under my tree, but after listening to this musical ode to the Windy City at Christmas time, convince me you won't feel the same. By now, you know I like to make a soundtrack for every occasion, a la Bluetooth Boom, but the nine track holiday soundtrack from Chance The Rapper and Jeremih has just rendered a Christmas playlist futile.



If the Chicago Tribune and the soundcloud upload dates can be taken at face value, the project was finished Monday, December 20, 2016, and released very early this morning. I've listened to this musical mosaic of rap, soul, gospel and dub-step all day and I'm still not done, but here were my immediate reactions.

1. I'm just here for all of the 'ho' and 'sleigh' entendres

Christmas never sounded so appealingly raunchy. Autotune, homophones that sound like bad words, Christmas carol titles being used to described sexual advances. Honestly, how could you go wrong with the tape's opening song, "All The Way" .

2. Oh heeeeeyyyyy Cherimih *inserts body roll*

Finally, the cold and snow in Chicago are a good thing in the second song from the mixtape, "Snowed In". Jeremih's lazy tongue and Midwest drawl is the perfect instrument for the sexy song, which is now being added to our Bluetooth Boom: Baby It's Cold Outside. They both delivered smooth and sexy with references to tricks, gifts, lists, and rides and Chance has that depth to his voice that sound's like he's talking while laying in the bed in the wee hours of the morning with one arm stretched above his head. And yes, I called them Cherimih because I couldn't decide which of the two stole my panties musical heart first.

3. Yaaaasss! Wait are they dirty macking to Michael?

The only artists who have ever done a Michael sample right are The Weeknd and Janet... until now. "Stranger At The Table" is Cheremih's (I decided I like the name) ode to loving your ex and using the holidays to get back in their good graces. On this Jackson 5 "I Want you Back" sample, Jeremih begs for another chance while letting his ex know the man next to her is playing with her heart. Exes always know when someone else is on game but say 'wow' with 12 w's at the end when you call them on theirs. But it is the holidays, and "Jesus was a baby, let's do it for the babies" .

4. Use those voices for good, guys.

Joy is a soulful directive and love letter to the people of Chicago. Jeremih sounds like the teen soloist in your church's choir the day they bring the good choir out, backed up by a gospel choir and organist that would make a baptist preacher envious (think Ryan Toby in Sister Act II). Chance's rap at the 2:30 mark is a socially pivotal moment of the song. Chance calls for a cease fire in Chicago, and brings light to the tragic story of Bettie Jones.

5. Quick, someone lend me their fine daddy or uncle.

There is no way you can listen to "I'm Your Santa" and not break out a Chicago step. Too young to remember that other Chicagoan's song with the directions? No worries, Chance teaches you how to step in this undeniable dance hit. Jeremih still has some of that Jackson stank on his vocals, and you can hear Chance smiling through his ad libs. On a scale of skip to repeat, I'm voting repeat as I dance circles around your fine daddies and uncles.

6. I don't eff with you part two

Exes, friends, jobs, everybody is getting left in 2016 and Chance is not having you back in "I Shoulda Left You". This one is a perfect anthem for all of you new-year-new-me-ers with the Instagram memes to match. Chicago MC Lud Foe starts the song off strong with giving his ex and foes the strong arm. Jeremih raps in a sing song staccato that works (I know the two words in theory should cancel each other out, but this is why Jeremih is a genius, because it works), and Chance sings a hypnotizing chant of "I shoulda left you in 2016". I guarantee the line "I didn't like your ass anyway" will ring through the new year on snapchat videos, Instagram captions, and twitter timelines.

7. I'm not sure if the tragedy is love or addiciton but this is beautifully sad

Honestly, I'm not sure if the tragedy of winter referenced in the song is love or drugs a la Ed Sheeran's "A Team" or Jay Z's "I know" but the instrumentation combined with the raspy sadness of Chance's voice is an emotional win as he pleads for mercy for the song's principal character. In the second half of the song, Chicago emcee Noname grabs the beat and she doesn't let go, another shining moment of the project. Noname, "Tragedy" is your song now.

8. Weed and "Carol of the Bells"? Does Snoop know about this?

No really. Cherimih got on a track and remixed "Carol of the Bells" with references to weed, fly-ins, being a boss, and wings with sauce. Jeremih produced, rapped a verse, and harmonized..with himself. Chance shouted himself out humbly on 7 Grammy nominations. Y'all. Y'all. These boys are good.

9. Awww shucks.

I'm at my desk rolling my shoulders and popping my booty. Clients and coworkers alike are side-eyeing me. I can't resist. This mix of Chicago EDM and Dub Step in the final and title track of Merry Christmas Lil Mama reminds me of a Hampton University Holland Hall Party (which was also where I first heard an influx of music from the mid-west). You know that first time you hear something you never heard before but you know your body and soul immediately identify? Yeah, that.


Listen to the early Christmas present here.



Watch me two step on Instagram and let me know your favorite track on twitter.