5 Hip-Hop Songs That Address Worldwide Conflicts

Throughout the history of hip-hop, countless artists have possessed an unrelenting willingness to broach uncomfortable topics. Whether it be adverse conditions they were brought up in, mistreatment from authority, or global struggles, rappers have used their music as a catharsis and as a megaphone to amplify the concerns of themselves and others.

Videos by American Songwriter

So, as the current bloodshed in Gaza has been an omnipresent subject in today’s life and culture, we’ve decided to revisit some of the most impactful hip-hop songs that address worldwide conflict. Check out the list below.

5. “High for Hours,” J. Cole

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2017, J. Cole released the stand-alone single “High for Hours.” Throughout the poised, groovy cut, Cole raps not only about the mistreatment of Black people in the U.S., but also about the contradictions of the American government when it comes to killing in the Middle East.

He brings up how the country dealt with ISIS and Al-Qaeda, and even recalls a conversation he had with President Obama about his complicity with violence at home and abroad. By the end of the track, Cole opts for peace of mind instead of the fight for universal peace: What good is takin’ over when we know what you gon’ do? / The only real revolution happens right inside of you.

American hypocrisy, oh, let me count the ways
They came here seekin’ freedom then they end up ownin’ slaves
Justified it usin’ Christianity which saves
Religion don’t mean shit, there’s too much ego in the way
That’s why ISIS is a crisis
But in reality, this country do the same shit
Take a life and call it righteous

4. “How Much a Dollar Cost,” Kendrick Lamar

The eleventh track off Kendrick Lamar’s award-winning 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly, “How Much a Dollar Cost” sees the Compton-bred rapper humble himself. In the song, he tells a story of a time he went to South Africa on a trip. While juxtaposing the greedy financial habits of the Western world with the innocent intentions of foreigners, Lamar speaks about a gas station attendant he met during his trip.

The attendant asks Lamar for the U.S. equivalent of $1, to which the MC initially refuses. However, upon speaking to the man more, Lamar realizes the bitter and selfish error of his ways, learning to treat everyone as if they had God inside of them.

He said, “My son, temptation is one thing that I’ve defeated
Listen to me, I want a single bill from you
Nothin’ less, nothin’ more”
I told him I ain’t have it and closed my door
Tell me, how much a dollar cost?

[RELATED: The 5 Most Notorious Hip-Hop Feuds]

3. “Changes,” Tupac

All throughout Tupac’s posthumous hit “Changes,” he looks to turn futility into meaning. While rapping about the plight of Black Americans, aided by the now-iconic That’s just the way it is hook, Pac essentially concludes that kindness is a strong tool for survival.

However, at one point in the song, he specifically points out the misguided approach by the U.S. government, where they reject peace and cause strife overseas and back home. Simply asking for “peace,” the now-slain MC demands better from authority.

And still I see no changes, can’t a brother get a little peace?
It’s war on the streets and the war in the Middle East
Instead of war on poverty
They got a war on drugs so the police can bother me

2. “Where is the Love?” The Black Eyed Peas

The lead single for The Black Eyed Peas’ third album, and their first with Fergie in the group, “Where is the Love?” sought to galvanize audiences from all corners of the Earth. Calling out hatred and violence by both powerful institutions and the masses, the song touched on groups like the KKK, the CIA, and street gangs who all harbor ill will.

In one portion of the track, highlighted by Justin Timberlake singing People killin’, people dyin’ / Children hurtin’, hear them cryin’ hook, BEP MC Taboo calls out the persecution of gay people and the war crimes committed by the U.S. government.

If love and peace is so strong
Why are there pieces of love that don’t belong?
Nations droppin’ bombs
Chemical gases filling lungs of little ones
With ongoing sufferin’ as the youth die young
So ask yourself, is the lovin’ really gone?
So I can ask myself, really, what is going wrong

1. “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free),” Lupe Fiasco

One of Chicago’s most impressive wordsmiths, Lupe Fiasco has always used his music to get into the nitty-gritty of injustice around the world. For his 2012 song “Around My Way (Freedom Ain’t Free),” though, he truly may have outdone himself.

Crafting delicate allusions about land being stolen from Native Americans, the U.S. government’s mishandling of Hurricane Katrina relief, the unnecessary war in Iraq, the exploitation of African countries like Ghana, the inappropriate behavior of Catholic priests, and much more, Fiasco holds a mirror up to many of the dominant forces in Western society.

And we marvel at the state of Ottoman
Then turn around and treat Ghana like a garbage can
America’s a big motherfuckin’ garbageman
If you ain’t know, you’re part and parcel of the problem

(Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)

Leave a Reply

The Meaning Behind Tupac’s Ominous Hit “Hail Mary”