What are some positive hip hop songs to play for my 7th and 8th graders?
August 18, 2006 10:23 PM   Subscribe

Hip Hop Mix CD Filter - What are some positive/inspirational hip hop songs to play in my 7th and 8th grade classroom? Urban Chicago Kids so please nothing "lame".

It doesn't necessarily have to be something they've heard before or even something popular. I just want some authentic hip hop with a positive message that I can play in my classroom. Something along the lines of Nas' "I Can" is what I'm looking for in terms of message.

I can edit out vulgarity but it would be easier just to have songs that are "radio edits".
posted by allthewhile to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
this might seem naive at first but why the insistence on a positive message?

7th and 8th graders have heard the negative, the disillusioned, the glorifying, the materialistic. they are bombarded with messages you clearly recognized as problematic on a daily basis. I personally think you would do them a far greater service by fostering critical thinking.

you are dealing with an audience that is highly sophisticated when it comes to current trends and at the very same time completely unequipped to deal with it maturely.

they expect something positive, unproblematic and safe from you.

surprise them.
posted by krautland at 10:33 PM on August 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

Star by The Roots
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:56 PM on August 18, 2006


Your response doesn't seem niave. Thanks for the insight. I just want the music on in the background as a kind of sound pallette for quiet study. Lyrics will probably be so low that they'll probably not hear much of them anyways; but if they do I think they should be positive. It needs to be authentic so that it it doesn't become a distraction, "TURN OFF THAT LAME STUFF!"

At this point, I'm not ready to turn my classroom into "Dangerous Minds" and go deep into the lyrics. I may be there in the near future, but not yet!
posted by allthewhile at 11:06 PM on August 18, 2006

The Magic Number - Del la Soul
posted by robofunk at 11:40 PM on August 18, 2006

Most stuff by Jurassic 5 is fairly positive. I don't know how they're regarded in Chicago though, I could see them being "soft." Depending on how you feel about swearing, Immortal Technique has positive/hopeful songs, although they sound very harsh. I doubt he has radio edits. Blackalicious would be in the same boat as Jurassic 5.

For J-5, most of Quality Control & a decent amount off of Power in Numbers would work.

For Immortal Technique.. some of these would take a lot of work. "The 4th Branch" off of Revolutionary V2 is very, very political, but relatively inspirational. "Harlem Streets" off the same might work, as might "Freedom of Speech." "Positive Balance" off of Rev V1 might be alright also.

Talib Kweli definitely has positive stuff... most of Reflection Eternal would probably work, esp the hidden track on Expansion Outro.

Another great bet would be Atmosphere, & is probably a little bit better regarded in Chicago (they're a MN group). Keys to Life VS 15 Minutes is a decent place to start.
posted by devilsbrigade at 1:08 AM on August 19, 2006

how about stuff by common or lupe fiasco. both from chicagoso will have a lot of respect around those parts.
posted by moochoo at 3:14 AM on August 19, 2006

infact both artists have songs about chicago

lupe fiasco - chi-town
common - chi-city

chi-city appears on the album "be" by common, would be a great album to play in the background.

and chi-town appears on one of lupe's early mixtapes.

i also second atmosphere they got a lot of respect for the refusal to sign thing. although people class "you cant imagine how much fun were having" as a bit to commercial. the older albums for example seven stravels, featuring the track devilsbrigade spoke of, are given a lot more respect.

dont forget kanye is from chi-town as well!!!
posted by moochoo at 3:21 AM on August 19, 2006

There are lots of really fantastic, catchy, empowering type songs by the Hilltop Hoods.

I find Australian hip hop has all the funk and attitude of American hip hop without the drugs, guns, posing, wealth obsession etc.

Also try Bliss n Esso and Butterfingers.
posted by Lucie at 3:33 AM on August 19, 2006

Yay! for the Hilltop Hoods. Also:

Arrested Development
De La Soul
Michael Franti and Spearhead
Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy
Afrika Bambaataa

might be worth checking out to see if they fit the bill.
posted by goo at 4:42 AM on August 19, 2006

You might want to check out the Blue Scholars.
posted by emmling at 4:56 AM on August 19, 2006

dead prez
posted by elisabeth r at 5:09 AM on August 19, 2006

Anything by Michael Franti and Spearhead. Try "I Know I'm Not Alone" and "Hello Bonjour" from the new album "Yell Fire."
posted by jbickers at 7:11 AM on August 19, 2006

Seriously though, Blackalicious is a great example of a thoughtful hip-hop group that focuses strongly on positive messages. "Black Diamonds and Pearls" and "Shallow Days" are 2 tracks that stand out.
posted by baphomet at 8:30 AM on August 19, 2006

Man, some awful suggestions here. They are definately going to hate Spearhead and Disposable Heroes of the Hiphoprisy, unless these are 22-year-old hippie seventh graders. Atmosphere might work if they're white college students. Sheesh. I'm not even going to address dead prez.

Jurassic five miiiight work, thought they're likely to think it's corny. Talib Kweli might, too.

Lupe Fiasco and Common are both good suggestions with Chi-town connections, I'd add Rhymefest to that list of "positive" Chicago rappers. Kanye West, too, depending on the song... "Hey Mama" for example would work. And they'll be familiar with Kanye, which is 2/3 of the battle with kids this age.
posted by YoungAmerican at 8:57 AM on August 19, 2006

Young American is pretty spot on.
Some other artist suggestions—
Blueprint, Binary Star, Kool Moe Dee, BDP, Missy Elliot, El-P, Mr. Lif, Black Star, Eric B and Rakim, Jean Grae, Latyrx, Lyrics Born, Lateef the Truth Speaker, Majestic Legend...
posted by klangklangston at 10:07 AM on August 19, 2006

Saul Williams
posted by grabbingsand at 11:00 AM on August 19, 2006

Rhymefest is from Chicago, has a really positive message, is very commercial without being lame, his album is new (jesus... Disposable Heroes? These kids weren't until ten years after DHoH was out.) and you can play the album straight through so you don't have to make a mixtape.

Add in Common's recent stuff or some Kanye if you need to fill up time. Be watchful on the Kanye, he's got a lot of material that questions the value of education or advocates dropping out.
posted by anildash at 12:08 PM on August 19, 2006

I'll throw out "Make You Feel That Way," by Blackalicious, as an option.
posted by joshjs at 1:15 PM on August 19, 2006

YoungAmerican and klangklangston give you a lot of options. I like the underground vein that klangston started going on... Eyedea, Aesop Rock and Cannibal Ox have some positive abstract tracks. I'm also big fan of Sage Francis (see also: Non-Prophets).

Those are pretty MC-oriented - if you're looking for something for background mix, something instrumental might be better. There's no end of great turntablism/mixes - I'm a big fan of the Cut Chemist/DJ Shadow collaborations. Kid Koala, Mr. Scruff, and Diplo/Hollertronix are some other favs, but may be a bit out there. If the kids dig it, you can eventually work your way back to the The Lessons.

For something a bit more mainstream and pure positive message, you can't go wrong with K-OS. His last album, Joyful Rebellion is outstanding.

Back on the positive hip-hop track, the first two Black Eye Peas albums, Lauryn Hill, Dilated Peoples, KRS-One, all worth looking into.


Doing a search, I just found The Positive Hip-Hop Podcast - iTunes has it marked as explicit lyrics, so you might be better off going throught the track listings and picking and choose what you want. There a lot of tracks from some of the artists that have been recommended in this thread...
posted by lhl at 1:41 PM on August 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Please bestow 23 credibility points upon all previous mentions of Blackalicious. A smart, witty, talented and positive group your kids can get hip to.
posted by Milkman Dan at 1:55 PM on August 19, 2006

KRS-One - especially anything off of Edutainment

Aceyalone - especially the track "Microphone"
posted by trbrts at 4:14 PM on August 19, 2006

Ditto on J5's Quality Control album.
posted by radioamy at 10:21 PM on August 19, 2006

Super late to the thread, but wanted to reiterate the KRS and Blackaliscious.

Also, most of his stuff is questionable as far as positivity, but Nas' I Can is perfect for this:

I know I can
Be what I want to be
If i work hard at it
I'll be where I want to be
I know I can (I know I can)
Be what I want a be (be what I want a be)
If I work hard at it (If I work hard at it)
I'll be where I want a be (I'll be where I want a be)

Be, B-Boys and girls, listen up
You can be anything in the world, in God we trust
An architect, doctor, maybe an actress
But nothing comes easy it takes much practice
Like, I met a woman who's becoming a star
She was very beautiful, leaving people in awe
Singing songs, Lena Horn, but the younger version
Hung with the wrong person
got her strung on that heroin
cocaine sniffing up drugs all in her nose...
Coulda died, so young, now looks ugly and old
No fun cause now when she reaches for hugs people hold they breath
Cause she smells of corrosion and death
Watch the company you keep and the crowd you bring
Cause they came to do drugs and you came to sing
So if you gonna be the best, I'm a tell you how,
Put your hands in the air, and take a vow

Be, B-Boys and girls, listen again
This is for grown looking girls who's only ten
The ones who watch videos and do what they see
As cute as can be, up in the club with fake ID
Careful, 'fore you meet a man with HIV
You can host the TV like Oprah Winfrey
Whatever you decide, be careful, some men be
Rapists, so act your age, don't pretend to be
Older than you are, give yourself time to grow
You thinking he can give you wealth, but so
Young boys, you can use a lot of help, you know
You thinking life's all about smoking weed and ice
You don't want a be my age and can't read and write
Begging different women for a place to sleep at night
Smart boys turn to men and do whatever they wish
If you believe you can achieve, then say it like this


Be, be, 'fore we came to this country
We were kings and queens, never porch monkeys
It was empires in Africa called Kush
Timbuktu, where every race came to get books
To learn from black teachers who taught Greeks and Romans
Asian, Arabs and gave them gold when
Gold was converted to money it all changed
Money then became empowerment for Europeans
The Persian military invaded
They heard about the gold, the teachings, and everything sacred
Africa was almost robbed naked
Slavery was money, so they began making slave ships
Egypt was the place that Alexander the Great went
He was so shocked at the mountains with black faces
Shot off they nose to impose what basically
Still goes on today, you see?
If the truth is told, the youth can grow
Then learn to survive until they gain control
Nobody says you have to be gangstas, hoes
Read more learn more, change the globe
Ghetto children, do your thing
Hold your head up, little man, you're a king
Young Princess when you get your wedding ring
Your man is saying "She's my queen"

...and then I go back to reread the original question and you obviously know the track already. oh well.
posted by andifsohow at 1:44 PM on August 22, 2006

Also checking in late. But let me second the recommendation for Aesop Rock, Cannibal Ox, and Mr.Lif. If I recall correctly, Mr. Lif addresses education frequently on the album 'I, Phantom'.

Also, check out Felt: a Tribute to Christina Ricci. It's a collaboration by Slug of Atmosphere, and Murs, and I find the track 'All I Can Do' a good pick-me-up.
posted by HighTechUnderpants at 3:30 PM on August 22, 2006

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