Ever since rap was created in the late 1970s, artists have used the environment they live in as the subject of several of their songs. The environments that most hardcore rappers grow up in are mostly black, urban areas that consist of many violent, illegal acts where it seems that nobody is in control. In Lionel K. McPherson's essay, "From That Gangsta Hobbes to Radical Liberals," he gives the opinion that rap isn't revolutionary, even though the majority of rappers detest the condition of their neighborhoods and seek a change. He also states that hardcore rappers refer to these areas as "states of nature," places where people must fend for themselves while others are also fighting for their survival (174). McPherson makes references to the social contract theory of philosopher Thomas Hobbes, stating that with the implementation of a government this "state of nature," or survival of the fittest should cease and the citizens should receive mutual benefit.
Although most hardcore artists reside in the United States, a country with a highly democratic government, McPherson states that "Hardcore rap lays bare the truth that no social contract has ever existed between blacks and the United States" (175). This idea is one of the main causes of the conflict and violence that exist in the urban areas that many artists live in.
The rap duo Gang Starr is a perfect example of hardcore artists that reject the social contract and discuss a world where everybody struggles to survive. Although this is typical for nearly every hardcore rapper, Gang Starr differs in their 1998 album Moment of TruthÃÂ¸ by not only listing the problems with urban America, but also providing solutions to fix these problems. By preaching ideas of education, taking responsibility, speaking the truth, and helping children, Gang Starr doesn't just complain about the state of their neighborhood; instead they provide a more optimistic look on how to change their environment. This approach to hardcore rap music gives Gang Starr a very powerful voice in their community, which may allow for major changes to occur in urban America.
In 'Moment of Truth', Gang Starr goes against McPherson's definition of what the typical hardcore artists should discuss and they also preach ideas that go into a different area of the essay where McPherson discusses the ideas of John Rawls and his ideal theory of justice. In his essay, McPherson states that Rawls theory is the idea that "everyone must have equal basic liberties, and that social and economic inequalities must be consistent with fair equality of opportunity and of the greatest benefit to the disadvantaged" (180). These ideas of helping the disadvantaged are prevalent throughout the album and are the main reasons why Gang Starr is truly revolutionary. They go against the norms of most hardcore artists by advocating the change of urban America. By recommending that those who live in those communities should strive for major change, and by calling out other rappers who promote violence just to sell records, Gang Starr is one of the few honest voices in hip hop that send out the right message.
A standout track of the CD that conveys the main points that Gang Starr attempts to make is the song "Robbin Hood Theory," which discusses the nature of urban America and gives ideas of how to help today's youth. The introduction of the song gives Gang Starr's main view of what needs to be done to aid today's youth:
"If we're not schooling the youth with wisdom
then the sins of the father will visit the children.
And that's not keepin' it real...
that's keepin' it - wrong!"
This idea of educating children is basically unheard of in hardcore rap, a genre of hip hop that is typically full of violence and the degradation of women. Gang Starr differs from this stereotype by targeting one of the main problems of their community: the urban youth turning to the streets instead of staying with their education and striving to get away from the violence and conflict. Gang Starr also advocates that other artists who have also found success through hip hop should attempt to aid the youth instead of endorsing violence. This is seen in the first lines of the chorus which states "Now that we're getting somewhere, you know we got to give back. For the youth is the future no doubt that's right and exact." Instead of talking about what they are going to do, Gang Starr states that the entire hip hop community should help educate the youth. This motivation for all of hip hop to change the state of urban America is what gives Gang Starr a truly revolutionary feel.
Although the main point of the song discusses educating today's youth, it also addresses what Guru, the MC of Gang Starr, would do if he wasn't rapping. When he states "If I wasn't kickin' rhymes I'd be kickin' down doors. Creatin' social change and defendin' the poor," it seems as if he not only is saying what he would do if he wasn't a performer, but it also can be inferred that Guru is stating that those who aren't performers should be attempting to create a social change if they are dissatisfied with the condition of their community. These ideas of educating the youth and advocating that everybody should seek social change are what really make the album exceptionally influential.
Another standout track on the CD is the track "JFK 2 LAX," which addresses urban America's problem with being incarcerated. As is the case with many hardcore rap songs about this subject, Guru discusses the fact that he was unfairly arrested and that the government is working against him to keep him imprisoned as long as possible. However this song goes beyond the typical complaints of most artists by providing solutions of what can be done to fix this problem. In the first verse Guru identifies the problems that the judicial and penitentiary systems have with lines like "The streets are war, that's what brothers carry weapons for" and "And this I certify we all should be alerted by, the traps within the system, our youth is getting murdered by." In these lyrics, Guru goes beyond the typical complaints and states why people living in urban America commit the crimes they do. He also expresses his feelings on why there are so many young black men in prison and why they stay in prison for so long. In the second verse, Guru provides solutions of how to improve the situation of being imprisoned. When he states:
"In the system, supposed to rehabilitate.
It's why you gotta regulate your own mind state.
Read, study lessons and build your inner power.
The next level, doesn't tolerate cowards"
Guru is saying that those who are imprisoned shouldn't just do their time in jail and then go back to the streets and perform the same actions that got them in to jail. Instead he is recommending that those who are incarcerated need to educate themselves and gain self confidence if they want to move up in their lives. These ideas are extremely viable in helping fix the problems that many African-Americans go through on a daily basis. The song even advocates revolution, but suggests that it must be done intelligently to have any chance of being successful. By saying "Unorganized revolt almost always mostly fails, give up the savage ways, be effective soldiers," Guru urges that those who wish to change the state of their community must be smart about it for a revolution to work. This approach is a much better way to go about a transformation of an environment. Instead of telling people to get their guns and actually fight against the government, which would cause those "soldiers" to go right back to prison, Guru preaches ideas of intelligent and organized revolution.
Overall, the album Moment of Truth goes against McPherson's idea that most hip hop artists aren't revolutionary by not just stating that urban America needs to change, but by also providing answers on how this can be achieved. Although Gang Starr is a hardcore rap duo, they go against advocating violence and brutality, by preaching ideas of organized revolution and educating everybody, young and old. This mindset really gives the album a ground-breaking feel because it's recommending ideas that are extremely original in hardcore hip hop. McPherson feels that the best way to revolutionize urban America is to preach the ideas of John Rawls which "bring about justice, including racial justice, in a non ideal world" (182). Gang Starr's lyrics come as close as possible to this idea of racial justice in an unfair world because they don't just state that everybody should be racially equal, but instead they provide suggestions on what black Americans should do to improve the state that their community is in. By preaching ideas of a major change in urban communities across America, Gang Starr goes against McPherson's theory that hardcore rap is not revolutionary. They provide practical answers that allow Moment of Truth to have the potential to change the state of urban communities across America. Gang Starr actually gets extremely close to what McPherson feels rappers should do, in that they bring about ideas of justice in an unfair world.