Conscious rap has been around for a while but rap is on the cusp of real conscious awakening. What used to be about street violence, getting bands and babes, is transforming into some third-eye spit.
According to Maslow, these rappers are at the pinnacle of self-realization, meeting their most hierarchical needs. The top 20 most conscious hip hop leaders like Common, Kendrick, and Beyoncé are not only soul searching and rhyming real rap wisdom, they’re dedicating their mic to transforming the streets. This is because real fulfillment comes from helping others not achieving ice.
Ultimately their message boils down to Bada$$’s words:
“Can’t change the world until we change ourselves.”
I’m vibing with the consciousness impact of these artists, and I’m sure you will too. Don’t forget to listen to the Rap Wisdom playlist I put together to help you get a little extra inspired.
1. 2Pac, “Changes”
“It’s time for us as a people to start makin’ some changes. Let’s change the way we eat, let’s change the way we live. And let’s change the way we treat each other.”
2Pac, the most respected rapper in the game, was also spiritually woke. Though he was raised in believing in God, he told Vibe, “Heaven is now. Karma is real.” When asked where he saw himself in 20 years, he said, “Changing the world.”
As one of hip hop’s most iconic figures Tupac left his mark on the world before his murder at 25. He put together charity concerts for the charity, A Place Called Home, worked with Make-A-Wish Foundation to fulfill kids dreams, and worked to develop a youth football team sponsored by celebrities. Even after his death, Tupac is still making waves as his mother runs the Tupac Amaru Shakur Foundation.
2. Common, “G.O.D (Gaining One’s Dream)”
“Became a slave to master self, a rich man is one with knowledge, happiness, and his health.”
Common, told The Guardian, “I wanted to be the dopest. Then I found a higher purpose.” Resurrection was Common’s first, “Socially conscious, verbally dexterous and wise album.” His new book LET LOVE HAVE THE LAST WORD drops some serious wisdom on healing, self-love, and therapy.
Common wants to make a radical shift in humanity’s advancement. He started the Common Ground Foundation which focuses on empowering high-school students from underserved communities, is involved in criminal justice reform initiatives, and supports over 21 different charitable endeavors.
3. Kendrick Lamar, “Real”
“Should I hate street credibility? I’m talkin’ about hating all money, power, respect in my will, or hating the fact none of that shit make me real?”
In an interview with NPR Lamar said, “I can’t change the world until I change myself first.” Vice breaks down DAMN where, “Kendrick realizes he’s been saved, it’s a divine mix up of his karmic journey, balancing yin and yang, and embracing his god-self that makes us attuned to the deeper energy of the earth and the universe.”
In 2015 Lamar was honored on the Senate floor as a “Generational Icon” for speaking on political activism and his charitable causes. He donates money to Compton High’s music and after school programs. He also goes on charity tours every year that benefit some of the world’s poorest cities.
4. Beyoncé, “BIGGER”
“If you feel insignificant, you better think again. Better wake up because you’re part of something way bigger. Step out your estimate, step in your essence and know that you’re excellent.”
Bey told Chicago Now that spirituality is, “Connecting to the past and knowing our history.” Queen B is a firm believer in practicing karma and to her being a soul is, “Improving, evolving, inspiring, and learning. We are here to relight what sparks our souls so we can expand and grow.”
Whether Beyoncé is directly donating money to scholarships, inspiring everyone to eat more veggies with Vegan Time!, or showcasing the struggles (and power) of black women in her music, Beyoncé is always using her voice to challenge social norms and open people’s minds.
5. Nipsey Hussle, “Bigger Than Life”
“Life is what you make it, I hope you make a movement. And I hope you find you passion ‘cause I found mine in this music. But I hope it’s not material ‘cause that’s all an illusion.”
Nipsey’s spiritual journey and vision for south LA started on a trip back to his mother country Eritrea where he was inspired to do more for his community back home. At his funeral, his mother stated, “I know that we are all divine creatures. We are all divinity within. We don’t need to look to the sky for a god. God is within. I have perfect peace. I am happy. I’m complete. I am strong. And if I can feel this way, so can you.”
Nipsey used the money he made from rapping to give back to his community in Crenshaw. He always advocated charity over materialism and was working to build low-income grocery and clothing stores. He funded funerals for families and donated money to victims of gun violence. He also worked with police to improve gang education and keep kids off the streets.
6. Nas, “No Idea’s Original”
“What you base your happiness around? Material, women, and large paper. That means you inferior, not major.”
Though Nas was raised Christian then converted to 5 Percent Nation, today he’s not apart of any religion but knows there’s a higher power within himself. His biggest mentor is Russell Simmons who’s steered him to tap into his, “Warrior spirit” and make the right choices for himself and the people around him.
Nas is, “The cornerstone of the new social consciousness fighting to emerge in hip-hop.” In an agreement with UNICEF Nas provides financial aid to poor Africans. He’s also raised over $40,000 in a Crowdtilt campaign for a homeless family and is a big supporter of the Common Ground and Save the Music Foundations.
7. Lauryn Hill, “Doo Wop (That Thing)”
“How you gonna win if you ain’t right within?”
The pinnacle of Lauryn’s spiritual journey came when she decided to have her first kid while writing The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. Despite everyone pressuring her to let go of the child she states, “I chose to use my heart.” She feels following her heart while pregnant gifted her with immense energy.
Lauryn Hill supports her charitable endeavors through touring. At all her concerts a portion of ticket sales go to criminal justice reform and the Ms Lauryn Hill Foundation. Lauryn continues to work with the Black Lives Matter movement where her most recent work in 2015 took her to Israel to fight for Palestinian rights.
8. Wu-Tang Clan, “Samurai Showdown”
“Keep [your] mind focused, meditation position half-lotus, abbots sword novas couldn’t match [your] magnum opus.”
In an interview with Lions Roar, RZA says he’s found peace from, “Being aware of [his] spirituality and life itself.” References to “Shaolin” in their music is an ode to the temple in China that shifted RZA’s and Wu-Tang’s perspective towards enlightenment. The members also practice kung fu, qigong, and meditation to maintain inner peace.
Wu Tang has a new C.R.E.A.M — Charity Rules Everyone Around Me. In 2018, the group launched their new charity C.R.E.A.M to directly benefit the Wu-Tang Foundation and support children from neglected black communities. RZA also shares their spiritual knowledge in the Wu-Tang Manual and The Tao of Wu.
9. Chance the Rapper, “I Got You”
“You gotta remember that thy enemy is not of the flesh, you gotta remember that our imagery is made from the best.”
Chance declares he has, “Faith and faith in his soul.” He credits his spirituality to his Dad on Jimmy Kimmel and explained it brings him the success he enjoys today. All of Chance’s albums discuss topics like independence, faith, higher powers, and what it means to do something bigger than yourself.
Chicago Now wrote an article breaking down Chance the Activist’s generous million dollar donation to improve public schooling and mental health programs. He also takes political action to endorse candidates he believes in like Amara Anyia. He realizes his voice is powerful and he is using his platform to create radical change.
10. Solé, “The Formula”
“What you’ve been given has divine capabilities, gets activated when you vibe at higher frequencies. You need some introspection to see your god reflection.”
After winning her grammy in 1999, Solé dropped her record deal to embark on a spiritual journey towards self-realization. Her journey took herself inward where she became a yogi and sacred medicine practitioner. Solé says she’s, “Here to be a conduit and a vessel through for the universe’s message.”
Solé’s mission is to help others find health and a path towards consciousness. Her classes with Devi Tribe Wellness utilize her yogic and medicinal knowledge to help others heal. Beyond managing her company, Solé performs at a variety of events and speaks about the power of, “Embodying our inner god.”
11. Erykah Badu, “On & On”
“Peace and blessings manifest with every lesson learned. If your knowledge were your wealth, then it would be well-earned.”
Vogue spent a day with Badu and had an enlightening conversation on Crystals, Karma, and Soul Magic. As a Reiki master and certified doula, Badu believes in the power of energy and vibration. “We’re all connected, not only with one another, but with the matter around us. We’re just vibrating at different rates.”
Since hip hop’s early beginnings, Erykah was on the front lines fighting for Black Lives Matter. Today she’s 100% vegan and is working with the Hip Hop is Green movement to deliver food justice to the streets. She’s also the founder of B.L.I.N.D which sets ups music and art bootcamps to inner city kids in Dallas.
12. J. Cole, “Change”
“I know you desperate for a change let the pen glide, but the only real change come from inside.”
In The Disease Of More, J. Cole talks about the ills of ice since real happiness and satisfaction can’t be achieved through money. In his words, “Materialism is a drug that prevents us from placing value in what’s real like love, gratitude, and appreciation.” At his BET performance he called for, “Meditation instead of medication.”
In 2013, J. Cole founded The Dreamville Foundation to uplift poor youth in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The Loop said, J. Cole is, “Easily one of the most generous men in hip-hop.” Though his childhood home, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, foreclosed in 2003, he bought and flipped it to help other struggling families to live rent free.
13. Talib Kweli, “2000 Seasons”
“[You’re] not a human being getting on some spiritual shit, a spiritual being manifested as a human that’s it.”
In an interview with Moustafa Hamwi, Talib says, “He has always used his spirituality in music to spread a message about building equality and fighting systems of oppression.” His memoir Vibrate Higher is a personal account of his spiritual journey as a rapper and activist to blend consciousness with justice.
Talib is considered the world’s most in-demand rap artists and social activists. Talib dedicates his mic to Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street movements. His political and social activism dates back to Malcom X grassroots movements and running Nkiru Books (a black-author-only book store) with Mos Def.
14. Mos Def, “Priority”
“Peace before everything, God before anything, love before anything, real before everything. Love power, slay the hate.”
Mos Def started spiritual conscious rap with his album Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star. In a conversation with The Fader he believes, “You’re not gonna get through life without being worshipful or devoted to yourself.” He preaches, “The idea of peace and love toward humanity should be a chief concern for all mankind.”
Mos Def has supported the Muslim and black communities his entire career through live performances and songs that recognize social injustices, and his open commentary on events like the response after Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. He uses hip-hop to speak for the oppressed and impoverished that have no voice.
15. Joey Bada$$, “LAND OF THE FREE”
“Can’t change the world until we change ourselves.”
In an interview with Montreality Joey said Be Here Now gave him a deep appreciation for seeking enlightenment. He told Vogue, “We’re a collective consciousness. I have a very holistic way of thinking. I am a very spiritual person. Most of my music comes from a third eye view.”
Joey likes to use his mic for political good and social justice. He donates tons of money to endeavors like “Storm of Support” and Colin Kaepernick’s Charity Campaign. His new record label Badmind strives to uplift small black artists the opportunity to grow with his support.
16. Dead Prez, “Learning, Growing, Changing”
“When you let go of your ego, you’re free from all illusions, dig?”
After eight years from dropping RGB, the duo claims they entered an, “Informative Age” where they wanted to talk about internal liberation in terms of inner awakening. What came to fruition was a revolutionary album, The Information Age, a rap-techno track that exclusively talks about peak consciousness.
Stic and M-I are both socially conscious vegan rappers who take action to the streets. Dead Prez is one of the biggest ambassadors for the Hip Hop Is Green Movement. Both are also founders of the RBG Fit Club — a Revolutionary But Gangsta holistic health movement that focuses FIT HOP, veganism, and spirituality.
17. Sa-Roc, “Forever”
“Stay woke cuz all gold ain’t glistening, choose your words wisely cuz the all knowing’s listening.”
In an interview with GoRadio MN, Sa-Roc says spirituality and music, “Was a way to free herself from a heavy past.” She admits trusting her heart and staying open to self-evolution carved her lane in the industry. Her ultimate message is for everybody, “To find and love your light.”
Sa-Roc strives to speak truth and liberate young black women. All her music talks about finding inner power and resisting systems of oppression. She takes the stage for women’s rights, veganism, the Hip Hop is Green Movement, and animal activism wherever she is called.
18. Big K.R.I.T, “Bury Me in Gold”
“Gold not fulfillin’, it doesn’t take away the pain, it doesn’t take away the loss. You have to search higher higher for that — the higher power, that higher energy.”
Big K.R.I.T told Revolt TV his spiritual journey deepened when he struggled with depression. He was lost because he was chasing his peer’s accolades. He said, “The two years I spent healing were really getting to know myself, meditating, and being happy with how things flow.”
Big K.R.I.T works with Silence the Shame and advocates breaking mental health stigma. Big K.R.I.T also throws holiday charity concerts in Atlanta, and is a big donor to New Orleans Charity and The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation.
19. Anderson .Paak, “The Bird”
“All we ever need is love, we see the same things, we sing the same songs, we feel the same grief, bleed the same blood.”
As a believer in karma, Anderson realizes he can change the narrative of his rough past. Anderson told The Guardian Ventura is social and spiritual because, “This is the age of awakening. [Rappers] are no longer just here to be entertainment. We see what’s going on and we’re not going to be numb to it any more.”
Once Anderson made it, he was determined to do the right thing by his Oxnard community. In 2007 Paak teamed up with his foundation, the Brandon Anderson Foundation, to host ‘Paak House in the Park.’ The event drew over 4,000 people to MacArthur Park and raised $155,000 for Oxnard’s underserved communities.
20. A-Luv feat. Wes Writer, “Union”
“Oh we can make a difference for us, go so high that we won’t ever fall. Live for a greater purpose, promise it’s worth it.”
I put myself on the list but you know what, I’m in the game and woke AF. Together with Wes Writer, we wanted Union to be a song that brings people together no matter their race, religion, creed, gender, etc. That’s because we know that inside, we are all the same energy and live for a higher purpose.
My mission is to end suffering and the social inequities that cause it. Writing Bling and producing the soundtrack and book are the beginnings of teaching the spiritual lessons I’ve learned. I use my company Flow to provide low-income youth with apprenticeships, run a nonprofit called Minds Matter that helps low-income kids go to college on scholarship, and am active in public service and activism — all to provide economic and educational opportunities while creating social change.
Any artists or lyrics I missed, fam? Drop them down in a comment or send me a message.