Brisbane rapper Tu P is addressing his Agenda (out Oct 29, 2020) of “examining political and health issues in a bio-psychosocial framework.” The multi-talented rapper is also a doctor in family and mental health, so he knows the real-world ramifications of the themes he tackles in his music. Since his 2012 debut, Tu P has grown his craft and sharpened his criticism, flow, and execution. His newest album features a surge of political musings, drawing on his experiences as a second-generation Vietnamese Australian while calling for action, inclusion, and social progress.

His laid back delivery might not recall the harsh, ballistic flow of rap’s most outspoken figures, but Tu P knows that the message is in the music, and subtlety doesn’t negate his thoughtful musings. While he does his part to propel change, Tu P gladly gives props to the voices that carry the torch for political rap. In this inspiring Top 10, Tu P lays down his list of the premier political acts in rap and hip-hop. It’s a groovin’ good time, with the heady substance to back it all up.

“No discussion about the hip-hop genre is complete without discussing its bi-directional relationship with politics. Hip-hop has provided the means for traditionally disenfranchised communities to speak up and have their voices heard. Given the extent of influence that media moguls have on our political discourse, having subcultures like hip-hop to act as a counterbalance is now more vital than ever.”

1. Public Enemy

“Though other hip-hop acts had discussed politics in their music, PE was one of the first predominantly political and radical hip-hop acts to achieve mainstream success. Their seminal album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, with its heavy dose of political lyricism and dense production style and sampling, is considered one of the most influential hip-hop albums of all time.”

2. Immortal Technique

“A prolific Peruvian American, East Coast rapper who uses his platform to take on global political issues, such as the prison industrial complex, censorship, the war on drugs, and corporate media.”

3. Black Star

“A rap duo consisting of Mos Def and Talib Kweli, they rose to prominence creating music about the struggle and helped the hip-hop community mourn and make sense of the deaths of 2Pac and Biggie in the late 1990s. Both have gone on to become successful, conscious artists in their own right.”

4. 2Pac

“Raised by a former Black Panther, 2pac became a legendary figure in West Coast hip-hop, using his musical, writing, and acting talents to draw attention to the social ills that affected the urban communities he grew up in. A versatile figure whose musical catalogue encompassed political, mainstream, and gangster rap, his life was tragically cut short when he was shot in a drive-by shooting in Las Vegas in 1996.”

5. Lowkey

“An Iraqi, English rapper whose critically acclaimed Soundtrack to the Struggle garnered support for Palestinian sovereignty and drew attention to the consequences of colonialism and the ‘War on Terror.’”  

6. A.B. Original

Trials and Briggs (two Indigenous rappers who had notable careers in their own right beforehand), teamed up to form the rap group AB Original, and their album Reclaim Australia is a viscerally raw, angry, and compelling body of work, that unapologetically covers the issues of deaths in custody and racism from an Indigenous perspective.”

7. Run The Jewels

“Another example when a rap duo is more than the sum of their parts, as Killer Mike and EL-P feed off each other’s energy to consistently deliver bangers on multiple albums in a row. Their 4th LP, RTJ4, delves into issues such as the slave trade, police brutality, and the chaos that is US politics.”

8. Common

“Rapper, actor, writer, label owner, and hip-hop elder statesman, Common has shown how consistency and staying true to oneself can lead to longevity in the rap game. From his work raising HIV awareness to supporting the candidacy of Barack Obama, to launching campaigns for prison reform, Common shows that he puts his money where his mouth is and lives by the principles he covers in his rhymes.”

9. Kendrick Lamar

“From his criticisms of Reaganomics on Section.80, to the black power anthems on To Pimp a Butterfly and the Black Panther soundtrack, Kendrick has never shied away from weaving politics and social issues in his discography and has reinvigorated the conscious hip-hop subgenre back to its former glory.

10. J Cole

“Starting as a brash young talent with dreams bigger than the recognition he was getting on The Sideline Story, J Cole has matured and become less cocky with time (an unusual trajectory for hip-hop icons going from one success to another). This humility and clarity helps him take on big concept albums like 4 Your Eyez Only (which brought together the issues of mass incarceration, racism, mental health, and families, all in a cohesive structure).” 

Artwork for ‘Agenda’ by Tu P