A photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X shaking hands hung in the childhood home of Jason Petty, better known today as hip-hop artist Propaganda.
“As I got into hip hop, the connection between both of them and the music I was listening to was so obvious,” Propaganda said.
King and Malcolm X are two of the most name-dropped people in hip-hop history. Propaganda, whose father was a member of The Black Panther Party, learned of their legacies at an early age. As Martin Luther King, Jr. Day approached, Propaganda told Rapzilla about King’s influence on him as an artist.
Propaganda, widely-regarded as one of the top Christian lyricists in hip hop, credited King with contributing to his word selection when he writes songs.
“What many people don’t know about [King] was how meticulous of a wordsmith he was,” Propaganda said. “He would not only choose his words in speeches based on their meaning, but also based on how they sounded next to each other — all the way down to the vowel-to-consonants ratio.”
Dr. Todd Allen, a Civil Rights Movement historian and professor at Grove City College, expounded on the similarity between King and hip-hop’s method of communication.
“His style of deliver was like poetry,” Allen said. “It had a rhyme. It had a rhythm to it. Listening to people who heard him, one of the things they say is, ‘He could make the PhD and the no D understand what he was saying.’ He had a master vocabulary and could use those words effectively in ways that moved a cross-section of people. I think that’s one of the defining marks of hip hop as well, the ability to move a diverse and cross-section people just through the very style, flow, poetry and rhythm of your words.”
Propaganda took more than communication lessions from King. He said King’s “overall views on life” inspired his songs “Dig” and “I Ain’t Gave Up On You Yet.”
He also quoted King in his song “Inheritance.”
Now he finally understands what Dr. King meant/
Said a man can’t ride your back unless you bent it
The other specific lesson that King taught Propaganda: “He knew he wasn’t the totality of the movement.”
“[King] had the long game in mind the entire time,” Propaganda said. “His ideas of legacy always shined through in his work. When he would say stuff like, ‘I might not get there with you,’ it showed he understood that he wasn’t the end of the movement. But that he was playing his role in something bigger than him.”
Read how Martin Luther King, Jr. influenced Dee-1.
Follow Propaganda on Twitter at @PropHipHop.