Rap used to turn heads. Ask your grandparents about it. It didn’t matter if it was East Coast, West Coast or underground—it was controversial.
But these days, no one bats an eye when the world’s biggest rappers date Kardashians or own parts of sports franchises. That’s not a bad thing, but hip-hop has always been at its best when it’s challenging the status quo and shining a light on those subjects the mainstream can’t—or won’t—address.
Nobody’s asking for a return to the days when being a rapper was a legitimately dangerous career. It’d just be nice to hear someone creating hip-hop that talked about the things you don’t hear talked about very often and doing it in a fresh, invigorating way.
Enter Jason Petty, aka Humble Beast’s Propaganda.
Propagada’s a whole new animal in every way. Musically, he names influences like Sigur Rós and Sufjan Stevens and Explosions in the Sky. Lyrically, he gravitates toward folk music for the “raw musical perspective” it lends toward the human condition. Artistically, he’s inspired by spoken-word poetry.
And he certainly isn’t one to hide in the shadows when it comes to saying the things he believes everyone needs to hear.
Propaganda got his start as a “vicious, aggressive battle rapper” in Los Angeles in the underground West Coast crew called the Tunnel Rats. The M.C. says he took to poetry as a way to hone his craft and strengthen his skills.
“The city I grew up in was kind of a hub for spoken word, so there were plenty of poetry venues that were happening almost every week,” he says. “I just started going to different open mics and hearing the difference between dudes that were rapping versus the poets. They were just such better writers.”
The disparity between his rap colleagues and the spoken word artists prompted Propaganda to give poetry a go.
“It was just such a clear difference,” he says. “I was like, ‘Man, I want to be able to write that well.’ How do you captivate an audience for three to five minutes with no music, nobody else on stage with you? I got hooked. That’s how poetry started for me.”
“i wish there were experiences in life that were off-limits, but life isn’t like that. life isn’t neat with pretty bows.”
Propaganda describes himself as a “daywalker” since that moment—a rapper who relies on the vocabulary and process of poetry to create his work. He says he never considered leaving the hip-hop scene (he calls it his “native tongue”), but his poetic venture afforded him a newfound freedom.