Vibe and empower

Five hip-hop artists who double as community leaders



Photo by Maria Ratinova

Conscious music doesn’t have to be corny.

Plenty of folks tell me they want to support hip-hop that’s lyrically and socially responsible, respectful of women and all genders and that promotes awareness of social justice issues and diverse experiences. But look past Common, John Legend or Rapsody, and the music often panders to parents of elementary school children looking for Kids Bop.

Not these artists.

This isn’t a top-five-streams list. It contains quality, homegrown Sacramento hip-hop for a cause. It’s music that your grandma or baby cousin can get down with, that you can play in your classroom, break room or college dorm:

Nia Joe

Listen to: “Pep Talk”

Hip-hop lacks positive images of women, and Nia Joe’s debut album, Mad Black Woman, was inspired by a dearth of mental health awareness and services for women of color. Her flow is sharp, poetic and akin to artists on Top Dawg Entertainment, which signed Kendrick Lamar, Jay Rock and SZA. Her music is honest, vulnerable and full of that divine, feminine energy that hip-hop desperately needs. If you like Floetry and relaxing beats, you’ll be impressed with Nia Joe’s ease of delivery and comfort in the pocket. Her album, produced by locals Nikki Sounds, Saevon and BoomBapZac, was released February 28.

Cameron Eugene

Listen to: “Afrofuturism”

KZA Cameron Eugene comes from a creative bloodline that includes James Brown. You’ll immediately draw comparisons to Kendrick Lamar, but when Eugene sings, he separates himself with an energy that rivals the Pulitzer-Prize winner. Drawing from the past and Afrofuturism to create his electric soul experience, the audio engineer, producer and lyricist is a one-stop shop for all things hip-hop. His live shows are raw and cultural. Some big names would agree: Eugene received praise from Jay Electronica, Zion I and radio host Dr. Michael Eric Dyson. Unity is his message, with an emphasis on people of African descent.


Listen to: “Ten Toes”

KariJay is a nationally recognized spoken-word hip-hop artist. Her poetry and music is infused with messages of truth, liberation and healing. She’s shared stages with Sista Souljah, Nikki Giovanni, Fiveology and Common. She speaks truth to power onstage, in the classroom and in the community. In 2014, Kari traveled from the West Coast to West Ghana and co-founded the West2West Movement, which facilitates the exchange of resources, education and culture within the Afrikan Black Diaspora. Her soulful vocals are livened by a Northern California bounce rooted in African rhythms. Check out her album Kari this spring.

M’ster Lewis

Listen to: “Rebuilding the Culture”

M’ster Lewis makes music, videos, food and clothes with love for black people. With melodic and groove-centered songs such as “I Gotcha” and “Rebuilding The Culture,” he’s about empowering and uplifting others. In the community, M’ster Lewis works with the Yisrael Family Farm in Oak Park and the African Market in South Sacramento, where he teaches kids how to write positive lyrics and produce videos. Rebuilding The Culture PT 2 is the first of three albums he’ll release soon, a powerful look at the life of the hip-hop artist, vegan, business owner and activist.


Listen to: “Freedom”

Consci8us is an inspirational emcee focused on using music, media and education to create positive narratives by “making consci8us cool.” With songs including “Freedom” and “Black Lives Shatter,” Consci8us could be your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper. His faith and close proximity with the community are big reasons why he’s been gaining momentum over the past year, performing at the California State Fair, the 2018 and 2019 MLK March, Sacramento State, UC Davis and the Golden 1 Center.