People believed rap could actually change the world.
It was the late 1980s, the world was going through a major shift: college admissions, once largely dominated by men and closed to people of color, were diversifying their ranks. With it came a political reckoning, as systemic racism and sexism were attacked by a new, younger generation. As college education broadened, hip-hop was simultaneously coming into its own, and from the bookcases to the boulevards, there was a cohesive move towards change. Sure, NWA would strike around this time, making gangster rap's therapeutic Id a rising trend. But it was one color of a multi-hued contingent of artists who upset the status quo; even politicians in Washington were paying attention. It felt like even the music that played to our basest instincts, like 2 Live Crew, were a part of something bigger and more important, a fight against censorship and the establishment.
But the best rap at this time also made it cool to be conscientious. Gold dookie ropes were traded in for Africa medallions. Public Enemy had folks shunning material goods in favor of a raised fist, and the wave of pro-black conscious rap that followed, from X-Clan to Brand Nubian, made awareness of social justice issues a key part of hip-hop's DNA. But it wasn't just a trend; there was a feeling that hip-hop could, in fact, change the world, that it was an engine of the voiceless and the silenced, not just hip-hop's CNN but America's next revolution.