I was initially going to call this “The New Shit”, but changed my mind, after I encountered a lot of new music that was protest related.
What’s happening today, is indeed a revolution, and every revolution has a soundtrack. In the sixties, the songs revolved around the war in Vietnam, and racial civil unrest. In hindsight, I should have expected this, as there can be no revolution, without Art!
There’s a lot of songs out there, that were written by white folksingers, during the Vietnam War, but plenty of Black musicians wrote stuff, too. I tried not to choose songs that readily come to mind when considering protest songs. I tried to choose the kind of songs that people might know, but probably don’t think of as revolutionary.
Here’s a list of revolution songs by Black artists, both past, and present, and maybe even the future. Some of y’all might not have come across these yet, as most of these will not see radio play, and and some of them won’t be offered on conventional streaming apps, either. On the other hand, many of them are available on YouTube, but you can’t research what you don’t now, right?
(Say it Loud) I’m Black and I’m Proud – James Brown
This song was groundbreaking for its time. I’ve found that there’s two different types of revolution songs, songs of grief, and songs of defiance. This is definitely the template for the latter type of song. It is defiantly and unabashedly Black.
Songs like these are important, because they are declarations of worth. They remind people of why they’re fighting, and what they’re fighting for, and if its one thing a bully hates, it’s when their victim gets back on their feet, and declares their worth!
I’m Black and I’m proud is not any different from saying Black Power, or Black Lives Matter.
F*ck the Police – NWA
This song was incredibly shocking for its time. Not only did it get banned, but it sparked a wave of censorship against Rap music, which did nothing to actually stop Rappers from speaking truth to power, but it did spur music companies to begin focusing solely on Rap music that had no consciousness to it, and only talked about Black crime and partying.
If you’re wondering why conscious Rap music fell out of favor, then the censorship wars of the mid-eighties certainly played a role. White suburban parents did not want their children listening to songs about questioning and disrespecting authority, and so they did what White parents have always done,when it came to art they didn’t want their children exposed to, like Jazz, and Rock.
Declare it immoral, and use that as an excuse to ban it!
Redemption Song- Stevie Wonder
Here, Stevie does a cover of the song originally written by Bob Marley. Its not that I don’t like the Marley version, but I’m a huge Stevie Wonder fan, this version has always been my favorite, and I’ve always loved when Stevie got political.
Or you could try:
You Haven’t Done Nothing
Blowin’ in the Wind
Heaven Help Us All
Fight The Power – Public Enemy
I thought about featuring the official song video for this selection, but decided to go with the opening credits for Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, which is what launched this song into everyone’s consciousness. This was a lot of mainstream white people’s first introduction to political rap, like Public Enemy.
I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to Rap music when I was growing up. I didn’t have favorites, or closely follow certain groups, although I certainly knew who PE was. I knew about who and what was hot, because it was the music that everyone around me listened to, so it was always in the background, while I explored other musical tastes.
I’m not going to say this type of music didn’t influence my thinking, because it most certainly did, but I didn’t realize how much so until I was older.
Talking About a Revolution- Tracy Chapman
I talked in my last post about my regard for tracy Chapman’s music. This is another of her many political songs, which still gives me chills many years after I first heard it. This song, along with the last song I listed, is from her first, self titled, album, which was released in 1988.
You can try:
Across the Line
If Not Now, When
Hell You Talm ‘Bout – Janelle Monae
This song was released a few years ago, to minor acclaim. Not many people paid a whole lot of attention to it, outside of the Black community, but this song gives me chills every single time I hear it. It is, in the end, a raucous litany of the dead.
This Is America – Childish Gambino
This song became a nine days wonder when it was released a few summers ago, and has not lost its effectiveness. People are still puzzling about the video’s many images and their meanings.
“The central message is about guns and violence in America and the fact that we deal with them and consume them as part of entertainment on one hand, and on the other hand, is a part of our national conversation,” Ramsey tells TIME. “You’re not supposed to feel as if this is the standard fare opulence of the music industry. It’s about a counter-narrative and it really leaves you with chills.”
Black Excellence – Buddy
I have no idea who Buddy is, but this is one of my new favorite videos, for its celebration of Black history, and I just love to watch good dancing!
Glory – Common/John Legend
This is one of my Mom’s favorites, but mostly because she’s a big John Legend fan. This song is from the movie, Selma, by the Black female director, Ava Duvernay. I have not been able to bring myself to watch the film. I probably never will. I’ve had my complete fill of movies of Black people overcoming trauma, whose stories I already know, anyway.
The other day, my mom said something very intersting to me. She said, about the current protesters, “At least they’re not singing We Shall Overcome. I’m sick of that song.” Remember, my mother grew up doing the civil unrest of the fifties and sixties, and was a member of the local chapter of the Black Panthers, just before I was born.
I get the distinct impression that the white people who are talking about today’s issues the loudest, are 1). the kind of people who have never protested for anytihng in their lives, and have 2). not lived with this nearly their entire life.
My mother is seventy years old. She’s been actively fighting to uplift Black people since she was a teenager! She is not unhappy to see young people picking up where she left off, after her unofficial retirement.
The other day we were talking about her mom, and how she passed just before Obama became the first Black president, and how she would have loved to have seen that. My mom said she was glad to have lived long enough to see that, and to see what’s happening today.
So yeah, all those white people bitching and whining about the current uprising, can sit down and shut the whole hell up. They’re nattering ignorantly at a people for whom fighting for their rights is a generational lifetime profession!
I Just Wanna Live – Keedron Bryant
This is one of my favorite current protest songs. Its also one of the saddest because Keedron is only twelve years old.
There is almost no discussion about the levels of trauma our children are going through, and not just police brutality, but the presidents behavior, and their constant exposure to the ignorance of online agitators, who are always quick to insist how little their lives matter.
Our kids need to see this. They need to know this. Sadly, they’re the warriors of our future. They’re going to need to know how to fight this battle, and unfortunately, teach their kids because the battle to be treated as human beings is never going to be over.
Black Parade – Beyonce
I want to end on a high note though. On Juneteenth of this year, Beyonce dropped one of the Blackest songs of the year. This is a song of joy, and celebration, and well, there’s definitely some bragging involved.
And then, at the end of this song, she also dropped a list of Black owned businesses.
I love this song! I’m not the fighter/confrontational type. That doesn’t mean I won’t beat your ass, though. It just means I won’t enjoy doing it, and will be embarrassed at my loss of composure, afterwards! I don’t do things the way my mother did them, but I contribute in the way that I can, in a way that works for me,which seems to be Beyonce’s manner of approach too, and that’s by celebrating, and uplifting, every opportunity Black people get to shine.
I’m no badass. But I can happily cheer on a badass.