An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.
#BlackLivesMatter…and it’s important that our art reflects that narrative.
All of the social movements that have affected the world in the past have art that represented the feeling of the time. This is true in the United States today. With the increased presence of police brutality cases, particularly against black people, the names of victims have become hashtags on social media, protests have developed, and anger has risen out of frustration due to the normality of the issue. It’s so important that the art of our time acknowledges what is occurring, and even though there isn’t a lot of the conversations through song playing on mainstream radio, there are some out there! This short list — which I hope grows — includes some of the songs that are reminding me of the struggle and assured me that there are artists that are creating work that “reflect the times.”
“Can you tell me why / Every time I step outside I see my people die?”
J. Cole, “Be Free”
Full of anger, frustration, and pleas for freedom from the effects of racism via police brutality, “Be Free” is the first song that took off as an anti-police brutality song during this time (correct me if I’m wrong!). J. Cole’s pleas were released in song after the murder of 18 year old Mike Brown, an unarmed black man who died from being shot by a Ferguson, MO police officer. Cole’s passionate performance of “Be Free” was on The Late Show with David Letterman.
“All we wanted was a chance to talk/ Instead we’ve only got outlined in chalk.”
D’Angelo & The Vanguard, “The Charade”
Coming off of a 14 year hiatus, D’Angelo released his third studio album, Black Messiah, because he was inspired by the protests against a “no indictment” ruling for the officers involved in the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner. “The Charade” is one of a few songs on Black Messiah that addresses these issues. The song comes to life when D’Angelo & The Vanguard performed the song on Saturday Night Live. Peep the screened tees, raised fists, hoodies, and body outlined in chalk. Powerful.
“And we hate po’ po’ / Wanna kill us dead in the street fo’ sho'”
Kendrick Lamar, “Alright”
Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore album, To Pimp A Butterfly, has been labeled as a pro-black album (which I think is limiting to the message). Being used as a chant in a protest from early in 2015, “Alright” has been a vocal anthem for the #BlackLivesMatter movement, providing strength for black people against these various racially-driven acts. Above is the official music video (which includes Kendrick and a few of his TDE labelmates in a car being carried by police officers!) and below is video of a protest that used the chorus of “Alright” as a chant.
“Say his name / Say his name / Say his name / Won’t you say his name?”
Janelle Monáe & Wondaland Records, “Hell You Talmbout”
Created out of frustration, Janelle Monáe and her artists on Wondaland Records released “Hell You Talmbout,” which is a list of names, said in the #SayHerName format, of individuals that have died from police brutality. Delivered in such a passionate yet aggressive way, Monáe and her Wondaland roster created a chant that’s perfect for protesting and that raises awareness about other victims, men and women alike, that we may not know about.
Are there any songs that you like that I didn’t mention? Let me know in the comments or chat with me over on Twitter at @amirahrashidah or through #TranscendingSound.