While we still see the circulation of misinformation or ignorance on certain topics, the Black experience and unequal distribution of power is becoming more visible to people who may not have been previously exposed to it. Music that is used as a vessel to bring awareness to social issues provide an opportunity for individuals to learn about others experiences and to find out more. Here are 6 songs that have sparked my research and interest in social issues revolving around Black lives.
1. Reagan by Killer Mike
“If none of us on acres, and none of us grow wheat Then who will feed our people when our people need to eat So it seems our people starve from lack of understanding Cos all we seem to give them is some balling and some dancing”
Killer Mike, a rapper and activist, addresses mass incarceration, institutionalized racism, and how Black culture promotes the goals of the system through the song “Reagan”. He touches on how former President Ronald Reagan’s “war on drugs” targeted poor, Black people. Black people caught with crack cocaine were given significantly harsher prison sentences than those caught with powder cocaine, which was generally dispersed in White, suburban areas.
2. Be Free by J. Cole
“Can you tell me why Every time I step outside I see my niggas die I'm lettin' you know That there ain't no gun they make that can kill my sou All we wanna do is take the chains off.”
In 2014, J.Cole received the opportunity to perform on “The Late Show with David Letterman”. Instead of taking the opportunity to perform a song on his newly released album 2014 Forest Hills Drive, he performed “Be Free”, a song he wrote after the death of Michael Brown. He laments about Black struggles, Black death, and the constant struggle to experience true freedom.
3. White Privilege II by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis ft Jamila Woods
“We want to dress like, walk like, talk like, dance like, yet we just stand by We take all we want from black culture, but will we show up for black lives? We want to dress like, walk like, talk like, dance like, yet we just stand by We take all we want from black culture, but will we show up for black lives?”
In the nearly 9 minute song, Macklemore inserts clips from interviews surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement and moves through his thought process and dilemmas he faces as a white man attempting to be an ally to Black people. He addresses White privilege and how he has personally benefited from it.
4. Don’t Shoot by The Game feat. Rick Ross, 2 Chainz, Diddy, Fabolous, Wale, DJ Khaled, Swizz Beatz, Yo Gotti, Curren$y, Problem, King Pharaoh & TGT
“I seen a lot of ice water tossed, and I know it's for a cause
My only question is, what we doing for the loss
Of Mike Brown, 'cause right now, I challenge you to use your talents to
Speak up, and don't you ever let them silence you”
After the death of Mike Brown, several artists from many walks of life came together to give their perspective and show support to those protesting in Ferguson. Many artists took the time to acknowledge the pattern of excessive force, unarmed Black men being shot and killed, and how social media distracted many people from those being killed.
5. Warzone by T.I.
“They pull you over, ask you where your license at Be careful reachin' for it, you know you can die for that And this ain't nothin' new, just got cameras so you can see the shit”
T.I. used the “Warzone” music video to switch the roles of Black and White people in some situations of fatal Black and White interactions such as the death of Tamir Rice and Philando Castile and microaggressions. In reality, Black people are seen as the inferior race, but in T.I.’s video White people are presented as inferior.
6. Untouchable by Eminem
“We could let you slide but your tail light is blew, out We know you're hidin' that Heidi Klum On you another drug charge, homie, it's back inside for you And just in case a chase might ensue, we got that tried and true Pistol drew right at you, we'd be delighted to unload it In your back, then walk up and lay that taser on the side of you.”
In the song “Untouchable”, Eminem addresses multiple parts of the Black experience while simultaneously pointing out the flaws in the perspectives of White people looking in. The disparities in opportunities, social treatment, punishment, and overall perception of Black people compared to White people is evident.
There are many songs that speak on social issues and music will continue to be used as a platform to provide commentary on different experiences. Hip hop in particular has given many artists over time a way to share underrepresented narratives. As listeners it is important to continue to recognize this side of hip hop, and its power to expose people from other backgrounds to elements of the Black experience.