“MUSIC IS A POWERFUL TOOL IN THE FORM OF COMMUNICATION [THAT] CAN BE USED TO ASSIST IN ORGANISING COMMUNITIES” – Gil Scott-Heron.
Entwined with historical instances and political commentary, messages within black popular music has always played a huge role throughout its existence. A powerful medium to not only explore the realities of being black but to celebrate the power within.
For Black History Month, PAUSE has selected iconic pieces of music that embed importance through the art of sound and lyricism.
KENDRICK LAMAR - ALRIGHT
Amidst a heavy moment for the United States, the unlawful killing of Sandra Bland caused national unrest, displayed within Kendrick Lamar’s protest anthem ‘Alright’ and accompanying monochromatic visuals. Coming together to be heard, protestors spoke out on oppression and police brutality, chanting lyrics taken from the song: “We gon’ be alright.”
“And we hate po-po / Wanna kill us dead in the street for sure, n***a / I’m at the preacher’s door / My knees gettin’ weak and my gun might blo. But we gon’ be alright.’
J COLE - BE FREE
A response to yet another unlawful murder initiated from police brutality, J Cole raps “All we want to do is take the chains off. All we want to do is be free.” Taking to The David Letterman Show to deliver a moving performance, the North-Carolina artist pays tribute to Michael Brown and every young black man murdered in America, whether it was by the hands of white or black.
“All we want to do is take these chains off, all we want to do is break the chains of pain / all we want to do is be free.”
LAURYN HILL - BLACK RAGE
Caught within the midst of the tragic events within Ferguson, Missouri, Lauryn Hill dedicates her track ‘Black Rage’ to MO. Impelled by countless race riots and injustices, defining it as: “found in all wounds in the soul”, the track dates back to early 2012 as a rework of The Sound of Music’s ‘My Favourite Things’. Releasing it as an ‘old sketch’ written in her living room, ‘Black Rage’ is a suited oxymoron that twists the ever so familiar record into something so deep and moving.
“Black rage is founded on two thirds a person / Rapings and beatings and suffering that worsens/Black human packages tied up in strings / Black rage can come from all these kinds of things.”
PUBLIC ENEMY - FIGHT THE POWER
It may be thirty-plus years since its release, but Public Enemy’s ‘fight the power’ still remains at the forefront of music history’s most significant and searing. The summer of 1989 was not only the follow up to the group’s release of their second album but also saw their track propel and be anchored within the famous Spike Lee-directed film ‘Do the Right Thing’ – a movie focused heavily on the racial animosity within Brooklyn, New York during the 80s.
“To revolutionize make a change nothing’s strange / People, people we are the same / No, we’re not the same/ Cause we don’t know the game,
What we need is awareness / we can’t get careless…”
COMMON ft. JOHN LEGEND - GLORY
Winning an Oscar isn’t the only power that Common and John Legend’s song ‘Glory’ holds. Taken from the 2014 soundtrack Selma, the collaborative powerhouse expresses the Martin Luther King Jr.-led march for voting for rights. Portraying an important message in order to fight for justice and end racism, the duo also admitted to the song being a true reflection of current day events.
“Every day women and men become legends / Sins that go against our skin become blessings / The movement is a rhythm to us/Freedom is like religion to us.”
LIL BABY - THE BIGGER PICTURE
Lil Baby is potent with his words. Raising his hand in cohesion and donning a Black Lives Matter T-shirt, his track ‘The Bigger Picture’ embroils themes of stereotype, paranoia, harsh realities and real-life footage. With tribute to George Floyd, Baby’s lyrical analysis almost acts as a self-reflection.
“I find it crazy the police’ll shoot you and know that you dead / But still tell you to freeze / F****d up, I seen what I seen / I guess that mean hold him down if he say he can’t breathe / It’s too many mothers that’s grieving / They killing us for no reason”
YG - FTP
At first it was Donald Trump, now it’s F*ck the Police. YG is no stranger to brazen lyrics, especially when it comes to speaking out on behalf of the people. ‘FTP’ serves as 2020s most recent protest anthem, accompanied by toneless visuals featuring footage from BLM rallies and anti-police protests.
“Been tired, f**k cardboard signs, we in the field / It’s the Ku Klux cops, they on a mission / It’s the Ku Klux cops, got hidden agendas / It’s the truth”
ARETHA FRANKLIN - REPSECT
Aretha Franklin’s cover of Otis Reading’s ‘Respect’ stands firmly at the forefront of any powerful list of songs. An iconic symbol to the civil rights movement and women. Initially connoting a different type of respect. However, Franklin’s sturdiness and musical ability flipped the concept in a time where there was a lot of segregation in the industry. A number of years later, and the critically acclaimed song is still one of many that will forever hold ‘respect’ in its name.
“I ain’t gonna do you wrong while you’re gone / Ain’t gonna do you wrong ’cause I don’t wanna
All I’m askin’ / Is for a little respect when you come home (just a little bit)”
Tune in to our exclusive PAUSE Picks: Black History Month Special playlist below.
PHOTO CREDIT: (Featured image)