Breaking beats: Protest jams
“Don’t punish me with brutality. Talk to me, so you can see.” Marvin Gaye sings in, “What’s Going On.” A similar sound is heard today, as the same topics come to light under a new, more-connected generation of activists. While songs like “We Shall Overcome” and tracks by Bob Dylan once inspired our parents and grandparents generation, protest songs still hold power today.
Across the nation, college students are protesting racist administration and campus culture. But this generation is known to chant a little more Kendrick Lamar and a little less Marvin Gaye. While tempos and samples have changed, social unrest inspires musicians to create songs that make people want to rally and unite for change. Here are my favorite songs that make you wanna stand up for something you believe in.
N.W.A. — F*** Tha Police
They have the authority to kill a minority
F*** that shit, cause I ain’t the one
The title says it all. Ice Cube and the boys of N.W.A. do not feel good about law enforcement. In the successful N.W.A. biopic, you see how the song was inspired by aggressive racial profiling in Los Angeles in the early ‘90s. Oh how things haven’t changed…
Janelle Monáe — Cold War
This is a cold war
Do you know what you’re fighting for?
Kendrick Lamar — Alright
I’m at the preacher’s door
My knees gettin’ weak and my gun might blow but we gon’ be alright
After attendees at a Black Lives Matter conference clashed with police over the arrest of a 14 year old in Cleveland, the crowd began to chant the chorus of “Alright.” It’s a stark contrast to the sound of 1960s civil rights protest songs, as this Washington Post article points out. “I was terribly disappointed. The beat was too harsh; the lyrics were nasty and misogynistic,” author Barbara Reynolds wrote. But I don’t think Lamar wrote “Alright” thinking this is going to be the soundtrack of a movement, it just kind of happened. On the other hand, songs like “We Shall Overcome” were clearly made to protest. Regardless of every single lyric, “Alright” represents a generation ready to fight for change, and has a banging beat.
Devendra Banhart — Heard Somebody Say
We don’t want to kill
Banhart sings a message about war. The soft and indie makes you think too.
Arcade Fire — Intervention
I know no matter what you say
There are some debts you’ll never pay
“Intervention” takes a jab at the purpose of war with a story of a soldier and his religion. The song comes off Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible, a political record that questions the military, church, entertainment industry and the state of privacy. “Intervention” had hipsters all over questioning the state of our nation in 2006.
Nena — 99 Luftballons
So they shot at the horizon
at 99 balloons
This ‘80s jam about the Berlin Wall may be in German but it had people all over the world jamming out to an anti-war song without even knowing it. The song even went to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1984.
Gwen Stefani — Long Way to Go ft. Andre 3000
Beauty is beauty, whether it’s black or white
Yellow or green baby, you know what I mean
Straight from Gwen’s questionable Harajuku period, the collaboration with Andre 3000, “Long Way To Go,” is about interracial love and the challenges that come with it. Try to pay no mind to the “Beyond Martin Luther, Upgrade Computer” part… what is that even supposed to mean?
Black Eyed Peas — Where is the Love
Can you practice what you preach?
Or would you turn the other cheek?
Black Eyed Pea’s “Where is the Love” might be the most anti-hate song of Y2K. It makes you ask, “What’s wrong with the world mama?”
Blood Orange — Sandra’s Smile
Closed our eyes for a while, but I still see Sandra’s smile
Devonté Hynes released the Blood Orange track “Sandra’s Smile” in response the deaths of Sandra Bland and Trayvon Martin. He personally annotated the track on Genius.
Miguel — Candles in the Sun
Sun goes down, heroes often get shot
Peace has long been forgot
Miguel gets all political with “Candles in the Sun,” singing about babies on crack and a whole bunch of unfortunate situations.