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Nü Sound’s Guide to Protest Music

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Photo from D.C. protests by M. Scott Mahaskey


With protests for racial justice after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor now taking place in all fifty states, people across the country are finally speaking out against the realities of oppression in America. As a music publication, we’re here to help you soundtrack this purposeful outrage with relevant songs and artists that speak to the unjust conditions of Black communities in this country. This will by no means be an exhaustive list, but use it as a guide to look further into the incredible art being released by marginalized voices everyday. As a general rule, it focuses on recent releases and songs that have been used in direct connection with Black Lives Matter protests.

 

“Alright” by Kendrick Lamar

A sort of unofficial anthem adopted by the Black Lives Matter movement during the Ferguson protests following the killing of Michael Brown, “Alright” is truly the defining song for those looking to fight racial oppression. The 2015 track comes from Kendrick Lamar’s masterwork To Pimp A Butterfly, an essential album heavily concerned with the Black experience in modern America.

Best line: “And we hate po-po / Wanna kill us dead in the street for sure”

 

“FDT” by YG feat. Nipsey Hussle

Short for “Fuck Donald Trump,” this protest anthem from Los Angeles rapper YG famously arrived during the 2016 election. The video shows the shutdown of the planned video shoot by police at the time. The song also features the late rapper Nipsey Hussle who was killed outside his Los Angeles store in 2019. YG recently released a spiritual sequel similarly titled “FTP” (short for “Fuck the Police”).

Best line: “Fuck Donald Trump”

 

“Pig Feet” by Terrance Martin feat. Denzel Curry, Kamasi Washington, G Perico, & Daylyt

This brand new track from producer Terrance Martin features verses from Denzel Curry, G Perico, and Daylyt and a performance from saxophonist Kamasi Washington. It arrived with a powerful video that features early footage from the current protests and a long list of names of victims of police brutality.

Best line: “Mama wants me baptized, swimmin’ in this blood shore / Shut down schools to open drugs and gun stores”

 

“Blaxploitation” by Noname

Chicago rapper Noname’s music has always been deeply entrenched in themes of Black oppression and injustice in America. This tight song from her most recent album Room 25 directly addresses topics of forced Black performativity and economic hypocrisy. As an advocate for education, Noname founded a book club to highlight Black literature and Black-owned businesses.

Best line: “Bad sleep triggered by bad government / Write a think piece in the rap song, the new age covenant”

 

“walking in the snow” by Run The Jewels feat. Gangsta Boo

Coming off the recently released RTJ4, Killer Mike and El-P continue their streak as hip hop’s angry uncles. This song, with vocals from Gangsta Boo, features an incredibly timely second verse from Killer Mike, though in a recent tweet El-P claimed it was recorded in 2019. This sad predictability sheds light on the inevitability of racial injustice within our current system. An outspoken activist in his own right, Atlanta native Killer Mike recently garnered national attention for his emotional speech about protests in his city.

Best line: “And you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me / And ’til my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, ‘I can’t breathe'”

 

“BLACK LIVES MATTER” by Teejayx6

This collaboration between rapper Teejayx6 and producer TM88 marries Teejayx6’s distinct, choppy Detroit scam-raps (exemplified on his Dynamic Duo series with Kasher Quon) with conscious lyrics about protesting and fighting against the police. The song is a testament to the broad scope of oppression across the country in all kinds of Black communities, including the meme-indebted Black Air Force One culture Teejayx6 helped to popularize.

Best line: “We can’t even use our hammers / All I can say is Black lives matter”

 

“Almeda” by Solange feat. Playboi Carti

Taken from the singer’s most recent album When I Get Home, the Texas native spreads a message of Black excellence in the face of a predatory media culture that tries to conveniently co-opt easily marketable elements of African American culture. The video, shot in iconic locations around Houston, is a clip from the short film released alongside the album. “Almeda” was also one of the earliest usages of Playboi Carti’s distinct “baby voice” as an artistic tool, something seen later on Tyler, The Creator’s “EARFQUAKE.”

Best line: “These are black-owned things / Black faith still can’t be washed away”

 

“Mathematics” by Mos Def

Mos Def, now professionally known as Yasiin Bey, has a storied history as one of hip hop’s greatest lyricists. This DJ Premier produced song from the 1999 album Black on Both Sides is one of the rapper’s signature tracks, with good reason. It sees him exercising incredible lyrical dexterity while thematically quoting statistics and referencing numbers about marginalized communities in the United States. For those looking to learn more about the numbers of oppression, this song is a great place to start.

Best line: “Hip-Hop passed all your tall social hurdles / Like the nationwide projects-prison-industry complex”

 

“We The People….” by A Tribe Called Quest

A Tribe Called Quest have been spitting rhymes about liberation and injustice for decades, but this song from their final album We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service brings the conscious bars of Q-Tip and the late Phife Dawg to a new generation. While it primarily recounts the Black struggle in America, it also relates to the widespread suffering endured by every marginalized group, including Mexicans, Muslims, the LGBTQ+ community, and others.

Best line: “False narratives of Gods that came up against the odds / We’re not just n*** rappers with the bars”

 

“Papi I Missed U” by JPEGMAFIA

The self-proclaimed “Left Wing Hades” takes no prisoners. JPEGMAFIA’s music is deliberately weird, an experimental exploration into the limits of hip hop as a genre. But on “Papi I Missed U” Peggy uses these unique sonics to delve into the racist structures behind the music industry and the capital L Liberal agenda, calling out injustices with comedic, absurdist, and endlessly quotable bars.

Best line: “I’m a terrorist, I don’t spit raps, bitch I spit rhetoric / And I be in your kid’s mind, gettin’ leverage”

 

“Front Lines” by Conway the Machine

As one third of the Buffalo group Griselda, Conway the Machine puts his drug dealer raps and machine gun ad-libs in conversation with the current swell of protests. The song is a call to fight systematic oppression with concrete action, a call made through a vivid recounting of Conway’s experience seeing the death of George Floyd in the song’s second verse. In true Griselda fashion, the song revels in a kind of classy underworld chaos, culminating in a news clip narrating the torching of a police station in Minneapolis.

Best line: “What if it was my son? I wonder how I’m gon’ react / I bet I’m finna run up in this precinct with this MAC”

 

“SMD” by Pink Siifu

Loud. Abrasive. Angry. Pink Siifu realizes an incredibly powerful emotional vision across his recent album Negro that not only tells the story of being Black in America but puts the listener into the mental state of a Black person in the heat of a horrific situation. While this song and accompanying video stand on their own, the album is a worthwhile listen in its entirety. Read Nü Sound’s feature on Negro here.

Best line: “White man tryna take our shit”

 

“Meet Again” by Maxo Kream

On “Meet Again,” Houston rapper Maxo Kream contemplates the effects of the prison industrial complex on Black communities through a letter to an incarcerated friend. The personal writing situates the song in a unique niche compared to the many sweeping states against Black oppression, highlighting the realities of suffering experienced by people living under constant threat of imprisonment and economic insecurity.

Best line: “I’d rather be carried by 6 before I’m judged by 12 / Fuck 12, before I tell, I’ll tell ’em crackers burn in hell”

 

“Drowning” by Mick Jenkins feat. BADBADNOTGOOD

Given the current refrain of protesters echoing some of George Floyd’s dying words, the song’s “I can’t breath” lines (at the time quoting the similar dying words of Eric Garner) ring out louder than ever before. The BADBADNOTGOOD produced song marches along with a steady bass line as Mick Jenkins questions the powers that be trying to drown Black voices. The accompanying video starts with a violent encounter between a slave and two slave masters, but optimistically sees the slave set out on a river, rescue other castaways, and ultimately capture the men who “punished” them in the first place.

Best line: “When the real holds you down, you supposed to drown right? / Wait, wait, that don’t sound right”

 

“Fuck Tha Police” by N.W.A.

A truly timeless articulation of the Black experience in America; this song needs no explanation. It’s straightforward. It’s raw. It’s honest. If you haven’t taken the time to listen to it with critical ears, now is the perfect opportunity.

Best line: “Fuck the police comin’ straight from the underground / A young n*** got it bad ’cause I’m brown”


Once again, this by no means covers all of the incredible music being released everyday by Black artists speaking on their life in America, but it should serve as a primer for those looking to dive headfirst into art from marginalized communities in the present moment. There will be plenty more songs to come, but use this list as a springboard on your educational journey alongside Black literature and intellectual work.

Read Nü Sound’s guide to supporting Black Lives Matter here.

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Andrew Checchia is a second-year student at UCLA. Currently an English major and a film minor, he is following a passion for writing and diverse forms of artistic expression. Born in Redlands, California, he moved to St. Louis, Missouri at a young age, where he lived for ten years. From there, he moved to Houston, Texas for middle school and high school.

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