Where is today’s protest music? J. Cole, Elle Varner, T.I., Ezra Furman, Lauryn Hill, The Game and more answer with a soundtrack dedicated to Michael Brown and Ferguson, Missouri.
Two days before unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was fatally shot by an officer in a then little-known Ferguson, Missouri, my mother approached me about an article she had read that asked , “Where is this generation’s protest music?” And she wondered, “Where is the James Brown ‘Say It Loud’ of today?”
I immediately began putting a playlist together: any song from my collection that has been released within the past 20 years in protest of wars, injustice, the government, the music industry itself, etc.
In the wake of Brown’s murder, it seems many more artists have awakened to what seems to be a complete disregard of the rights of all U.S. citizens, along with a very well-constructed, long-standing campaign against those who are Black.
“White cops do not see value in young, Black men,” said Mississippi rapper David Banner on CNN . “And the reason why a lot of young, Black men — not all Black men — kill each other is because they don’t see any value either. So many people have bought into this Americanized system, and America historically has always tortured, killed and enslaved Black people. And I have not forgot that.”
Other artists have taken to composing songs to express their frustration, keying into ours as well. The pain and outrage span cross the genres of hip-hop, soul, and folk.
Unfortunately, as rapper T.I. points outs, the radio is no longer a place to hear musicians who want to see positive changes made in the world, leaving the power with social media.
Enjoy these songs below as they are released.
J. Cole led the charge with a heart-wrenching “Be Free” that finds North Carolina rapper crying out.
“I’m lettin’ you know / That there ain’t no gun they make that can kill my soul,” he sings over minimalist production that features audio of Michael Brown’s friend who witnessed his murder. Listen below.
Elle Varner pours her soulful heart out in “One Love,” which not only confronts gun violence but the resurgence of turmoil in the Gaza Strip and Iraq.
“And it hurts / It’s no different / What color our skin is / It’s the same unfortunate pain / And most of the time / We are to blame,” she sings. Listen below.
T.I + Skylar Grey
The Atlanta rapper sounds off on some contradictions within the American justice system: “Let me ask you something. If the kids are the future, tell me why you can get more for being C.O., than you can for being a teacher. Tell me why it means more to the government to pay the people who got to watch over the prisoners, more than the people who got to keep the children from becoming prisoners. That make sense? Tell me why 9 ounces of crack will get you more time than a rape right now.”
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Ezra Furman ‘s howling “Ferguson Is Burning” is a tune I came across thanks to PBS’ ArtBeat .
The Oakland-based singer-songwriter holds nothing back singing, “Michael Brown died in the Ferguson streets / Officer Wilson got weeks of paid leave / The message was clear, broadcast over the nation: / Kill a young black man, win a vacation.” Listen below.
A somber acoustic set to the tune Sound of Music ’s “My Favorite Things” by Rodgers & Hammerstein , Lauryn Hill ‘s soul-stirring “Black Rage” delves into America’s history of dehumanizing its black citizens.
“Black Rage is founded on two-thirds a person / Rapings and beatings and suffering that worsens / Black human packages tied up in strings” she croons from her living room while children are faintly heard in the background. Listen below.
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“I shouldn’t have to teach my kids / When you see the cops you run / Sergeant Fuck You has a gun / With intent of redrum / Doesn’t matter how come,” he raps on the Amazin J -produced track. Listen below.
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The Game + More
The Game enlists an army of artists to assist him on a Michael Brown dedication titled, “ Don’t Shoot.”
The DJ Khaled -produced track features Rick Ross, 2 Chainz, Diddy, Fabolous, Wale, Swizz Beatz, Yo Gotti, Currensy, Problem, King Pharaoh and R&B group TGT ( Tyrese, Ginuwine and Tank ).
On the song, Fabolous and Wale challenge others in the spotlight to address the national unrest unrest with the same fervor they have for the internet’s latest big social-humanitarianism trend, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.