9 Songs You Didn’t Know You Needed For #BLM
Educating ourselves and actively rejecting ignorance is beyond important all the time. During #BLM, a common theme for allies and people, in general, is to advocate for Black lives by educating ourselves through reading, listening, and letting go of privileged comforts.
I was recently having a discussion with a friend and after asking how they are doing during the Black Lives Matter Movement, they mentioned that music had helped them cope with the uncertainty. I asked them to expand on that thought, and they told me that they have a small playlist of songs that are giving them comfort, support, and power right now. This is a time where I and a lot of other folks have been collecting different literature to empathize with and learn from the black community
This pushed me to think about how we learn and educate ourselves. Music is an art form of expression that is connected to the very foundations of experience and emotion. Specifically, the rap genre is an extremely poetically powerful tool for expressing pains and giving insight into the lives of traditionally oppressed individuals. It holds a powerful perspective that can offer an emotional understanding of the black community that taps into trenches of history, pain, and the action of fighting oppression.
I thought it would be impactful to create a collection of music that has brought me on an emotional and intellectual journey in the past, and present.
I have found nine songs and two albums (some of which were recommended by my friend) that I feel are powerful tools for learning and empathizing right now. They are a backdrop to the Black Lives Matter Movement that I didn’t know I needed. I hope you’ll find it just as useful and moving as I did.
Blk Girl Soldiers, Jamila Woods
This is Woods’ second single from her album “Heavn”. This song, released in 2016, underlines the threat of being a black body in our society. The unnerving fact is that a black person and a white person cannot take the same comfort in a system that is supposed to serve to protect all folks because it intrinsically works against black individuals.
“We go missing by the hundreds
Ain't nobody checkin' for us
Ain't nobody checkin 'for us”
Hell You Talmbout, Janelle Monae
From the album “The Electric Lady” this protest song is six and a half minutes of beautifully chorused chanting. Saying the names of black individuals who were murdered by police or civilians. The powerful tone of this song and the integration of gospel repetition makes it a piece of art that is deeply moving.
“Red, white, and blue
Here come the sirens
Only to dance
With the little girls on the corner
There’s war in the streets
And now a boy laying on the ground”
Cry No More, Rhiannon Giddens
Written after the Charleston shooting in June 2016, this song is a response to historical violence against black folks that still affects them today due to systematic and social racism. She wrote this song to spread awareness about the atrocity that occurred at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. It is a song that holds onto history and refuses to let people turn away from the truth that is rampant in North American society: it is unsafe, even in a house of worship, to have black skin.
“First, they sold our bodies
I can’t cry no more
Then they sold our sons
I can’t cry no more"
Strange Fruit, Billie Holiday
Released in 1939, an oldie but a goodie. Holiday includes ominous lyrics overlapping melancholy tones to amplify the intensity of what she is singing about. Lynchings that were done against black people for petty “crimes” (even looking at someone wrong could get you murdered as a black man). She uses dark humour to highlight and bring awareness to a horrific and very real scene of the experiences for the black community.
“Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swingin' in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin' from the poplar trees”
Black Rage, Lauryn Hill
This masterpiece involves Hill singing the violent realities many black families and individuals face to the tune of “My Favourite Things” which is recognized from The Sound of Music as a sweet and lighthearted song. By manipulating this song she works to raise consciousness and awareness to the reason why movements like BLM are so important and why they should be important to not just black folks, but to everyone. She puts into perspective why the outrage the black community is facing is beyond fair, and why we should all be outraged.
“Black rage is founded on blatant denial
Squeezed economics, subsistence survival
Deafening silence and social control
Black rage is founded on wounds in the soul”
Be Free, J. Cole
J.Cole released his song “Be Free” in August of 2014 in response to the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri. This tribute speaks to the fact that we are numb to young black men being murdered because they are seen as “more suspicious” or “dangerous”. J.Cole sings lyrics that say this in a powerful way.
“All we want do is take these chains off
All we want do is break the chains of pain
All we want do is be free
All we want do is be free”
First World Problems, Chance The Rapper & Daniel Caesar
Performed on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and with Daniel Caesar on guitar, Chance The Rapper exposed a vulnerable story. He critiques the American dream with meaningful lyrics about the realities of life in America for those outside the dominant social status: The water crisis in Flint Michigan, the dangers of being a teenage girl, or a gay person on the streets of America.
“Have a dream and then never wake up
When so much turns to too much
Have a dream and then never wake up”
Glory, Common & John Legend
This song, released in 2014 was created for the soundtrack to “Selma” but has been successful beyond pairing with the film’s storyline. Legend wanted to write something that connected the historical past with the protests and atmosphere occurring at the time. This beautiful gospel-esque song eloquently combines the frustrations of injustice with hope for a stronger, united community.
“The movement is a rhythm to us
Freedom is like religion to us
Justice is juxtapositionin' us
Justice for all just ain't specific enough”
Featured on Prince’s HITnRUN Phase 2 album, this song released in 2015 hosts lyrics that question the violent nature of society towards black citizens. He states that peace is more than just a calm appearance. The song suggests we need to be actively anti-racist much like the echoes we hear from the current protests.
“Does anybody hear us pray
For Michael Brown or Freddie Gray?
Peace is more than the absence of war”
BONUS! 2 Albums You Need to Hear Right Now!
Lemonade Album, Beyonce
I wouldn’t be fulfilling this list if I didn’t include Beyonce’s entire Lemonade album. I’m aware of how popular this has been but that doesn’t mean it should be disregarded. And if you haven’t listened to it, do!
From 2016, it is a beautiful compilation that depicts the lived experience of black women in America. For a more intricate breakdown of her album visit here.
To Pimp a Butterfly Album [explicit], Kendrick Lamar
This album is a must-listen. Specifically the song “Alright” and “The Blacker The Berry”.
Lamar creates a conscious and incredible album that holds so much true expression and beautifully combined genres. His lyricism is brilliant. Connect here for a full review.
If this article is something that interests you, I urge you to look up songs that have been mentioned about the atrocities going on and give them a listen. As an additional tid bit, look up “Black Lives Matter” on Spotify.