The soundtrack to the revolution: The newest wave of protest songs

Aug. 18, 2020, 9:36 p.m.

After the death of George Floyd on May 25, the Black Lives Matter movement experienced a resurgence as waves of protests swept the country to call for justice and an end to systemic racism in the United States. The following is a list of songs by Black artists protesting the police brutality against, and oppression of, Black people.

“The Bigger Picture” by Lil Baby (June 12, 2020)

Lil Baby returned to the music scene after his album “My Turn” took the world by storm earlier this year to deliver his own commentary on the divide between police officers and people of color. In “The Bigger Picture,” he continues with his style of auto-tuned vocals over trap beats but switches to rapping about his experiences with police as a young Black man and while protesting in his hometown of Atlanta. Throughout the track, he discusses the complexities of the history and reality of race relations in America and what must be done to make change.

Notable Lyrics:

“We just some products of our environment, how the f*** they gon’ blame us”

“I can’t lie like I don’t rap about killing and dope, but I’m telling my youngins to vote”

“It’s bigger than Black and white, it’s a problem with the whole way of life”

“Pig Feet” by Terrace Martin & Denzel Curry ft. Kamasi Washington, G Perico & Daylyt (June 1, 2020)

Within a week of George Floyd’s murder, multi-instrumentalist Terrace Martin and Florida rapper Denzel Curry released a track speaking out against police brutality. The song’s title refers to the use of the word “pig” as a derogatory term for police officers. The track uses loud and jarring drums to convey feelings of fury to complement Terrace’s and Denzel’s aggressive flows and clear frustration with the state of the country.

Notable Lyrics:

They shot him, oh my God, he didn’t even have a gun”

“Murder was the case they gave us, manipulate the system so the prison could save us”

“Tragedy all over the screen like William Shakespeare plays”

“Lockdown” by Anderson .Paak (June 19, 2020)

On Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the emancipation of slaves in the U.S., Anderson .Paak released a track detailing his experiences at the Black Lives Matter protests in Los Angeles. He sings over an ’80s funk-like instrumental, talking about his reasons for protesting and actions of the police he witnessed. The music video for the song features cameos from other prominent Black artists and an a capella verse from California rapper Jay Rock.

Notable Lyrics:

Lil’ tear gas cleared the whole place out, I’ll be back with the hazmat for the next round”

“Look out for the secret agents, they be planted in the crowd, said ‘It’s civil unrest,’ but you sleep so sound”

“We just wanna break chains like slaves in the South”

“Snow on tha Bluff” by J. Cole (June 16, 2020) and “Song 33” by Noname (June 18, 2020)

After Chicago rapper Noname criticized J. Cole and other Black rappers in a since-deleted tweet for not speaking out on social media about the protests, Cole released “Snow on tha Bluff.” He delivers one continuous verse that touches on Noname’s critiques, police brutality, racism and his desire for his fans not to idolize him but rather to see him as a normal man. Noname responded in her own track “Song 33,” with legendary hip hop producer Madlib. She discusses the plight of Black women in the United States and further criticized Cole for rapping about her instead of more pertinent issues.

Notable Lyrics from “Snow on tha Bluff”:

“How you gon’ lead, when you attackin’ the very same n***** that really do need the shit that you sayin’?”

“It’s a reason it took like two hundred years for our ancestors just to get freed, these shackles be lockin’ the mental way more than the physical”

“I done betrayed the very same people that look at me like I’m some kind of a hero”

Notable Lyrics from “Song 33”:

“I saw a demon on my shoulder, it’s lookin’ like patriarchy”

“He really ’bout to write about me when the world is in smokes? When it’s people in trees? When George was beggin’ for his mother, saying he couldn’t breathe, you thought to write about me?”

“It’s trans women bein’ murdered and this is all he can offer?”

“Front Lines” by Conway the Machine (June 1, 2020)

After dropping two albums earlier this year, Griselda rapper Conway the Machine released a track discussing the perception of Black Americans by the public and the police. Using a grimy ’90s boom bap instrumental, he tells the story of a Black man who is profiled and pulled over by the police. The end of the song features audio from a reporter in Minneapolis reporting on a police precinct being burned to the ground during riots in May.

Notable Lyrics:

“Another racist cop kill a n**** and get to leave, he screamin’, ‘I can’t breathe,’ cop ignorin’ all his pleas, hands in his pocket, leanin’ on his neck with his knees”

“Cracker invent the laws, that’s why the system is flawed, cops killin’ Black people on camera and don’t get charged”

“What if it was my son? I wonder how I’m gon’ react”

Additional Tracks:

“Black Parade” by Beyonce (June 19, 2020)

“FTP” by YG (June 2, 2020)

“2020 Riots: How Many Times” by Trey Songz (June 5, 2020)

“Rage” by Nnamdï (June 5, 2020)

“I Can’t Breathe” by H.E.R. (June 19, 2020)

“Lock My Body” by Jon Swaii ft. Chris Patrick (May 25, 2020)

“Let Go” DSmoke ft. SiR (May 29, 2020)

Contact Zahaan Riyaz at zahaanr7 ‘at’

Zahaan Riyaz is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily's Summer Journalism Workshop.

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