Whether it be music, fashion, or film, no work of aesthetic expression exists in a vacuum. Art will always reflect and respond to the contexts in which it is made, and some works are even blatantly intended as clear social commentary. Music in particular has a long legacy of analyzing critical moments in American history. Protest music—especially Black protest music—has reflected on pivotal periods of time and motivated countless individuals to fight for change. The recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless other Black Americans have sparked a nationwide reckoning with the structural racism sewn into many of our legal, political, and social systems. Countless people have shown their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and this activism, along with the current pandemic, has inspired a number of Black artists to release new music about the current moment. Many artists dropped songs on Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the emancipation of enslaved people in the U.S. Among these new protest anthems are calls for people to go out and support the Black Lives Matter movement, and some tracks even outline specific ways to do so. Here, CR rounds up some of the recently dropped music in honor of Black lives.
Aretha Franklin and RCA Records
True legends really never die. Even after someone passes away, their legacy can continue to inspire for generations. On Juneteenth, RCA records released a never-before-heard mix of Aretha Franklin’s “Never Gonna Break My Faith.” The song was accompanied with a powerful music video featuring footage from the mid-century Civil Rights movement and more recent protests. Though the Grammy-winning song was originally made for the 2006 movie Bobby, it is still relevant today. “I am so proud hearing Aretha, of course after her passing, really get to work again–taking the lead in what has to be changed,”Franklin’s close friend and music legend Clive Davis said. “…[S]ometimes a song can be the leader of what triggers action and progress.”
On Juneteenth, Paak dropped the protest anthem “Lockdown,” a lyrically serious song sonically defined by Paak’s signature blend of funk, hip-hop, and R&B. The day before the song’s release, Paak dropped an accompanying music video directed by frequent Kendrick Lamar collaborator Dave Meyers. In the video, Paak and his fellow activists drive and listen to music and kick trash cans out of anger and sadness. They also strategize for future protests, remind each other to wear masks, and help heal one another—both physically and emotionally. At a restaurant reminiscent of a Southern lunch counter, Paak tends to an inflamed, oozing wound on his forehead, presumably from a policeman’s rubber bullet or night stick. Standing in a parking lot, Rapper Jay Rock delivers a powerful verse, “History repeatin’… Look at the world we live in … Black Lives Matter so what it mean they shoot at it?”
Last Friday, DC-based rapper Wale dropped The Imperfect Storm, a six-track EP recorded over the two weeks before its release. The rapper encourages Black activists, and praises the Black community’s tenacity and strength in the face of continued oppression and police brutality. “Try to police then we sob and repeat, I done seen this like a hundred million times…Resilient we are, we still here tomorrow,” he raps on “Movin’ Different.” With song titles stylized in capital letters and cover art of a roadside fire, the EP communicates a clear sense of urgency. Wale has often used his art to make powerful political statements. This March, he enlisted Pyer Moss’ Kerby Jean-Raymond—who recently announced a movie release of his own—to write and direct a music video “Sue Me.” In the video Jean-Raymond created an alternate America with subverted racial hierarchies, thus forcing viewers to critically consider the Black experience.
Alongside pal Alicia Keys, John Legend performed his new song “Never Break” for the first time on Juneteenth. Though the song’s lyrics address a potential romantic partner, the repeated “never break” lyric echoes Franklin’s “Never Gonna Break My Faith.” Plus, the song’s lyric video plays over footage of the Civil Rights movement. Legend’s song reminds his listener that “the world is dangerous, throw it all at us,” but “there’s nothing we cannot take.” Given his Juneteenth performance and powerful video, it is clear that the song is not just a love song, but also a cry to contemporary Black Lives Matter activists to “never break.”
“I’m goin’ back to the South,” the icon sings on the opening line of “Black Parade,” a hard-hitting homage to Beyoncé’s Black heritage. In the song she praises her family members, honors past Black leaders, and encourages future activism. Proceeds from the song will support local Black-owned businesses.
H.E.R. released the meditative “I Can’t Breathe.” “These lyrics were kind of easy to write because it came from a conversation with what’s happening right now, what’s been happening, and the change that we need to see,” the R&B artist said. “I think music is powerful when it comes to change and when it comes to healing, and that’s why I wrote this song, to make a mark in history.” H.E.R. performed the song for the first time for iHeartRadio’s Living Room Concert Series’ June 10 episode, which benefited the National Urban League.
The three-time Grammy-winning superproducer (not to be confused with rap legend and fellow producer Dr. Dre), is also an artist in his own right. Dre’s song “Captured on an iPhone” reflects the current moment, in which many are looking to Darnella Frazier, the 17-year-old who videotaped George Floyd’s murder, as a hero. With the song, Dre released a heavy video compilation of civilian-taped instances of police brutality. The video contained Frazier’s images of George Floyd, as well as less widely-seen images of police violence at current protests.
Dua Saleh released “Body Cast” in response to George Floyd’s murder. “County ain’t shit, they got bodies on the line,” the Minnesota up-and-comer sings. “Lately I’ve been analyzing time, Y’all been dodging cameras like they bullets over crime.” Saleh accompanied the song’s moving lyrics and hypnotic beat with haunting cover art: the names of Black people murdered by police in colorful pastel bubble settles against a solid black background. Saleh donated the song’s proceeds to the Black Visions Collective, a grassroots Minneapolis non-profit. “Body Cast” is not Saleh’s first socially relevant track. Their 2019 EP Nūr addressed issues of gender identity and diaspora—they are originally from Sudan and use they/them pronouns. After the song’s release, Saleh dropped their sophomore EP Rosetta, an homage to the legendary singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
In his new song “Otherside of America” Meek Mill describes coming of age in a community trapped in cycles of poverty. One of the more powerful parts of the song is the rapper’s frequent highlighting of the criminal justice system’s prevalence in the Black experience. Meek himself was the subject of the viral #FreeMeek campaign after a biased judge repeatedly punished him for minor parole violations after an initial charge of gun and drug possession. The song finishes with an audio clip of Meek’s appearance on CNN: “You see murder, you see seven people die a week, I think you would probably carry a gun yourself, Would you?” he asks host Michael Smerconish, who is white. The beat cuts out. Smerconish responds, “Uh, yeah, I probably would.” The song ends.
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createdAt:Wed, 24 Jun 2020 20:40:12 +0000