My must-listen list of music containing singles released between May 30th and June 5th, all which specifically reference systematic racism, police brutality, and/or the associated protests which have occurred and continue to occur across the world.
With this particular must-listen list, I am going to do things a little differently. Normally, I would give an interpretation of a particular song’s meaning. However, during this time, it is crucial to listen to those directly impacted by racism and brutalities, not create our own assumptions about their individual experiences. In order to properly support those experiencing injustices and racism, we must first understand the situation from their perspective. For the white supporters of the BLM movement (myself included) this means acknowledging our own privileges and confronting the innate societal struggles for those who don’t have them — this is a time to listen and learn.
Music provides an outlet for artists to express their own experiences, in their own words. So, instead of me speaking on behalf of each artist about experiences I can never fully understand, I will let the lyrics and the artist’s words speak for themselves.
23 yo South African rapper Nasty C announced the drop of the single on Instagram twice. First, with a caption: “A LIL SOMETHING TO HELP HEAL…”. And the second time included an important note in the caption: “ALL PROCEEDS FROM SONG WILL BE DONATED to the UNTIL FREEDOM AND SOLIDARITY FUND.”
In the chorus and the first verse, Nasty C heartbreakingly expresses the racist hatred faced by black men in society and directly references the systematic racism occurring within the criminal justice system.
"They don't want me to win, they don't want me to eat They don't want to see a young black man succeed They don't want to see me take my brothers out of the streets They don't me They don't want me to sleep, they don't want me to dream They don't want to see my people living' good and at ease They wanna lock 'em all up and then get rid of the keys We ain't never free"
"I can only image the pain and the grief From the innocent mothers with all the shit they had to see When you lose the ones you love to the fuckin' police, it cuts deep" "It gets so fuckin' hard, we can't escape the dark"
In verse two, T.I. directly names victims of police brutality (George Floyd, Emmett Till, Sean Bell, Breonna Taylor, and Sandra Bland) and references the manner in which the Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd.
"2020, guess it's the year of the burn, consequences you earn To build this nation that you hate me in, the karma's returned Well, that's a stupid question, when will you learn? You never will, word to George Floyd, Emmett Till, and Sean Bell Guess they'd rather see us all in civil unrest Than to go and make some fuckin' arrests, fuck is that? Well, after that, here's to getting exactly what you expect How you 'posed to serve and protect with your knee on my neck?"
In the third and final verse, Nasty C pays homage to his queen, his mother.
"I know you worried sick about if I'ma make it home this evening You know 'cause of my color, life ain't gon' be easy But I'ma be okay if I tell God I need Him That's what you taught me without even knowing you teaching See what I'm tryna say is you the furthest from weak And I sing your praises because you a G You made me and made the world a better place for your seeds How the fuck could anybody take 'em away from they queen?"
[ ℗ 2020 Universal Music (Pty) Ltd South Africa, Def Jam Recordings / Grand Hustle. ]
Trey Songz explained the inspiration behind the new gospel-inspired protest anthem: “With the words in this song I just wanted to speak to everyone’s hearts and acknowledge the pain and anguish everyone is going through right now…”
Before the single was released, Songz posted a dark image of George Floyd on Instagram with the caption “How many lives?” to prelude the single’s chorus.
"How many mothers have to cry? How many brothers gotta die? How many more times? How many more times? How many more marches? How many more signs? How many more lives? How many more times?"
"Take a look around, can you see it now? Don't be colorblind, 'cause when they're killin' mine They'll try to justify it Oh each and every time"
"Tell me how can you be quiet? You know the language of the unheard, is a riot All we ever see from you is violence You know you ain't no better if you silent You talking 'bout the city on fire Where your rage when my people die?"
Before the final chorus featuring an awe-inspiring gospel choir, Songz ends the second verse with an extremely powerful and simple proclamation dedicated to the 2020 riots:
"Now it's time, watch my people rise."
[ ℗ 2020 Atlantic Records. ]
To announce her latest single, Joy Oladokun posted a series of images on Instagram detailing the ‘burning in her chest for justice’ that she’s been experiencing long before the current protests began. Her personal need for justice stems from her experiences being “the world’s 3 most despised things”- black, queer, and a woman. “Who Do I Turn To?” is about her, “a young black woman looking for answers in a world that refuses to even acknowledge her questions.” At the end of the image series, Oladokun dedicates part of her portion of royalties to Launchpad Nashville, which is cold weather shelter for LGBTQ youth, in honor of Tony MacDade, a transgender man who was recently killed by police. She writes: “…black queer babies are suffering greater violence and societal indifference than any other group. Please think of, donate to, and pray for them as well.”
In the chorus, Oladokun addresses not only systematic racism, but also homophobia.
"If I can't call for help In the middle of the night If I can't turn to god And I can't turn to you Who do I turn to? Who do I turn to?"
The two verses of the track address the systematic racism occurring within the criminal justice system, and how these injustices make her “scared” and “tired.”
"I'm scared of getting pulled over 'cause of someone else I look like I'm scared of raising my voice 'cause everyone will think that I'm gonna fight" "I'm tired of watching my kind be accused when they're young and they're innocent I'm tired of turning on the news and wondering why it happened again"
[ ℗ 2020 White Boy Records. ]
Mickey Guyton announced her single on Instagram with the caption reading: “…I wrote this song over a year ago because I was so tired of seeing so much hate and oppression. And yet here we are in the exact same place! We must change that. I hope this song can give you a small glimpse into what my brothers and sisters have endured for 400+ years…”
"Little kid in a small town I did my best just to fit in Broke my heart on the playground, When they said I was different [...] Now, I'm all grown up and nothin' has changed Yeah it's all the same"
In an interview with Taste of Country, the country singer stated the song is “about the bigger spectrum of things and about humanity. And that’s why we did it. It was purely to try to at least get people to hear different perspectives.”
"If you think we live in the land of the free You should try to be black like me"
[ ℗ A Capitol Records Nashville Release; ℗ 2020 UMG Recordings, Inc. ]
Bellinger announced the song on Instagram, along with a powerful visual and extensive caption that includes his intentions: “…When will it stop? How many more innocent black lives do we have to lose? We’re crying for help. Enough is Enough!!! I’m not sure what it’s gonna take and when it’s gonna stop but I had to take a moment to speak out and express myself the only way I know how. By writing a song…”
"First, they drain you mentally Threatening your identity Then they treat you like the enemy Goddamn, repetition of history"
[ ℗ 2020 YFS (Your Favorite Song) / EMPIRE. ]
Sudanese-American singer-songwriter Dua Saleh has dedicated each aspect of this song, including the lyrics, the cover art, and the proceeds, to the efforts to end police brutality. Their announcement on Instagram reads: “‘body cast’ is a song I made […] last year and intended to save it for a project in the future but I can’t wait that long with what is happening in Minneapolis. this song is about police brutality and injustice […] 100% of the proceeds will be donated to @blackvisionscollective who are mobilizing their efforts for real change – link in bio / all of the names listen in this cover art were unarmed black people killed by police in recent years…”
For the intro of the song, Saleh features audio from an unlawful police encounter.
"There's nothing going on here And you are violating my rights, sweetheart Now, tell me that I'm fucking wrong You can't cause I'm not wrong [...]
[ ℗ 2020 AGAINST GIANTS. ]
In “Front Lines,” Conway the Machine directly references the video of the Minneapolis PD murdering George Floyd in the street.
"I just seen a video on the news I couldn't believe Another racist cop kill a ni*** 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"
Conway also directs his attention to the root of systematic racism and how police are using race as an excuse to arrest Black men.
"Cracker invent the laws, that's why the system is flawed Cops killin' black people on camera and don't get charged We ain't takin' no more, we ain't just pressin' record Can't watch you kill my brother, you gon' have to kill us all Just 'cause he from the ghetto, that don't mean he selling' crack He driven' home from work, you pull him over 'cause he black Think he gangbangin' 'cause he got dreads and a few tats"
Conway then details what happens during a Black man’s encounter with police.
"He reach for his ID, you think he reachin' for a strap He get out, put his hands up, and he still gettin' clapped But if he try to run, you just gon' shoot him in his back What if it was my son? I wonder how I'm gon' react"
[ ℗ 2020 Griselda Records / Drumwork. ]
Tee Grizzley announced the single release on Instagram with the caption: “I’m not a politician or activist but right now it’s everybody’s job to speak up because the pain, the struggle for equality and the brutality is real…”
For “Mr.Officer”, the lyrics truly speak for themselves.
[Queen Naija] "Mister Officer, Mister Officer Y'all are killin' us Mister Officer What if that was my brother? What if that was my dad? What if that was my uncle? What if they were all I had?"
[Tee Grizzley] "Y'all supposed to be the heroes though You know, protect and serve, y'all takin' us off of the Earth I see the police and it fuck with my nerves They pullin' me over, I'm showin' 'em both of my hands And watchin' my words, I got insurance, no warrants He pointin' his gun like he wanna blow it Tell me why we gotta die? He went for his wallet, reached for a gun You think that some shit he'd try? On a cop? He can't breathe and you still choking' him, man, why would he lie? Your knee in his neck, you ain't gotta do all that It's one against five, RIP"
[Tee Grizzley] "I see a lot of people not sayin' nothin' Like what if that shit was you, huh? What if that was your brother? What if that was your dad? What if that was your son? What if that was all you had?"
[ ℗ 2020 300 Entertainment. ]
Producer Terrace Martin initially announced the single on Instagram with the caption: “Someone ask[ed] how do I feel? I told them hurt, fearless, angry, aware[,] and fully ready to protect me, my family, and my people at all cost. I got together with black men that felt the same way…” He proceeded to post an incredibly powerful visual for the song featuring actual footage from the current protests happening across America. The visual begins with the sound of 3 gunshots followed by a written reminder reading “this video is happening right outside your window.”
[Denzel Curry] "Helicopters over my balcony If the police can't harass, they wanna smoke every ounce of me"
The track also includes an intro and interlude detailing the aftermath of the police shooting an unarmed victim. In the intro, a female voice (Britney Thomas) hysterically narrates what happened:
"They shot him They shot him, they shot him Oh my God, he didn't even have a gun Oh my God, he didn't have a gun"
[ ℗ 2020 Sounds of Crenshaw / EMPIRE. ]
Meek Mill’s intro for “Otherside of America” samples Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign rally speech, which was directed to African-American voters:
"You're living in poverty. Your schools are no good. You have no jobs. Fifty-eight percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?"
The outro for the track samples Meek Mill’s CNN interview with Michael Smercornish following his release from prison in 2018:
"I grew up in America in a ruthless neighborhood where were not protected by police. We grew up in ruthless environments, we grew up around murder, you see murder. You see seven people die a week, I think you would probably carry a gun yourself, would you?"
On Twitter one day before the song’s release, Meek Mill tweeted the clip from this interview with the caption reading “OTHERSIDE OF AMERIKKKA AND IM STAYING THERE FOREVER.” The lyrics for this track are Meek Mill’s way of “reportin’ live from the other side of America” to explain the Black experience.
"Ain't have no guidance, we grew up with hitters and did everything they said Point out the block, we spinning' that Run in the spot, we gettin' that Give us some work, we flippin' that I'm hittin' from jail, they ain't hittin' back"
"I was mad, I was tryna fight Ni***, we hungry Mama at work, daddy, he dead, ni*** we lonely Stomach growlin' like a AMG, goin' to bed, we hungry Uzi on me, all my friends are dead, ni***, we lonely Reportin' live from the other side of America"
[ ℗ 2020 Maybach Music Group LLC/Atlantic Recording Corporation. ]