Music

Black Lives Matter: 30 powerful songs about police brutality, anti-Black racism and revolution

Kendrick Lamar, Beyoncé and Shad's music speaks to a fight that has been going on for far too long.

Kendrick Lamar, Beyoncé and Shad's music speaks to a fight that has been going on for far too long

There's a long history of artists, particularly rappers, speaking out in song against police brutality and racism, and since the Black Lives Matter movement began in 2013, that tradition has become stronger than ever. (From left: Kendrick Lamar, Janelle Monae and Shad.) (Getty Images, Getty Images, TOBi/YouTube; graphic by CBC)

In 1988, Compton hip-hop group N.W.A. released "F--k tha Police," an urgent, powerful protest song that looked police brutality and racial profiling directly in the eye and demanded action. Today, that song's message is, sadly, still as relevant as ever. 

Since last Friday, "F--k tha Police" has seen a resurgence with a 272 per cent increase in on-demand streams, according to Rolling Stone. As demonstrations against the police killing of George Floyd, anti-Black racism and police brutality continue across the United States and around the world, people are turning to the music that speaks to that experience. 

Streams of Childish Gambino's "This is America" also jumped 149 per cent, while Kendrick Lamar's "Alright," which became a Black Lives Matter anthem when it was released in 2015, increased 71 per cent.

There's a long history of artists speaking out in song against police brutality and racism, and since the Black Lives Matter movement began in 2013, that tradition has only grown stronger. Below are 30 songs released since 2013 that are powerful, poignant reminders of what's going on right now. They come from musicians of all genres, although mostly rap and R&B. They are this generation's soundtrack to a fight that has been going on for far too long. 


'Be Free,' J Cole (2014)

Can you tell me why every time I step outside
I see my n--gas down
Ooh, I'm letting you know
That it ain't no gun they can make that could kill my soul.

'Black Rage,' Lauryn Hill (2014) 

Black rage is founded on blocking the truth
Murder and crime, compromise and distortion.

'Hands Up,' Vince Staples (2014)

Just your colour is enough to get you under arrest
Strong hand of the law got me feelin' oppressed 
If you flippin', kill a 50, then you get in a chair

Payin' taxes for some f--kin' clowns to ride around.

'The Charade,' D'Angelo and the Vanguard (2014)

All we wanted was a chance to talk
'Stead we only got outlined in chalk
Feet have bled a million miles we've walked
Revealing at the end of the day, the charade.

'Marching on Ferguson,' Tom Morello (2014) 

No peace and no patience
I'm under surveillance
Wish I woulda paid less
Different glove, same fit
I'm marching on Ferguson
I'm marching tonight.

'Don't Shoot,' the Game feat. Rick Ross, 2 Chainz, Diddy, Fabolous, Wale, DJ Khaled, Swizz Beatz, Yo Gotti, Currensy, Problem, King Pharaoh and TGT (2014)

Yo, come on we gotta stick together, we all we got
Police taking shots and I ain't talkin' 'bout Ciroc
I'm talking 'bout Emmett Till, I'm talking bout Ezell Ford
I'm talking 'bout Sean Bell, they never go to jail for
Trayvon over Skittles, Mike Brown Cigarillos
History keeps repeating itself, like a Biggie instrumental
America's a glass house and my revenge is mental
Rather use my brain than throw a cocktail through a window.

 

'Hell You Talmbout,' Janelle Monae (2015)

Walter Scott, say his name
Walter Scott, say his name
Walter Scott, say his name
Walter Scott, won't you say his name? 

'Sandra's Smile,' Blood Orange (2015) 

Who taught you to breathe, then took away your speech
Made you feel so loved, then shook your hand with gloves?
You watched her pass away the words she said weren't faint
Closed our eyes for a while, but I still see Sandra's smile. 

 

'Baltimore,' Prince feat. Eryn Allen Kane (2015)

Are we gonna see another bloody day?
We're tired of the cryin' and people dyin'
Let's take all the guns away.

'Insert Here,' Kardinal Offishall (2015) 

Too many Black boys get shot, 
Somewhere safe and in a tight box, 
It's a free Black's paradox.

'Cry No More,' Rhiannon Giddens (2015)

Five hundred years of poison (I can't cry no more)
Five hundred years of grief (I can't cry no more)
Five hundred years of reasons (I can't cry no more)

To weep with disbelief (I can't cry no more).

'16 Shots,' Vic Mensa (2016)

Got her first-born son stole from her
He never had a chance and we all know it's 'cause he's Black
Shot 'im 16 times, how f--ked up is that?

'Black America Again,' Common feat. Stevie Wonder (2016)

Here we go, here, here we go again
Trayvon'll never get to be an older man
Black children, they childhood stole from them
Robbed of our names and our language, stole again.

'Formation,' Beyoncé (2016)

OK, OK, ladies, now let's get in formation, ('cause I slay)
Okay, ladies, now let's get in formation, ('cause I slay)
Prove to me you got some coordination, ('cause I slay)
Slay trick, or you get eliminated.

'Spiritual,' Jay Z (2016)

Yeah, I am not poison, no I am not poison
Just a boy from the hood that
Got my hands in the air
In despair don't shoot
I just wanna do good, ah.

'Power,' Rapsody feat. Kendrick Lamar and Lance Skiiiwalker (2017)

Badge make police feel powerful in the hood
Guns make us feel powerful but they don't do no good
I know my blackness powerful and they don't like that
I know some n--gas sold theirs, sit back and watch 'em tap dance.

'Don't Don't Do It!' N.E.R.D. feat. Kendrick Lamarr (2017)

Soon or later sides gon' switch
You know Johnny got that itch
How many more of us gotta see the coroner?
Slain by the same badge, stop, wait, brake, fast!

'Land of the Free,' Joey Bada$$ (2017)

In the land of the free, it's for the free loaders
Leave us dead in the street then be your organ donors
They disorganized my people, made us all loners.

'Nothin New,' 21 Savage (2017) 

Lost his faith in Jesus Christ, he prayin' to a bandana
Police gunned his brother down, this shit too hard to handle
Loading up his chopper, he gon' show 'em Black Lives Matter.

'Last Ones,' Amaal (2017)

They tried to take all of our pieces
Hiding the way, but don't ever count us out
'Cause we will be the last ones down.

'Cops Shot the Kid,' Nas (2018)

Tell me, who do we call to report crime
If 9-1-1 doin' a driveby?
It's certain things I can't abide by
I ain't bein' extreme, this is my side.

'The Stone Throwers (Gone in a Blink),' Shad (2018)

Stone Throwers
Forced to go toe-to-toe, 
Blow for blow
In a war zone with only stones to throw
Vilified by all sides
Vilified for small crimes
Forced to go blow for blow
In a war zone with only stones to throw.

'This is America,' Childish Gambino (2018)

This is America 
Don't catch you slippin' now 
Look at how I'm livin' now
Police be trippin' now 
Yeah, this is America. 

'Pig Feet,' Terrace Martin feat. Denzel Curry, Kamasi Washington, G Perico, Daylyt (2020)

Helicopters over my balcony
If the police can't harass, they wanna smoke every ounce of me.

'Body Cast,' Dua Saleh (2020)

Lately I've had plaster on my mind
County ain't shit, they got bodies on the line
Lately I've been analyzing time

Y'all been dodging cameras like they bullets over crime.

'FTP,' YG (2020) 

Protect and serve mean duck and swerve
Police pulled me over, I don't stop, I'm scared (scared).

'Cops With Guns are the Worst!!!,' Snotty Nose Rez Kids (2020)

F--k the police, with a fist to the sky!
We fighting for the future homie pick a side
New lies, cut ties, new genocide
We the future and the future will be televised.

'24 (Toronto Remix), TOBi feat. Shad, Jazz Cartier, Haviah Mighty, Ejji Smith (2020)

It was 'Hands in your pockets, everyone's watching
I know they do it, but that's not an option
Show caution, don't let it show though
Keep up your grades, clean up your fade
Make 'em all laugh, take a seat and behave
You need to be brave.'
We still afraid though.

'Black Like Me,' Mickey Guyton (2020)

If you think we live in the land of the free
You should try to be Black like me.

'Walking in the Snow,' Run the Jewels (2020)

You so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me 
Until my voice goes from a shriek to a whispered 'I can't breathe' 
And you sit there, in house, on couch, and watch it on TV 
The most you give's a Twitter rant and call it a tragedy.

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