Police brutality and the excessive use of force that is used against Black communities has undeniably been a constant in various works of art, from spoken word and poetry, to rap and hip-hop.
From the days of “We Shall Overcome,” to NWA’s “Fuck tha Police,” to now, artists of all kinds have been releasing tracks and poems that magnify what has been a history of unjust treatment. The #BlackLivesMatter movement sparked a pivotal shift in conversation regarding racial tensions and blatant inequality, bringing it front and center into the public view.
The movement has been the key catalyst in putting that magnifying glass in the face of a racially unjust country.
Here are some works that you need to listen to:
1. “Which Side Are You On?”
Talib Kweli’s 2015 release “Indie 500” came with a track called “Which Side Are You On?” (feat. Tef Poe & Kendra Ross)” that doesn’t stray away from telling it like it is: Which side are you on?
- “How a kid without a gun become a threat to cops
- When they let off shots, hoping that his head will pop and that his breath will stop?
- Gotta be satisfied with waiting until we get the verdict
- It’s just perverted, no justice for the family of the kid they murdered.”
The track ends with the chorus chiming, “Which side are you on?” as Talib lists out victims of overly excessive police brutality: Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Kajieme Powell and Antonio Martin.
2. “Black Rage”
Ms. Lauryn Hill released her 2012 poem “Black Rage” in song form during the peak of Ferguson, Mo., protests in 2014. The entire song is well worth the listen, especially the blatant truth in these lines:
- “Black Rage is founded on draining and draining
- Threatening your freedom to stop your complaining
- Poisoning your water while they say it’s raining
- Then call you mad for complaining, complaining…”
3. “2014 Forest Hill Drive” Complete Album
J.Cole is known for his lyrical raps that highlight the blatant racial discrimination and black struggle in the U.S. His “2014 Forest Hills Drive” album is no exception, with:
- “What’s the price for a black man life?
- I check the toe tag, not one zero in sight
- I turn the TV on, not one hero in sight
- Unless he dribble or he fiddle with mics.”
Calling out how the Black community is only worthy of life in the eyes of the mainstream media when they’re athletes or musical artists.
This list would not be proper without Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” album making an appearance. The entirety of the album is a strong declaration of Lamar being unapologetically himself, as well as tracks that question what it means to be a Black person in the U.S. “Alright” has quickly become a fan favorite, in all its smooth funk glory.
- “But homicide be lookin’ at you from the face down
- What Mac-11 even boom with the bass down…”
Pair the track with Kendrick’s vivid “Alright” music video that shows police brutality without any hesitation, and it’s a must for any supporter of #BLM.
Audre Lorde’s poem “Power” was published a few decades ago, but its message is still, eerily, relevant (post-racial America, WHO?). It is a brilliant use of words to display the anguish and anger over the many cases of murder at the hands of police forces that end in a verdict that lets officer free. How telling of the current times.
“A policeman who shot down a ten year old in Queens
stood over the boy with his cop shoes in childish blood
and a voice said “Die you little motherfucker” and
there are tapes to prove it. At his trial
this policeman said in his own defense
‘I didn’t notice the size nor nothing else
only the color.’
And there are tapes to prove that, too.”
6. “Hell You Talmbout”
This Janelle Monáe, Deep Cotton, St. Beauty, Jidenna, Roman GianArthur, and George 2.0 collaboration of “Hell You Talmbout” is a simple but profound song that evokes an overwhelming amount of emotion, with each artist listing off the names of those murdered at the hands of police. Especially noteworthy is the inclusion of Black women (often overlooked in other works) with #SayHerName at the beginning of each woman’s name.
7. “Don’t Die”
Rapper Killer Mike’s “Don’t Die” is a 2012 release that still speaks volumes about the ingrained police culture that criminalizes Black men.
- “I’ll be an outlaw before I ever behave
- And die a free man before I live like a slave
- Nothing changes, if they catch me today
- ‘Fuck the police’ is still all I gotta say.”
Just hours after the Ferguson grand jury decision to let officer Darren Wilson off the hook for murdering teen Mike Brown, Killer Mike gave a sentimental speech praising #BlackLivesMatter protesters. He breaks down on stage, describing his immense frustration with the justice system.
8. “Cry No More”
Rhiannon Giddens released “Cry No More” in response to the 2015 massacre at the Emanuel AME church in Charleston, S.C. In her own words, Giddens expressed frustration and spoke of the power of music which gives a voice to those racially influenced acts of violence:
“No matter what level privilege you have, when the system is broken everybody loses. We all have to speak up when injustice happens. No matter what. And music is one of the best way[s] I know to do so.”
From “Cry No More:”
- “They stole our solace, and then they stole our peace
- With countless acts of malice
- And hatred without cease… 500 years of poison
- 500 years of grief.”
Giddens’ song is simple in musical composition, with just a choir and hand drum — but complex in the history of grief that it examines for African-American communities.