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I’ve been thinking about using music and art as a way to subvert establishment when that establishment is unjust and evil. So I’ve compiled a few songs I listen to that I think can exemplify that idea, specifically and broadly.
This is America- Childish Gambino
A relatively straightforward sounding single tied with a basically inseparable music video. The video is stuffed to the brim with imagery that, when paired with the track, paints an incredible, apocalyptic vision of Black America’s current state of exploitation and violence. I don’t want to overstate it- there have been many more intelligent people who have written more in depth think-pieces on this song and video than I will ever be able to- but this might be one of the most important pieces of art of the last decade. But don’t take my word for it. Read what everyone else has already said about it.
Hell You Talmbout- Janelle Monae ft Wonderland
This track isn’t on Spotify. So you have to listen and watch here:
There aren’t nearly as many think-pieces on this song as there are on This is America or Alright, but if you ask me, this mutation of one of the tracks on Monae’s breakout album Electric Lady that she adapted for the Women’s March in 2017 is one of the most important protest songs ever written.
16 Shots- Vic Mensa
This one hits close to home. This track, about the murder of Laquon Mcdonald by a Chicago police officer whose name I won’t speak, happened in my city. That officer, who shot Mcdonald on camera 16 times, was recently convicted of second degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm- one count for every bullet. It was quite a shock to see this conviction, because even with video footage, police officers are almost never indicted for killings they commit while on the job. That is what Janelle Monae’s song above is all about. I hear people often say that there are just a few bad apples when it comes to these police murders, and that most cops are good. But the reality is this: we have a barrel- all of law enforcement- that is designed to rot apples when they are placed inside of it. It’s time to rethink the entire system.
Prison Song- System of A Down
Alright. Here’s the first of two throwbacks on this list. Speaking of corrupt systems… People like to dig on System of A Down. And yeah, they’re goofy. A politically charged, early 00’s metal band mashed up with kind of eclectic Romanian folk scales and riffs? And what’s with that guy’s voice? I know. But listen. System of A Down is amazing. Rick Rubin thought so the first time he heard them, and I still think so. In fact, I have a petition going to get the band back together with Rubin to make the politically charged metal album of the Trump era we all deserve! So far it hasn’t gotten much traction. But I’m still praying.
Anyway, unfortunately, this absolutely insane opening track on the album that brought System of A Down bursting in to the mainstream in 2001 is still relevant today. Lyrically, this is essentially a list of statistics and facts about how corrupt the private prison system in America is. And that’s it. That’s how this band chose to introduce themselves to the world. But apparently no one was really listening because our prison system has only become more corrupt since 2001.
Real Nega- JPEG Mafia
This whole album should be included in this list. This is one of the most lasting albums, for me, from last year. I still listen to it at least once a week. Peggy talks in interviews about being able to make political music that still slaps. He hasn’t changed his tune as he’s been propelled further in to the mainstream from the niche noise/punk rap scene. This song (and album) is angry. There is a lot of aggression pointed at alt-right, nazi, keyboard warriors. And frankly, I’m here for it.
Kill Your Masters- Run the Jewels
Speaking of angry songs, here’s another one. No list, for me, would be complete without including Mike and El’s lyricism, and it doesn’t get a lot better than this album closer with an amazing feature from Rage Against the Machine’s Zach De La Roca. Sometimes you get tired of playing nice and you just need to rage. And speaking of Zach…
Killing In The Name Of- Rage Against the Machine
The second throwback. List wouldn’t be complete without it. What may have seemed like hyperbole or simply youthful angst and aggression to a lot of people after it came out and became an alt radio staple has renewed relevance in Trump’s America. I think it speaks for itself. But for real, “those who work forces are the same that burn crosses” is a galaxy brain revelation to people, still. So I’m gonna keep blasting this one.
Nazi Punks Fuck Off- The Dead Kennedys
I would love to tell you that this song wasn’t relevant anymore. But is. So I’m putting it on the list.
Trump’s Private Pilot- Tim Hidecker (Father John Misty version)
I’m not a fan of FJM, typically. But there is some kind of magical synergy that happened when this piano/vocal cover of one of Hidecker’s dad rock protest songs emerged on Soundcloud one day. It was later slightly modified and included in the full release of Too Dumb for Suicide (which I own on vinyl, not to brag), and also covered by me every night by me on my Midwest/East Coast tour in 2017 with Qajaq and Every Day. Full disclosure: I’m a non-violent pacifist… But sometimes it’s hard out there, fam.
Alright- Kendrick Lamar
I do want to end this list on a positive, hopeful note. Although I could just as easily not do that. But Kendrick’s “Alright” quickly became a chant at protests and rallies around the Black Lives Matter movement, and I think the fact that it was this song- this chant- that people gravitated toward that gives me hope. It could have been anything. But “We gonna be alright” was what the black community began to chant. In the face of a government, a justice system, and a law enforcement system that is all against them- and has been since the beginning- they chose to sing and prophecy “We gonna be alright.”
Bonus tracks: Taxes- Dead Birds
This one isn’t on Spotify yet, either. But we just had the one year anniversary of this cool elevator shoot that was hot as H*CK last summer. I wanted to share this with you. I’m glad Erica is writing protest songs. I’m thankful for her voice and perspective. And I think this song is super special. I hope you think so, too.
Good Man- Sam Arias
A haunting story song about a man who got shot dead in the street. Am I biased because I played on, recorded, and produced this record? Maybe. But I think this song rips. “We’re all equal in the lives of God” Sammy sings in the refrain. I think more people need to hear that.
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