By Allie Ouendag
Despite the live music industry taking a temporary sabbatical due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, it did not stop many artists from continuing to write and produce. In the face of nationwide protests after the murder of George Floyd, a black man killed by law enforcement in May, Black artists have used their music as creative and emotional outlets to express their thoughts on racial injustice as well as platforms for change and inspiration.
Musical rallying cries for equality have come from the Black community long before the 2020 protests stretching from James Brown’s “Say it Loud- I’m Black and I’m Proud” in the 60’s to N.W.A’s “Fuck Tha Police” in the 80’s which has had a 270% increase in online audio streaming since the protests. However, the newest generation of high profile artists in modern pop, R&B, and rap have lent their voice to The Black Lives Matter movement by dropping singles addressing police brutality, racism, and disillusionment.
Here are some of the key lyrics and newest music amplifying The Black Lives Matter movement.
1. Spillage Village, EARTHGANG, JID featuring Jordan Bryant, Mereba, Hollywood JB – “End of Daze”
This 6-minute track features Atlanta and Baltimore’s Spillage Village, a supergroup made up of EARTHGANG, JID, Hollywood JB, and JordxnBryant highlighting the apocalyptic nature of 2020 and references the killings of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. The track has an eerie and tense vibe that when paired with angelic vocals from Mereba creates a sense of heavenly dread.
Lyrics – “It’s the end of days, end of times, my o my, up in a blaze, you can’t hide, why o why, all the kids afraid, mama cries, god packed his bags and said bye bye, god packed her bags and said bye bye.”
2. H.E.R. – “I Can’t Breathe”
H.E.R. debuted her newest protest single “I Can’t Breathe” on the iHeartRadio Living Room Series presented by State Farm. An ode to Floyd’s last words before being killed by Minneapolis police, “I Can’t Breathe” is a somber and hypnotizing soul track that ends with an impactful poetic statement that confronts white listeners to check their own perception of “wokeness” and desensitization to racial injustice.
“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,” said H.E.R. while introducing the song before her performance streamed through iHeartRadio on June 10. “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. And I hope this song does that.”
Lyrics – “All of the names you refuse to remember, was somebody’s brother, friend, or a son to a mother that’s crying, saying ’I can’t breathe, you’re taking my life from me.”
3. Anderson .Paak – “Lockdown”
.Paak applies his classic groove and funk vibe to a powerful statement on police brutality and Black Lives Matter Protests. He performed the song with Jay Rock at the 2020 streamed BET Awards on June 28. During his performance, .Paak appeared with fake blood covering his face and a painted black eye while rapping into a microphone shaped like a flashlight.
Lyrics- “Cause they throw away Black lives like paper towels / Plus unemployment rate what? 40 million now / Killed a man in broad day, might never see a trial / We just wanna break chains like slaves in the south / Started in the north end but we ended downtown / Riot cops tried to block, now we got a showdown.”
4. Leon Bridges ft. Terrance Martin – “Sweeter”
Texas native Leon Bridges teamed up with famed rapper and jazz artist Terrance Martin to create a deeply soulful and reflective track released in the midst of the BLM protests. The song was originally set to be released with an upcoming album, however they decided to release the single early.
“This is meditation music; it is not music for the ears but rather music for the heart. I truly believe that eyes have been deceiving us for so long but the heart always tells the truth. The heart needs to be repaired,” said Martin about the track.
Lyrics – “Hoping for a life more sweeter / Instead I’m just a story repeating / Why do I fear with skin dark as night? / Can’t feel peace with those judging eyes”
5. Keedron Bryant – “I Just Wanna Live”
After the a capella version shot on an iPhone went viral, teenage gospel singer Keedron Bryant was signed to Warner Records and released his first single. The song, originally written by his mother, was posted on May 26, the day after the murder of Floyd. Since then it has been viewed almost 3 million times and all net profit from the single will be donated to the NAACP.
Lyrics – “I’m a young black man, doing all that I can to stand. Oh, but when I look around and I see what’s being done to my kind every day, I’m being hunted as prey.”