Beyoncé has joined an array of artists using their music to bring light to injustices black Americans have faced throughout the history of the US. Her newest single, Formation, poignantly addresses issues such as police brutality, slavery’s impact and the US government’s response to the flooding of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. However, after Beyoncé’s Super Bowl halftime show performance of the song, some people weren’t happy with her political message. In response, Index created a playlist of hip-hop protest anthems from the last 30 years.
1. N.W.A – Fuck tha Police
The second Dr. Dre asks Ice Cube “well why don’t you tell everybody what the fuck you gotta say”, hip-hop changed for good, as Ice Cube launches into the woes and frustrations of being confronted by the police in Compton as a young black man. One of the most confrontational songs ever recorded, the group was banned from performing the song on their 1989 tour. In addition, partly because of the song, their debut album Straight Outta Compton was one of the first covers to feature a “Parental Advisory” label.
2. Public Enemy – Fight the Power
With the bombastic production of the Bomb Squad behind them, Chuck D and Flavor Flav lit a torch of rebellion with their declaration that “Our freedom of speech is freedom or death/We got to fight the powers that be”. Partially made for Spike Lee’s classic film Do the Right Thing, the song’s legacy continues today, with Chuck D saying: “I feel like Pete Seeger singing We Shall Overcome. Fight the Power points to the legacy of the strengths of standing up in music.”
3. KRS-One – Sound of the Police
With the recognizable “WOOP WOOP, that’s the sound the police” opening, KRS-One provided people with a tenacious account of how police brutality had affected not only his life but nearly every generation of his family before. KRS-One even had the idea to point out the similarities between the words “officer” and “overseer”, essentially comparing certain police officers to plantation overseers.
4. Kanye West – New Slaves
One of the 2000s ultimate button-pushers, Kanye West used this track to outline what he believes as consumerism taking the place of the control slavery and the Jim Crow era had on blacks in America. Highlighting this point, he raps: “You see it’s broke nigga racism/that’s that ‘Don’t touch anything in the store’/and it’s rich nigga racism/that’s that ‘Come in, please buy more’/What you want, a Bentley? Fur Coat? A diamond chain? All you blacks what all the same things.’”
5. Kendrick Lamar – Alright
Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly is full of politically-charged tracks, but none encompass resilience and strength against injustice as well as Alright. A song that’s been adopted by the Black Lives Matter movement as their anthem, Alright articulates many issues the black community faces, but with Lamar promising at the each line of the hook “we gon’ be alright”.
Index on Censorship has teamed up with the producers of an award-winning documentary about Mali’s musicians, They Will Have To Kill Us First, to create the Music in Exile Fund to support musicians facing censorship globally. You can donate here, or give £10 by texting “BAND61 £10” to 70070.