Nicholas is an avid music fan studying journalism as Millersville University, and won a tournament debating the merits of 'message music.'
The Power of Music
The Current State of Affairs
In recent months, Black Lives Matter protests have undoubtedly dominated the news cycle whenever updates of COVID-19 statistics aren't claiming airtime. The public consciousness has been overtaken by BLM's continuous appearances on social media, in the streets of nearly every major American metropolis, and on the radio.
Amidst all of this, one thing has become abundantly and overwhelmingly clear - America is experiencing firsthand the consequence of ignoring George Santayana's proverb, "those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it." All the while, as more stories of police abuses are coming to light, brands and corporations are capitalizing on the chaos and protests without a second thought, shamelessly aligning themselves with the BLM Movement and its supporters in word rather than deed in order to make a quick buck (or simpler still, to try and prevent their stores from being looted by another form of capitalists making the rounds under the guise of protest sympathizers).
Nowhere is this crude banking on tragedy and unrest more apparent than in the pop music industry, where producers and record labels are scrambling to write, record, and publish new songs that make the plight of African Americans more easily digestible to the hesitantly supportive listener, rather than push forward music that addresses the messages of BLM and its supporters holistically. Not that this isn't to be expected, of course, given the bevy of quarantine-themed songs audiences were treated to between February and May of this year from such artists as Dax, Twenty-One Pilots, Keith Urban, and even New Kids On The Block.
Given this ugly decision-making by the music industry to make money off of the political upheaval taking place, one might choose to ignore the newer selections offered cynically by them, and instead enjoy these eleven pre-COVID songs that are much more suitable for a protest march playlist. The following songs are listed in no particular order, and the Spotify playlist with all the songs on it (including some honorable mentions listed between numbers 2 and 1) will be posted at the end of the article. Please note that all of the songs featured in this article - with two exceptions - feature strong adult language, and the uncensored versions will be the ones featured between each numbered entry.
#11: G-Herbo - "PTSD (feat. Juice WRLD, Chance The Rapper, and Lil Uzi Vert)"
The Black Experience As A Mental Illness
Right out of the gate, the late divisive emo rapper Juice WRLD (real name Jarad Higgins) opens this paralyzing and disturbingly earnest look at the mental health of the average American black person with a haunting declaration of normalcy: "I turn on the news when I smell death in the air / I proved you wrong, I made it out of here / I don't belong here, I see my past everywhere / don't stand too close to me, eternal PTSD." The intimate revelation of Juice's fear to be close with anyone carries the weight of the narratives each of the other performers on the track offer, as each one recounts personal tales of loss - often violent - that they've witnessed with their own eyes.
G-Herbo (Herbert Randall Wright III) grunts and groans in frustration as he tells of some cops who shot at him and a friend for kicks, just to see them run. Then, after another chorus, Chance the Rapper (Chancelor Johnathan Bennett) follows with his eyewitness account of a neighborhood friend who gruesomely killed someone ("Seen a n***a through the glass, hit a n***a with a bankshot / Point-blank, head hanging off his tank top") before taking Chance on a drive to get a copy of GTA: San Andreas ("we drove off, went to GameStop / Quiet ride there, picked up San Andreas"), and how he pleads with fans not to "run up on him" lest he think he's about to get shot like another of his friends, who, upon being killed, had his pockets searched by a stranger (presumably looking for money) before anyone called 911.
Lil Uzi Vert (Symere Bysil Woods) rounds out the sobering record with a reiteration of the general paranoia that comes with being a famous black man in America, fearing cops and fans alike while attributing his PTSD, depression, malnutrition ("I'm affected by the streets, no appetite, I can't eat"), and insomnia ("Draining all my energy, no, I cannot sleep") as byproducts of watching friends die throughout life.
All together, the foursome cover a lot of ground in this vehement record of their personal lives. The production contributes heavily to this sense of somber sobriety, heavily relying on acoustic guitar, high-hats, and a series of captivating organ chords. In short, a troubling yet earnest beginning to where this playlist will take the listener; even the album art contributes to this necessary unease, replacing the stars of the American flag with the faces of African Americans killed by police.
#10: Lecrae - "Gangland (feat. Propaganda)"
The Cyclical Defeatism of the African American Family
Lecrae is often revered as the go-to name for Christian rap, and has been for many years. He has been nominated for two Grammy Awards, was the first rapper to win the Grammy for Best Gospel Album (Gravity), and co-founded his own record label, Reach Records, at the age of 24. But in this particular song, none of that matters - instead, the celebrated titan on self-produced rap speaks out about his observations of the modern consequences of misinterpreting historical contexts for present injustices, the negative stereotypes being surveyed by white Americans, and the difficulties of living in America as an African-American suffering under past injustices using modern-day naming conventions.
Such observations include, but are not limited to: black people being stereotypically abandoned by their fathers ("He ain't have no sense of dignity, his daddy was a mystery"), blacks being given more severe sentences for crimes committed than whites ("He'll probably end up dead or sittin' in a penitentiary / And tell the judge he can go to hell for the sentence / And it probably make no sense to you but listen to the history / The new Jim Crow or the old one"), and urban communities being sabotaged with an influx of drugs and political upheaval by the federal government once the Black Panther party rose to power and became prominent defenders of black communities ("The whole neighborhood feelin' like they meant somethin' / Then it was a mix-up, Feds got 'em fixed up / End of the movement, back to the bricks bruh;..." // "They saw Geronimo Pratt dodgin' bullets from attacks / Guess they figure, 'We don't really want it this much'"). Lecrae bombards the listener with punch after punch at the typical defenses for such beliefs, and makes it a point to reference historical sources for his claims on more than one occasion. His bars grapple with the roots of modern divisiveness between lack lives and police, and poignantly show why the police have little they could say in their defense after decades of abuses committed by them.
Guest spoken word artist Propaganda appears on the closing third, using his time and smooth-as-silk flow to deliver a strong and telling counter-argument to those who use baseless theological justifications for casual racism and other forms of falsely equivocating race with sexual orientation when confronted with the harsh truth of the black condition here in the States ("Why would we listen? / When American churches scuff they Toms on our brother's dead bodies / As they march to stop gay marriage? / Yo, we had issues with Planned Parenthood too / We just cared about black lives outside the wombs just as much as in").
#9: U2 - "Pride (In The Name Of Love)"
Early morning, April 4
Shots rings out in the Memphis sky...
Free At Last - they took your life
They could not take your pride!
— Bono (Paul David Hewson) in "Pride (In The Name of Love)"
Don't Worry, These Won't All Be Angry...
This will be the only song from an all-white band appearing on this list, but it is a timeless classic of peaceful revolution that is revered by audiences of all races across the whole globe. Written in May of 1984 by all four members of the band, the song reportedly was proposed to be a critique of Reagan-era nuclear weapons and military bravado (according to the most common citation on Genius.com's page covering the tune). However, after reading biographies on Civil Rights Movement leaders Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X, the band changed their attention to that instead.
The lyrics are conjured of simple, single-line images sprinkled with just enough historical details to make clear to the listener just whom the singer is referencing - in order, Jesus Christ ("One man come in the name of love," and later, "One man betrayed with a kiss"), followed by World War 1 veterans ("One man caught on a barbed wire fence"), then the Apostle Paul (formerly Saul of Tarsus; "One man washed up on an empty beach"), and finally, at the crown of the song's monumental status, the bridge - Martin Luther King Jr. ("Early morning, April 4 / Shot rings out in the Memphis sky / Free at last, they took your life / They could not take your pride").
There is no denying the technical skill of The Edge's (Dave Howell Evans) guitar work on this anthem of an age, along with the incredibly uplifting drum stylings of Larry Mullins Jr. However, what sells this song as an arena rock staple of marches are the belted howls of Bono as he screams "what more in the name of love" again and again in such a bombastic way that it has led to arm-in-arm swaying among countless masses. While perhaps this song may prove to be more hopeful and optimistic than today's audiences are willing to accommodate, it's undeniably an anthem of peaceful protest, no matter your organization.
#8: Joey Bada$$ - "TEMPTATION"
Social Commentary That Gets Its Groove On
In the days following the death of Keith Lamont Scott, an unarmed 43-year-old black man shot by white police officers in Charlotte, North Carolina, then-9-year-old Zianna Oliphant grabbed the world's eyes and ears by tearfully speaking her mind before the Charlotte City Council just days prior to the officers being found not guilty on all charges. Moments of her emotionally-charged statement book-end this soulful gospel rap hit by Joey Bada$$ (Jo-Vaughn Virginie Scott), a Brooklyn, New York native who has risen to prominence in the past ten years as a sort-of "message man" rapper, focusing primarily on the human condition and race relations in most of his music.
This particularly beautiful and jam-packed hit is filled to the brim with the pleas of Joey and the African-American population - "see my people empowered," "emancipate them from their mental prisons," "just tryna live righteous," and "Hustle on the block, who gonna' save the children" (which serves as a clever nod to the opening track to his best album, in this writer's opinion, B4•Da•$$).
With a slick guitar loop, smooth and sultry brass sections, and a gospel choir sample in the later-third to really bring the church vibes, this song guides the audience through the crooner's Brooklyn neighborhood and captivates them with genuine and sincere concerns for the livelihood of the average black American. The song serves stark realism and gentle auditory embrace in equal measure - a true achievement and mark of incredible progress for the rap superstar.
Zianna Oliphant's Brief Yet Powerful Testimony
We do this because we need to, and have rights!
- Zianna Oliphant, 2016
#7: Vic Mensa - "16 Shots"
When The Bullet Count Is One Short Of The Victim's Age
A volatile retelling and ruthless criticism of the LaQuan McDonald murder case, Vic Mensa (Victor Kwesi Mensah) raises the bar on his capabilities as a rapper by citing the ruthlessly barbaric actions of Chicago PD officer Jason Van Dyke, who shot 17-year-old LaQuan sixteen times in the span of thirteen seconds without so much as a warning, using the opening line to set the stage for the militant delivery of his bars ("Ready for the war we got our boots strapped / 100 deep on State Street, where the troops at?") and the following four-and-a-half minutes to rip relentlessly into everyone involved in the cover-up:
- Then-mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emmanuel ("The mayor lyin' sayin' he didn't see the video footage / And everybody want to know where the truth at;" "The mayor duckin' when he fired the superintendent").
- Then-superintendent Garry F. Marshall ("Now the police superintendent wanna double back;..." "But resignation come with bonuses and recognition")
- And cops as a whole, particularly those who rush to deal with black crime, and are routinely passed over for punishment when they assault or murder black people ("Cops speeding up to the block like a runnin' back / Tension is high, man these n****s is irate / You can see it in they eyes, they wanna violate;..." "They threw a little girl down on the pavement / Pushed her with the bike and said, "Stay out the way, bitch" / She was bleedin' on the ground through her braces / This is what happens when n****s don't stay in their places").
Ultimately, the track offers a disturbingly vitriolic look at the catharsis of retribution, even if said retribution - in reality - would only make matters worse for the BLM movement and the public at large.
#6: Childish Gambino - "This Is America"
The Most Unfortunate Alternative To The National Anthem
There is absolutely no way this song couldn't possibly be on this playlist. One of 2018's most viewed, dissected, and discussed music videos was presented to the world by the multi-faceted, genre-defying auteur known as Childish Gambino (alter ego of actor/comedian Donald Glover) as well as video director Hiro Murai, whose list of accomplished credits include the videos for "Heartless" by The Fray, "Airplanes" by B.o.B. & Hayley Williams, "Smooth Sailing" by Queens Of The Stone Age, and Childish Gambino's other singles, "Sweatpants" and "Sober."
The massive critical acclaim the song and corresponding video received is completely deserved, as the simple and direct lyrics pack plenty of symbolism when reflected upon within a cynical worldview, such as "We just wanna party / Party just for you / We just want the money / Money just for you (Yeah) / I know you wanna party / Party just for free / Girl, you got me dancin' (Girl, you got me dancin') / Dance and shake the frame (Yeah)" - alluding to the idea that the African-American struggle is easily glanced over by the media via entertainment (a.k.a. "fluff pieces") and nonsensical social media speculations. The closing two lines also make clear that, for Black women especially, the economy capitalizes on the objectification of their bodies, personal space, and beauty standards - something men have to put up with far less often, and with far more respect than women are given.
However, as other critics have pointed out in the two years since this song's release, the video is what sells this idea at its most blunt, and with maximum potential for social impact - Even the visual of the Biblical figure known as the Pale Rider donning a police badge as he rides on horseback past a flaming car with someone inside is enough nightmare fuel to lite a thousand protest fires. This, paired with such other challenging imagery (Glover's donning of Confederate soldier pants and posing in the same manner as a Jim Crow caricature poster; a gun used for a brutal murder being treated with near-religious reverence as it rests upon a red cloth - a knowing nod to the Republican zealous defense of guns over lives cut short in shootings; and children doing various Vine and TikTok dances to distract the viewer from indiscriminate rampage in the background) offer a bleak view of the Black experience here in America, in this day and age. This song and video will undoubtedly be revered for steering the conversation back to where it previously had been prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. It's still a shame (though an understandable one) that the punctuating gunshot effect that snaps the listener into a shocked sense of awareness is removed from the radio version.
#5: Public Enemy - "Fight The Power"
When The Protest March Becomes A Block Party
This classic rebellion anthem comes as the second-half of a legendary 1-2 punch for civil rights in the year 1989 - the first half being the release of Spike Lee's film Do The Right Thing, which featured a trimmed-down version of this jam prominently on its soundtrack. Were it not for the release of the film into mainstream cinemas, this song may not have received the radio push it needed.
Instead, this now-iconic blend of funk, hip-hop, and new-jack-swing that serves as a progenitor for protest rap of today tears away at the facade that protest songs have to be produced in such a way that either the grooves and beat have to be lost for the sake of an unfiltered message, or the message gets watered down for the sake of airplay (as we'll soon see with out #2 pick). Peaking at #20 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart at the time of release, Chuck D's sharp and pumping delivery of blatant truths ("Our freedom of speech is freedom of death;" "My beloved let's get down to business / Mental self defensive fitness;" "Elvis was a hero to most / But he never meant s**t to me, you see / Straight up racist that sucker was / Simple and plain / Motherf**k him and John Wayne;" "Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps / Sample a look back you look and find / Nothing but rednecks for 400 years if you check"), while Flava Flav's goofy jeering keep the momentum up and the interest piqued.
The brass instrumentation on this song is second-to-none as Bradford Marsalis wails on the saxophone, and the scratching by the deejay simply known as Terminator X have a way of worming their way into your ear and down along your spine upon repeated listens, making for welcoming yet blunt counter-culture staple.
How Well Do You Know The Film, Do The Right Thing?
For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.
- What "Breaking Bad" cast member appears in Do The Right Thing?
- Giancarlo Esposito
- Jonathan Banks
- Mark Margolis
- Bryan Cranston
- What is the specialty item customers can get at Sal's Pizzeria?
- The New New York slice
- The Old-Fashioned slice
- Mama's Favorite
- The Extra Mozzarella
- In Do The Right Thing, who actually decides to do the right thing?
- Radio Raheem
- What real-life court case is represented in the film via graffiti in an alley where Mookie and Jade talk?
- The Laquan McDonald shooting
- The Tawana Brawley assault
- The Emmett Till lynching
- The Ambry Dickerson stabbing
- What famous couple's first date was reportedly going to see Do The Right Thing in theaters?
- Barack & Michelle Obama
- Ellen DeGeneres & Portia DeRossi
- Terry Crews & Rebecca King-Crews
- Snoop Dogg & Shante Broadus
- What is the Criterion Collection number for reprints of Do The Right Thing?
- What two films were released to theaters on the same weekend as Do The Right Thing?
- Batman & Honey, I Shrunk The Kids
- Ghostbusters II & Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
- The Karate Kid Part III & Great Balls Of Fire!
- Lethal Weapon 2 & When Harry Met Sally
- Which of the following music artists is not featured in Mister Senor Love Daddy's "Role Call" sequence?
- Bob Marley
- Michael Jackson
- Ella Fitzgerald
- Writer, Director, and Producer of the film, Spike Lee, also co-wrote what song from the film's soundtrack?
- Can't Stand It
- Party Hearty
- The WELOVE Radio Jingles
- Don't Shoot Me
- Finish the Radio Raheem quote: "The right hand: the hand of love. The story of life is this: ______."
- Giancarlo Esposito
- The Extra Mozzarella
- The Tawana Brawley assault
- Barack & Michelle Obama
- The Karate Kid Part III & Great Balls Of Fire!
- Michael Jackson
- Don't Shoot Me
Interpreting Your Score
If you got between 0 and 3 correct answers: 3You scored %! Clearly you know something about the film, but it may just be through the pop culture lexicon or hearing it once before. Go watch the movie, then come back and try again!
If you got between 4 and 6 correct answers: You scored #%! You did okay, but perhaps you were more invested in the story than the little details. Watch it again and see what else you can pick up!
If you got between 7 and 8 correct answers: You scored #%! Great job! You're clearly a fan of the film, and it may just have been a while since you last saw it. But, you clearly believe in the film's message to have been paying such close attention!
If you got 9 correct answers: You scored #%! Excellent! You may very well have worked on this film with how much you know!
If you got 10 correct answers: Congratulations, you're clearly a huge fan of this movie! Now spread it around to your friends and family, and see how they do!
#4: Nina Simone - "Mississippi Goddam"
The State-Specific Struggle Is Now Country-Wide
Recorded live during her appearance at the 1965 Juan-le-Pins Jazz Festival, Simone wails like a champion of her craft inbetween valid complaints delivered in a lackluster fashion akin to the lackluster aid of the government in response to the request of Black Americans. Personal grievances are on the menu as Simone pelts the audience with a lyrical checklist of racist behaviors and attitudes certain Southern states continued to embrace even after the passing of Civil Rights legislation.
Included on this checklist are instances of harassment and the fear of living in Mississippi as a black woman ("Hound dogs on my trail / School children sitting in jail / Black cat cross my path / I think every day's gonna be my last"), continued degradation of her despite picking up 'white habits' and etiquette ("You told me to wash and clean my ears / And talk real fine just like a lady / And you'd stop calling me Sister Sadie"), and then, in complete defiance of society's demand to "do it slow" as chanted by the backing band, Simone belts that doing so would "only bring more tragedy" - a point that the country should be all too familiar with right about now.
Perhaps most shocking of all is one small realization when viewing the video for her live performance: Upon declaring "That's it," Simone was treated to uproarious applause from a mixed-race audience!
#3: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band / Kendrick Lamar - "American Skin (41 Shots)"
Police Brutality Off The Clock
In February of 1999, four police officers in plain clothes and riding in an unmarked police car shot at 23-year-old Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo forty-one times, resulting in nineteen hits and the immediate death of Diallo outside his Bronx apartment. He wasn't armed, he wasn't carrying anything that could be mistaken as a weapon, and he wasn't wanted for any crime, anywhere. He died because four officers thought he might have matched a description of a suspect from a case that was over a year old, and wasn't even being formally investigated by the NYPD anymore due to lack of merit on the part of the plaintiff.
Eighteen months later, on the heels of the officers ridiculously biased trial (they shot Diallo in the Bronx, but were tried in Albany, where the African-American population is almost negligible compared to NYC), where all four officers would ultimately be acquitted of all charges, Bruce Springsteen got to work writing one of the most powerful arena-rock ballads of all time, using the shooting as the jumping-off point to spark a discussion among his mostly white audience about how to address the issue of police brutality, violence against African-Americans, and racial profiling ("It ain't no secret (It ain't no secret) / It ain't no secret (It ain't no secret) / No secret, my friend / You can get killed just for living in your American skin"), as well as the double-standard Black people have for living in major metropolitan areas ("Lena gets her son ready for school / She says, 'On these streets, Charles / You've got to understand the rules / If an officer stops you / Promise me you'll always be polite / And that you'll never ever run away / Promise Mama, you'll keep your hands in sight'").
Quite frankly, this ode to Diallo's life is hauntingly beautiful, especially the live version that was recorded and packaged as part of the Live From NYC album the band would put out later that year. And not once has political pushback prevented Springsteen from performing this song with respect to other black lives taken by police unjustly, performing this song after the killings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. If the backing vocals of the E-Street Band, the 'double-standard verse,' Springsteen's guitar solo, or the soft saxophone at the end of the live version don't induce tears, then Kendrick Lamar's verse on the dubious cover by Mary J. Blige most certainly will.
#2: Kendrick Lamar - "The Blacker The Berry"
Black Lives Matter: The Movement, Personified
Speaking of Kendrick Lamar, here he presents the single hardest listen of his discography (and by extension, this playlist), but also the most necessary. Every second of the production is drenched in thick, heavily-layered frustration as Kendrick unleashes a barrage of ruthless realities that will leave your skin crawling, your stomach turned, and your heart sunk to your hips with the sheer weight of every line. The utter despair will leave most listeners either desperate for escape or completely turned off, and that's the point: Kendrick wants you to be offended by your own ignorance to the violence, racial discrimination, hate, and divisiveness that make up the non-black listener's every day. Needless to say, it's utterly bleak, and the cruelty being spoken of is what needs to be aired out in today's discourse.
On a narrative side, the writing tackles everything from white appropriation of black culture ("You hate me don't you? / You hate my people, your plan is to terminate my culture;" "You hate me don't you? / I know you hate me just as much as you hate yourself / Jealous of my wisdom and cards I dealt"), Black History Month as a facade rather than a genuine celebration of black history ("So don't matter how much I say I like to preach with the Panthers / Or tell Georgia State "Marcus Garvey got all the answers" / Or try to celebrate February like it's my B-Day"), the militant treatment of Blacks at the hands of police ("The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice / The blacker the berry, the bigger I shoot;" "I know you hate me, don't you? / You hate my people, I can tell 'cause it's threats when I see you / I can tell 'cause your ways deceitful / Know I can tell because you in love with that Desert Eagle / Thinkin' maliciously, he get a chain then you gone bleed him"), and the institutional racism inherent in the criminal justice system of the United States, where African-Americans are, to quote the film Black Panther, "overly policed and incarcerated." ("Institutionalized manipulation and lies / Reciprocation of freedom only live in your eyes").
Elsewhere in the song, dancehall deejay Assassin fully utilizes his rich, throaty vocal tones to belt out historical context for the modern Black experience with a sense of grandfatherly wisdom. With some of his sharpest criticisms taking direct aim at rap and hip-hop stereotypes that seemingly allow African Americans to attempt reappropriation of their roots as slaves - from being chained to prevent escape to now wearing gold and diamond chains as a sign of wealth and prosperity ("And man a say they put me inna chains, cah' we black / Imagine now, big gold chains full of rocks"); from being whipped as a form of abuse and control to now owning "whips" (luxury cars) and parking them outside for all to see ("How you no see the whip, left scars 'pon me back / But now we have a big whip parked 'pon the block"); and lastly, using his thick Patois accent to almost seamlessly pronounce "black" and "block" the same way, so as to suggest a triple entendré - "every race starts from the (block/black)," alluding to the idea that humankind originated in Mesopotamia and Africa ("starts from the black"), or perhaps that if all the wrong choices are made, the result will be the same as if slavery never ended ("start from the block," as in auction block), or, most likely, that every race (itself a double entendré) starts from a block, like in track-&-field races.
This track (as well as the album it came from, To Pimp A Butterfly) are undeniably all-time classics in the making, and should be revered as such.
As promised above, here are a few other songs to add to your protest playlist if you feel it needs padding out, or will be making a day of your attendance. Listed in alphabetical order by artist:
- Andy Mineo, "Uncomfortable"
- Beleaf, "We Got Joy (feat. FoggieRaw & Tphr)," or "Black Joy Is Magic"
- Bob Marley & The Wailers, "Get Up, Stand Up"
- Dead Prez, "Happiness"
- DMX, "Who We Be"
- Eric B. & Rakim, "Microphone Fiend" (or, the cover by Rage Against The Machine)
- James Brown, "Say It Loud - I'm Black And I'm Proud"
- JGivens - "Super Lowkey," or "[A] Bridge [D] Thoughts"
- Kendrick Lamar, "Alright"
- Lecrae, "Welcome To America," or "Misconceptions 3 (feat. John Gives, JGivens, & Jackie Hill Perry
- Michael Kiwanuka, "Love & Hate"
- Rage Against The Machine, "Killing In The Name Of"
- 2PAC, "Keep Your Head Up"
#1: Algiers - "Walk Like A Panther"
Roots Of The Problem, Pulled By The Hands Of Those In Power
"Until way down in the valley,
You heard a terrible sound!
The killing noise that just followed you closer and closer,
Until it found you out and read the charges that brought you down!"
The pair of lines above come from the opening track of Algiers' sophomore record, The Underside of Power, and together, they are the chief inspiration for the creation of this list. The sheer ferocity of frontman Franklin James Fischer's gospel vocals as he howls in righteous fury is both bone-tingling and exhilarating in its presentation. The shrill pitch of Fischer's voice is complimented beautifully by the captivating guitar play of Lee Tesche, Ryan Mahan's distorted bass and synth lines, and last, but certainly not least, the precision and technical prowess of Matt Tong's percussion and use of the glockenspiel as though he were scoring a horror film.
No holds are barred (contrary to the murder that started this rampant and justified protesting to begin with) as the band gives listeners a gritty and fulfilling fusion of industrial metal, goth rock, gospel, and blues to form a vivid and illustrious tapestry of a song that blanketly nails all of the chief complaints, grievances, and pains of the African American population for the past several decades, using political diatribes (Fred Hampton's famous "I Am A Revolutionary" speech to both open and close the track, as well as the quote featured in bold red text in the lyric video: "the last stage of genocide looks a lot like suicide," an allusion to GenocideWatch's list of the 10 Steps of Genocide, with the final step being 'Denial" - where the reigning government or figurehead ultimately responsible for the mass killing of a race or group of people takes no responsibility and claims it was in defense of country, or some other illegal and immoral excuse, while simultaneously destroying any records of guilt or evidence of the atrocity), Biblically-apocalyptic imagery ("You burned your children for Baal / Hey, you sold your sons and your daughters for silver;" "When everything that was solid / Finally melts into air / And the champagne runs sour / Will we finally have your ear"), and the pleas for unity despite having been betrayed innumerable times by the government and police ("It should be murder for murder / For what you did to the cause / It should be straight retribution / But we're your flesh and your blood / We're your fate and your fortune / The promise you couldn't keep").
Hearing this song for the first time (and every sequential listen after) is an experience to not be taken lightly, as is the privilege of attending a protest march in a country that allows you to do so at all. In the wake of more and more news of indiscriminate slaughter at the hands of police, government interference in day-to-day living, and the ignorance of non-Black peoples to the daily struggle of living in America as an African-American, it is not just important - it is vital to the sustainability of this country as a democratic republic - that we unify under the cause, and recognize the abuses of one group of people is the abuse of all of us, so long as we say nothing and do nothing to protect those in danger. In this author's opinion, "Walk Like A Panther" by Algiers is the ultimate Black Lives Matter protest song, as it encapsulates everything the movement represents, stands for, and speaks to, as well as offers some sense of enlightenment as to why that specific three-word phrase is so essential to understand if we are to rectify past harms and prevent future injustice.
Protest: The Playlist
- Protest: The Playlist on Spotify
The complete Protest Playlist, including honorable mentions.
© 2020 Nicholas Gallagher