Eight Songs of Racial Protest

Music has the power to bring people together in the name of solidarity. Throughout protest history, there have always been songs to aide in carrying the cries for social justice. Protest music came into mainstream popularity during the civil rights movements of the 1960s and 70s, with folk and gospel artists such as the late Pete Seeger and Mahalia Jackson. In todays current political state however, protest music has chosen a different voice. Hip-hop along with punk music have provided the loudest songs of racial protest during the black lives matter movement.

“Sound of da Police” by KRS-1

Off of the Bronx natives’ debut studio album, Return of The Boombat, “Sound of da Police” takes a hard look at police brutality. Although released in 1993, the song remains relevant in the current Black Lives Matter movement. Throughout the song, KRS-1 makes comparisons between the police and overseers who would police southern plantations while keeping slaves in check.

Key Lyrics:

“Officer, Officer, Officer, Officer!
Yeah, officer from overseer
You need a little clarity?
Check the similarity!
The overseer rode around the plantation
The officer is off patrolling all the nation”

“One Four Love (Pt.1)” by Mos Def

The second track off of Mos Defs’ Hip Hop For Respect EP released in 2000 is another song centered around police brutality and racially-centered violence. With a hook that sings ” My people unite and lets all get down.”

Key Lyrics:

“My people unite, hop up and do it right
We gotta have what? love peace and understandin
One god, One love, One light
One aim, One voice, One fight”

“Changes” by 2Pac

Riddled with commentary on the life of an inner-city black man, “Changes” is 2Pac’s timeless meditation on racial injustice. The song consists of verse after verse of 2Pac calling for change.

Key Lyrics:

“I see no changes all I see is racist faces
Misplaced hate makes disgrace to races
We under I wonder what it takes to make this
One better place, let’s erase the wasted”

“Sunshine” by Pusha T

Bronx rapper Pusha-T takes a conscious approach in his 2015 release “Sunshine” telling America that the country is in need of a miracle. Pusha remembers Freddie Gray, another victim of police brutality and neglect.

Key Lyrics:

“These ain’t new problems, they just old ways
I see one time turn sunshine into Freddie Gray
Just another n**** dead, just another n**** dead
Send another to the FEDs, send another to the FEDs”

“Banned in D.C” by Bad Brains

Well affiliated with the Afropunk movement of the 70s and 80s and regarded by many as the pioneers of hardcore, Bad Brains deliver this rage filled track about racial solidarity.

Key Lyrics:

“We, we got ourselves
Gonna sing it, gonna love it, gonna work it out to any length
Don’t worry, no worry, about what people say
We got ourselves, we gonna make it anyway”

“Don’t Shoot” by Dave East

Dave East takes a creative approach, altering his voice to reflect on his encounters and experiences with NYPD through out his childhood, as a teenager, and as an adult. Born and raised in Harlem, Dave East delivers descript bars verse after verse detailing life in the city and coming to terms with racism and police neglect.

Key Lyrics:

“Left and right I’m seeing homies get interrogated, we ain’t safe where we live, this America ain’t it?”

“Spiritual” by Jay-Z


In 2016, “Spiritual,” was Jay-Z’s first solo release in 3 years. Penning the lyrics after the shooting of Michael Brown in 2014, Jay-Z said he held onto the release because he knew ” his death wouldn’t be the last” in a statement released with the song. Jay-Z calls out police brutality and the cycle of poverty and depression many in the black community are stuck in.

Key Lyrics:

I am not poison

Just a boy from the hood that got my hands in the air

In despair don’t shoot

I just wanna do good”

“Oppressor” By Jesus Piece

East Coast hardcore band, Jesus Piece target the oppressive behavior of police in the song “Oppressor” off of their 2015 EP release. Fronted by Aaron Heard, one of the most prominent black vocalists in the current hardcore scene, the song is delivered along with a brutal instrumental and has since been a highlight of many hardcore festival performances, bringing together people of color in the hardcore scene, all taking turns grabbing for the microphone.

Key Lyrics:

“I refuse to bite my tongue

The revolution has begun

I refuse to die next

Lift your boot from my fucking neck”

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