We Are the World | The Best of Recent Protest Raps
I was at a slightly-disorganized meeting for a police repression protest about a week ago when a young woman stepped up and said something about using hip hop as a tool for change and I had to stifle my response. Now, I came up during the Golden Age of Hip Hop and I always favored “conscious” rap over flexing or blinging or misogynizing, but I did not understand why this woman was proposing hip hop as a tactic to a room of 40 people with limited musical capabilities. I sat there thinking about that new Nicki Minaj video (at the bottom of this post) and feeling disgusted that this once street-level music with great liberatory potential was now being used in service of fascism (with really dumb lyrics, to boot).
Eventually, I raised my hand and suggested an agenda or proposed a structure to the meeting, and while I had the floor I said more than necessary. At some point during my two minutes, I turned to the woman I had never met and said, “Why are you talking about hip hop in this room full of random people? Are you suggesting we make some kind of hip hop ‘We Are the World’ against police repression?”
Lucky for me (and good for her), she challenged my snarky dismissiveness and stood up for herself. The meeting continued, and (as my mind wanders a lot during meetings) I remembered not one, but two jams from the late 80s, during the height of the CIA-sponsored crack epidemic and its concomitant spike in gang violence, when hip hop came together to make two pro-unity all-star jams in the “We Are the World” tradition — “Self Destruction” by the Stop the Violence Movement and “We’re All in the Same Gang” by the West Coast Rap All-Stars.
Of course, the world has changed dramatically since the late 80s — anybody with a computer can produce music and anybody with an internet connection can distribute it — yet we still get fascist garbage like that Minaj/Drake/Brown/Wayne number. (And yes, I know about Immortal Technique and Paris and the Coup and the Roots and Lupe Fiasco and Dead Prez and Blackalicious and Black Star and Invincible…and of course Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions and X-Clan and Brand Nubian and Poor Righteous Teachers…and I could keep going but I’d still miss someone you know so feel free to post songs in the comments.) That’s why I was glad to see a friend post a listicle of 10 Hip-Hop Songs in Response to Questlove’s Call for Protest Music. Good stuff there; check it out, though about half the list pre-dates ?uestlove’s call to action on Instagram:
I urge and challenge musicians and artists alike to push themselves to be a voice of the times that we live in. I know that many see what happened to Dixie Chicks’ #NatalieMaines @mainesmusic (she bravely expressed her opinion/dismay on the Bush administration declaring war & was unjustly targeted….while in hindsight being CORRECT) suddenly there was an onslaught of radio silence from artists across the board (correction not everyone was silent, but the silence was deafening) although I’m kinda/sorta addressing the hip hop nation I really apply this challenge to ALL artists. We need new Dylans. New Public Enemys. New Simones. New De La Roachas. New ideas! But it just doesn’t stop there!! We need outlets (hello #ClearChannel #RadioOne #Vh1) to balance the system. Yeah I’m just as guilty of feeling the high of all that I despise (“Devil’s Pie” D’angelo) but the reason why this nation seems to be moving 3 steps ahead in some areas…..but then 7 steps backwards in every area is a lack of balance. I’m not saying every song gotta be “Fight The Power” but in times like these we need to be more community minded (taking a wild guess that “urban radio’s” format didn’t change much from the pre program stuff (using that word *politely*) we’ve been hearing for years. & when I say challenge I don’t mean breathless race to the finish on who makes the more banging “Fuck Tha Police” sequel. I mean real stories. Real narratives. Songs with spirit in them. Songs with solutions. Songs with questions. Protest songs don’t have to be boring or non danceable or ready made for the next Olympics. They just have to speak truth. I laugh & have fun w “Bitch You Guessed It” like everyone else. But my soul is aching man. Seriously just ONE or Two songs that change the course. This is something I feel the need and urgency to put out there. #EricGarner #MikeBrown #JusticeForAll #FeedMySoul#HandsUpDontShoot #ICantBreathe
So, there’s some bangers if you follow that link, and here are my favorites among the more recent stuff (props to David Letterman???):
And an old one that applies now and always:
And one I linked to above when I talked about crack and the CIA that you might have missed:
And then there’s this rubbish:
The difference is that these are all solo or small ensemble jams, whereas “Self Destruction,” “We’re All in the Same Gang,” and “We Are the World” were all-star efforts.
[EDIT: Here’s one by Houston’s own Raymond A.]