In just three years, the Black Lives Matter Movement has taken over the national conversation by cementing the concerns, needs and rights of women, men and LGBT people of color. Founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi, the group has inspired those to stand against troubling police practices and raise conversations existing as a black person in America. The conversations and marches have often been met with controversy from conservative pundits who claim BLM’s message divides races. While fighting misrepresentation, the group has found strong allies within hip-hop. With artists like J.Cole, Tef Poe, Mysonne speaking out about the unrest in Ferguson after the death of Michael Brown, other acts have followed to unite us all with the power of music.
With Black Lives Matter turning three today, we take a look at some of the songs that dropped this year that have shown solidarity with the movement and most importantly, the people. Check them out below. — Desire Thompson with additional reporting by Marjua Estevez, Tony Centeno, and Stacy-Ann Ellis
Princess Nokia, “Brown Girl Blues”
Princess Nokia’s spoken-word piece in “Brown Girl Blues” floats over wistful blues chords, and speaks to the frustrations many people of color continue to deal with in the aftermath of the many extrajudicial executions of our black and brown brethren. She exercises poetic license in her magnetic lyrics, using repetition and imagery to drive home a powerful message. – M.E.
Swizz Beats has established his stance on social justice in the past, but his latest record proves he’s all for #BlackLivesMatter. Before the release of his most fresh LP choices and changes, the skilled producer and emcee teamed up with Houston vet Scarface to reach out to the afflicted families who hurt the most from the recent wave of police brutality that covers commercial news channels every day. “Sad News” consists of the realest bars either artist have uttered all year about gun violence that has ruined families across the nation. Swizzy opens the song with a hook dedicated to the death of a young boy who was gunned down in a fit of violent rage. Meanwhile, Scarface delivers a heart-wrenching verse, in which he vents his underlying feelings about the social injustice he’s witnessed in his lifetime as well the plights in his hometown. The song stirs up emotions within communities across the nation who can relate to the grief of families afflicted by the recent police brutality that has plagued our nation. – T.C.
Miguel, “How Many”
Miguel’s “How Many” was shortly made after the death of Alton Sterling, but with a message years in the making. Questing the non-indictments of the officers involved in the deaths of Sandra Bland, Eric Ganer, Tamir Rice and others, pain and optimism take over the virtuous track. As the drums kick in during the hook, the crooner calls on his brothers and sisters to take a break from their phones and demand change. While addressing police violence during his performance at the Wireless Festival in London last week, the tearful singer opened up about his fears if the world continues to spin on the tension-filled axis. “We can’t let sh*t just blow over and not take action anymore,” he said. “Look—our children will inherit this Earth when we’re gone. What are we leaving for them? What are we doing for them now, not tomorrow? Now!”
Vic Mensa, “16 Shots”
“16 Shots” highlights the October 2014 shooting where 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times in 13 seconds by police. Mensa’s ear to the movement grew during the investigation, as he marched in the streets with his fellow Chicago natives. Mensa also teamed up with the Hip Hop Caucus’ Respect My Vote! campaign to give out his EP, There’s A lot Going On for free in exchange for voting pledges.
Emeli Sandé, “Not Another One”
Somber keys fill the background of Emeli Sandé’s “Not Another One” with cries of understanding, peace and justice. Released on Sunday (July 10), the singer fills the one-minute track with a reminder that “we bleed the same” and that “we’re human beings.” Sandé promises to play her part, but not stare injustice in the eye again.
YG, Nipsey Hussle “FDT”
“Don’t let Donald Trump win, that n***a cancer.” Cancerous is exactly the way to describe the way race relations will further decay this country if the toupee-wearing Republican presidential candidate takes up residence in The White House. As YG and Nipsey Hussle spelled it out for us on “FDT”—Still Brazy‘s anti-Trump single—Trump has a less than favorable relationship with the brown-hued citizens and inhabitants of the United States. Since his candidacy, he’s promised a slew of divisive policies and practices and doled out countless insensitive remarks without any sign of reproach. Although many people from Gen Y have voiced disinterest in politics and voting, YG and Nip put their set colors aside to stress just how important for minorities and youths to speak up and do so where it counts: the poll booths. –S.A.E.
Jamila Woods, “Blk Girl Solider”
Chicago singer-songwriter Jamila Woods is a firm believer of #blackgirlmagic by implementing it into her work with Chance The Rapper (“Blessings”), Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment (“Sunday Candy”) and Macklemore (White Privilege II.”) On her debut album Heavn, Woods lays down the weaponry for the track, “Blk Girl Solider.” Calling out the misogynistic and prejudicial views on black women, she name drops Sojourner Truth, Assata Shakur and more iconic women as freedom fighters that inspire us all.
Jay Z, “spiritual”
Unfolding in his first single since 2014, “spiritual” taps the layers of racial tension, success as an African-Amerian and fears he has when it comes to finding justice in police killings. While the song was made after the death of Michael Brown, it was released last week following the deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisana and Philando Castile in Minnesota. The mogul along with his wife Beyonce Knowles-Carter have quietly attributed themselves to the movement as they provided materials to BLM and bail for protesters in Baltimore and Ferguson. This year, however, the couple has been more vocal than ever with the aforementioned track and Bey’s politically-charged visual album, Lemonade. “spiritual” does more for the soul as it cries for the public not to see African-American men as “poison” or anything other than human.