Violence, poverty, and police brutality are just three of the obstacles that African American people face on the daily and people of color have been protesting about it for years now. This most known protest is the Black Lives Matter Movement. Black Lives Matter is an international protest against police brutality and systemic racism towards African American people. Black Lives Matter focuses on police killings of black people, and broader topics including police brutality, racial profiling, and racial inequality in the U.
S. criminal justice system. The movement began in 2012 when George Zimmerman shot and murdered African American teen, Trayvon Martin. Black Lives Matter became nationally recognized after the deaths of Michael Brown, which resulted in protests in Ferguson, and Eric Garner in New York City.
There has been a multitude of responses to the Black Lives Matter movement, for example, the phrase “All Lives Matter” which has been criticized because of its dismissal of the message of Black Lives Matter.
Many celebrities began to use their talents as a platform for awareness of police brutality, racial profiling, and inequality. This paper will describe a variety of songs and music videos that speak up about the issues that African Americans in America face. Glory by Common and John Legend appears in the soundtrack for the movie Selma, a movie that portrays the chronicles of the Civil Rights Movement and the 1965 Selma marches. Not only does this song talk about the racial problems from the Civil Rights Movement, but it also inspires the African American race after all of the police shootings and brutality of unarmed black men.
The song was released on December 11, 2014 and peaked number 49 on the US Billboard Hot 100. It won the award for Best Original Song at the 87th Academy Awards and 72 Golden Globe Awards along with the award for Best Song Written for Visual Media at the 58th Annual Grammy Awards. “That’s why Rosa sat on the bus/ That’s why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up”. Common tied history and the present together by using the actions of Rosa Parks and the protests in Ferguson. “They say, “Stand down” and we stand up/ Shots, we on the ground, the camera panned up”. This part of the verse symbolizes the unarmed black men who have been shot and killed by the police. During these altercations, the officer would tell the struggling unarmed man to “stand down” but as a race we will “stand up” literally, for our race, and for ourselves. “Never look back, we done gone hundreds of miles”. Common means that we have come to far as a nation to revert back to slavery and segregation.
“One day, when the glory comes, it’ll be ours, it’ll be ours, oh one day, when the war is won, we will be sure, we will be sure, oh glory”. John Legend sings about the day when everyone is equal and there is no discrimination between race, gender, or ethnicity. This is similar to the famous “I Have A Dream” speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Saw the face of Jim Crow under a bald eagle”. The bald eagle is a symbol of America so Common is referring to America bringing injustice to its own inhabitants. Alright by Kendrick Lamar was apart of the 2015 Kendrick Lamar album, How to Pimp a Butterfly. Alright was nominated four times at the 58th Grammy Awards: Song of the Year, Best Music Video, Best Rap Performance, and Best Rap Song, winning the last two. Lamar described this song to be “a song of hope”.
Lamar filmed the video on Treasure Island in San Francisco and on top of a traffic light in Los Angeles. The seven-minute-long video was solely filmed in black and white. The Alright video jump starts with an African American man seen lying on the ground as Kendrick Lamar begins to speak. Lamar along with Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, and Jay Rock are in a car carried by four police officers. As the video progresses, Lamar levitates through the city, throwing money to dancers on the streets of California. At the end of the video, Lamar is shot down by a police officer and the rapper falls to the ground and finishes his rap, ending the video with a smile. This song strives to reach the audience of everyone especially African americans suffering through mental illnesses. In the black community, mental illness is shunned and just said to be a “spirit that can be prayed away”. “And we hate po-po, wanna kill us dead in the streets fasho.”
Po-po is the informal term for the police and after all of the police officers who have shot and killed African Americans, hate along with fear has simmered in the hearts of many black people. This is America by Childish Gambino was released on May 5, 2018 and features vocals from artists such as Young Thug, Slim Jxmmi, BlocBoy JB, 21 Savage, and Quavo. This is America is devoted to addressing issues of gun violence, mass shootings, discrimination, and racism in the United States. This Is America became the 31st song to debut at number one on the US Billboard Hot 100 and became Childish Gambino’s first number one and top ten single in the country. In the This is America video, Gambino stands in the Jim Crow caricature stance.
Gambino has young African American children dancing to contrast with violence. He shoots a man in the back of the head and afterwards stands in the Jim Crow stance. Later in the video, he used an automatic weapon to gun down a singing church choir. This has been interpreted to represent the 2015 Charleston church shooting. After both gun violence issues, a small child appears, holding a red cloth that Gambino lays the gun on and the dead bodies are dragged away. This sequence represents “Americans” and them putting their want of gun rights over innocent lives being taken. Throughout the video, an abundance of cars with hazard lights on and the driver’s side door open, represents fatal police shootings during traffic violation stops, specifically the deadly shooting of Philando Castile, who was shot in a 1997 Oldsmobile.
The video concludes with Gambino running in a dark warehouse, being chased by Caucasian people. This corresponds with scenes in the movie, Get Out. “Guns in my area, I got the strap, I gotta carry em” This alludes to the contrast between gun violence and self-defense. “This a celly, That’s a tool”. This refers to the March 2018 shooting of Stephon Clark, a black man shot 8 times in his back in his California home. The shooting officers claimed that he was said to be responsible for multiple robberies in the surrounding area and that he was carrying a gun (tool), but it was really his phone(celly). “Get your money, Black man (get your— Black man)”. Doreen St. Félix, in an essay in The New Yorker, called this melody an echo of the “old, edifying dogmas of black striving.” These lines represent the encouragement of a black grandmother as if saying even if you become successful, you will still be discriminated against.
Changes by Tupac Shakur covers the struggles of race, socioeconomic class, and politics. Changes was nominated at the Grammy Awards in 2000 for Best Rap Solo Performance and so happens to still be the only posthumous song to be nominated for this category. It was also nominated for Best Editing in a Video and Best Rap Video in 1999 at the MTV Video Music Awards. “I see no changes, wake up in the morning and I ask myself, Is life worth livin’? Should I blast myself?, I’m tired of bein’ poor and, even worse, I’m black “ This line is spoken from the perspective of an ordinary black male in the community. “My stomach hurts so I’m lookin’ for a purse to snatch”. Crime is considered a tactic of survival and not a pastime. This is the sad reality of some low income African American homes. “’It’s time to fight back,’ that’s what Huey said Two shots in the dark, now Huey’s dead”. Tupac refers to Huey P. Newton, the founder of the Black Panthers, whom was shot by a notorious drug dealer in 1989. This also shows how drugs are killing the people around us.
“Misplaced hate makes disgrace to races”. Tupac believes that the hate towards different races is misplaced. We should be trying to make the world a better place and hate the real evils, such as drugs, instead of hating each other. “Cause both black and white are smokin’ crack tonight” Crime isn’t limited to a certain race. Anyone can commit a crime but Tupac wants to remove the label of “criminal” from the reputation of black people. “The penitentiary’s packed and it’s filled with blacks”. The United States has the largest prison population in the world and most of the inhabitants in prison are indeed black. He considers this as an injustice that no one seems to see nor care about. “You gotta operate the easy way, ‘I made a G today,’ but you made it in a sleazy way, Sellin’ crack to the kids, ‘I gotta get paid!’”He brings awareness to drug dealers that they are benefiting themselves by selling drugs to addicted children. He wants them to know that he understands that they are trying to survive and that’s the easiest way, but its still wrong and it’s the reason why society has a hard time changing for the better. “And as long as I stay black, I gotta stay strapped”. Tupac sees it as a natural instinct to carry a gun because of his position as a black man.