These Revolutionary Songs Will Make You Want to Change the World
Throughout history, Black music has reflected and addressed the social and political climate of the day.
During slavery, Black people communicated with drums and sang spirituals to deliver messages of rebellion and resistance. The sound of drums often struck fear in plantation owners, leading them to ban the instrument all together.
Contemporary artists have carried on in this tradition by using their platforms to educate, enlighten, and encourage our community to be active and vocal about our struggle for humanity and justice.
We have compiled a brief list of songs, old and new, that help get us one step closer to liberation. These might be exactly what you need before you take action. Check them out!
“They Don’t Really Care About Us” - Michael Jackson
A social and political statement on the transgressions of oppression, “They Don’t Really Care About Us, is a revealing tale that exposes the tensions between the spirit of protest and the spirit of revenge.
The aggressive energy of the track is tangible and could be felt globally. This anthem sparked questions about humanity and injustice while also negating the idea that the oppressed are the cause of their downfall and demise.
“Mississippi Goddam” - Nina Simone
The fear and anger in Simone’s voice are palpable as she performs “Mississippi Goddamn” which was written largely in response to the assassination of prominent Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers.
Outraged by the racial turmoil of the South, Simone delivered this iconic song to bring a taste of the era’s injustice to audiences across the country and let them know America was no longer a place she could call home.
“Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” - James Brown
Although his opposition labeled it militant and angry, Brown’s call-and-response style song was a bold declaration of our people’s pride in our Blackness.
By including children on the historic jazz and funk-inspired record, Brown decreed the unapologetic need to value who we are as a race across all generations and to awaken the movement within our own communities.
“Ella’s Song” - Sweet Honey in the Rock
This anthem is an ode to the legendary Ella Baker- marked as one of the most influential women in the Civil Rights movement. “Ella’s Song” resounds the enduring reality and necessity of the fight to and for freedom.
The lyrics are powerful; they are intentional; they originate from a Black female lens, and they remain relevant to where we currently are as a nation.
“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” - Gil-Scott Heron
“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” is inarguably one of the most important political urgencies of its time. The radical song effortlessly blends spoken word poetry with infectious conga beats to produce a manifesto that has stood the test of time as a representation of the Black liberation movement.
Even if you have never heard the original, it is likely you will quickly recognize the tune as it is one of the most sampled songs by hip hop artists today.
“Strange Fruit” - Billie Holiday
“Strange Fruit” exposed the nation’s lynching epidemic and overwhelming disregard for the Black body. This gripping song written by public school teacher, Abel Meeropol, likened the dangling bodies of lynching victims to the fruit of a poplar tree to protest the inhumanity of racism.
With nooses still popping up around different parts of America today, this song serves as a revelation to our traumatic historical past.
“Black Rage” - Lauryn Hill
Immediately following the aftermath of the Ferguson shootings, Lauryn Hill used her platform to remark on what has bubbled up within the Black consciousness that could produce such frustration and violence.
The emotional song is a reworking of "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music that takes the upbeat and flowery original and transforms it into something much darker, capturing the sentiments of a nation divided and providing fuel for the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Freedom” - Beyonce ft. Kendrick Lamar
“Freedom” embodies the spirit of triumph, self-reliance, and a call to action that we needed given the tumultuous racial climate these last couple years. The song is the perfect combination of political and spiritual will with Beyonce clearly indicating she is willing to be at the helm of this movement.
Coming on the heels of her statement against police brutality in “Formation,” “Freedom” was undoubtedly made with African-American empowerment in mind.
“Alright” - Kendrick Lamar
Lamar’s “Alright” offers a glimpse of hope in the midst of perpetual antipathy for Black lives in our world today. The catchy chorus promising that “We gonna be alright” underlines the intersectionality of faith and the ongoing brutality resonating throughout our neighborhoods.
If you like this thought-provoking track, it might be a good time to revisit Kendrick’s To Pimp a Butterfly album in its entirety.
“Be Free” - J.Cole
This song ricocheted around the country when released on SoundCloud in response to the senseless murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
Cole’s provocative performance of “Be Free” demonstrates the strain and fatigue in the community as it pertains to police brutality and the blatant disregard for Black lives. You can literally hear his pain and passion as his voice breaks over the somber instrumental.
We have a quick favor to ask:
PushBlack is a nonprofit dedicated to raising up Black voices. We are a small team but we have an outsized impact:
- We reach tens of millions of people with our BLACK HISTORY STORIES every year.
- We fight for CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM to protect our community.
- We run VOTING CAMPAIGNS that reach over 10 million African-Americans across the country.
And as a nonprofit, we rely on small donations from subscribers like you.
With as little as $5 a month, you can help PushBlack raise up Black voices. It only takes a minute, so will you please donate now?