In the past week, artists everywhere have been speaking out about George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the Trayvon Martin case (and some are even creating new songs about the case). Zimmerman was found innocent of murder and manslaughter, although he killed a 17 year-old, unarmed boy who was walking home from the store. There is, sometimes, a belief that our generation is more complacent and less interested in political going-ons than past generations. This may be true– and may be a reflection of many things including the progress our parents made, technology, and a certain luxury these things have afforded us. But we are definitely not without our political concerns and many great songs over the past few years reflect those concerns. Some of the political messages are veiled with a pop sound or a sick beat (like Jay Z’s 99 Problems), while others are anything but subtle (Green Day’s Minority). Y’all know I’m a hip-hop head, so many of these songs reflect my personal taste. As always, feel free to add your own personal favorites in the comments. And click inside for more!
1. Jay Z, 99 Problems
I don’t know if people get how amazingly, politically charged this song is. Jigga’s talking about class issues, race issues, and censorship as it relates to these things. That brilliant description of racial profiling in the second verse– and how avoiding its pitfalls often involves a certain amount of education– is one of my favorite moments in hip-hop ever:
The year is ’94 and in my trunk is raw
In my rear view mirror is the mother fucking law
I got two choices yall pull over the car or
bounce on the double put the pedal to the floor
Now I ain’t trying to see no highway chase with jake
Plus I got a few dollars I can fight the case
So I…pull over to the side of the road
And I heard “Son do you know why I’m stopping you for?”
Cause I’m young and I’m black and my hat’s real low
Do I look like a mind reader sir, I don’t know
Am I under arrest or should I guess some mo?
“Well you was doing fifty five in a fifty four”
“License and registration and step out of the car”
“Are you carrying a weapon on you I know a lot of you are”
I ain’t stepping out of shit all my papers legit
“Do you mind if I look round the car a little bit?”
Well my glove compartment is locked so is the trunk and the back
And I know my rights so you gon’ need a warrant for that
“Aren’t you sharp as a tack are some type of lawyer or something?”
“Or somebody important or something?”
Nah I ain’t passed the bar but I know a little bit
Enough that you won’t illegally search my shit
“Well see how smart you are when the K-9’s come”
I got 99 problems but a bitch ain’t one
2. TLC, Unpretty
Some folks would not consider this song to be politically-charged, but I absolutely read feminist politics into the message of Unpretty. Although it’s not as powerful (maybe) as their 1995 single Waterfalls, it’s another song where TLC contributes to an important discussion about the reality of the society we live in. The video and lyrics tackle the plastic surgery phenomenon, eating disorders, and the role of modern media in all of this.
3. Ani Difranco, Self Evident
A long, epic, part poem, part song– if you’ve never listened to Ani Difranco, you kinda need to hear this track right now. I was watching The Perks Of Being A Wallflower the other day, and was reminded of a high school friend who loooved her some Ani Difranco. I don’t know her music as well as I probably should, but Self Evident was inspired by 9/11, described by Ani as:
the day that America
fell to its knees
after strutting around for a century
without saying thank you
Definitely worth a full listen, as Ani brilliantly describes the personal and public reaction to war when it comes to American soil.
4. M.I.A. Paper Planes
This song became, in many ways, a kind of hood anthem and definitely went pop. Which is why it’s funny that M.I.A. originally wrote the hook with some irony behind it. When asked about the track by an interviewer she explained it on the following terms:
You can either apply it on a street level and go, oh, you’re talking about somebody robbing you and saying I’m going to take your money. But, really, it could be a much bigger idea: someone’s selling you guns and making money. Selling weapons and the companies that manufacture guns – that’s probably the biggest moneymaker in the world.
She was also inspired by her experience with the American government and their refusal to grant her a work visa when she was trying to come to the US to record her second album.
5. Dead Prez, Hip-Hop
Absolutely one of my favorite songs of all time. And absolutely one of the most important songs in Hip-Hop (and the album Let’s Get Free was the soundtrack to my very militant-minded sophomore year… in high school, lol). Shouts-out to Dave Chappelle!
Click over for more!