Music has always been inspired by the time it is in. In return, music inspires and directs the times. Songs of protest against police misconduct and institutional racism go way before N.W.A. infamously released "F**k tha Police" in 1988 as a part of the hip-hop landmark "Straight Outta Compton."
As "Black Lives Matter" echo once more from the streets to the Internet following the death of George Floyd, music has been one of the things holding people together. Here are four songs from the last decade calling out systemic oppression, police brutality, and racism.
"Spiritual" by Jay Z
The rapper's first original song in three years was released in July 2016, shortly after the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile on July 5 and 6, respectively. While the rapper shared that he wrote it earlier, even being told by rapper and TDE president Punch to release it when 18-year-old Black teen Mike Brown died. Jay Z explained that "this issue will always be relevant," and four years after, it still is.
"Just a boy from the hood that/ Got my hands in the air/ In despair don't shoot/ I just wanna do good," a verse from the haunting "Spiritual" went.
"This Is America" by Childish Gambino
Donald Glover's musical alter-ego, Childish Gambino, took the world in 2018 with his disturbing commentary on the United States' unchecked gun violence and the enduring discrimination against African-Americans in "This Is America."
While it features a gospel-style chorale, reminiscent of the tragic Charleston church shooting of 2015, and Gambino making quirky, even comedic, antics, the song is far from a joke. It deviates from the usual protest songs and goes to lambast everything with the indifference of the social media generation.
"You just a black man in this world/ You just a barcode, ayy..." the song softly fades as the music video shows a frantically-running Gambino.
"Untouchable" by Eminem
Eminem has sat among the bests of the hip-hop scene for many years now, but that didn't disconnect Slim Shady from the harsh realities that still remain in America. In 2017, he released the track "Untouchable" from his album "Revival." Em unapologetically describes in the 6-minute track the privileged life white people enjoy while their black neighbors suffer oppression on a regular basis.
Slim confesses: "And I admit, there have been times where it's been embarrassin' to be a 'White boy, white boy," as he ponders: "Seems like the average lifespan of a white man/ Is more than twice than a black life span."
"Alright" By Kendrick Lamar
What became the soundtrack of the Black Lives Matter movement started when activists gathered on the Cleveland State University grounds. Tensions were rising, concerns were mounting, and someone put on Kendrick Lamar's "Alright" during break time, giving people hope and clearing the air.
It opens with a picture of life for most, "Alls my life I has to fight, nigga/ Alls my life I/ Hard times like, yah!" before going to its now-famous hook, "N***a, we gon be alright." Lamar raps positive encouragement to the community over beats created by Pharell Williams.
The music video accompanying the song in 2015 showed Lamar flying through the streets of California, which ends in him delivering the last lines of the song atop a lamp post. A police officer shoots him and he falls slowly to the ground, finishing his intro monologue and punctuating it with a smile.