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African-American protest albums you should know

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This African-American history month, let’s discover new literature, music and film together. Every week in February I am going to search for new material by African-American writers, performers and musicians. I am doing this to help reinforce the idea that white people, myself included, need to listen to voices that don’t sound like our own. Let’s turn on some conscious raising music.

The following list of albums is aimed at putting to rest the notion that there is an absence of protest music or a lack of protest bands or singers in the modern and mainstream music scene.


Beyoncé – Lemonade (R&B, 2016) 

“Ten Hail Marys, I meditate for practice
Channel 9 news tell me I’m movin’ backwards
Eight blocks left, death is around the corner
Seven misleadin’ statements ‘bout my persona” – From the track “Freedom”

In her sixth studio album, Queen B gives us a defiant, brave and powerful conceptual album based on every woman’s journey of self-knowledge and healing. Here we see an unguarded part of Beyonce that until now, she felt uncomfortable revealing.

Protest statement: Against racism and pro-women empowerment.


D’Angelo – Black Messiah (R&B, 2015) 

“All we wanted was a chance to talk
‘Stead we only got outlined in chalk” – From the track “The Charade”

D’angel dropped his LP “Black Messiah” in the final days of 2014, in a year of deep racial turmoil. In the wake of the killings of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, the timing of this release is what stands out as the most political aspect of this album.

Protest statement: Against police violence


Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly (Hip-hop, 2015) 

“And man a say they put me inna chains, cah’ we black
Imagine now, big gold chains full of rocks
How you no see the whip, left scars pon’ me back
But now we have a big whip parked pon’ the block” – From the track “The Blacker the Berry”

This is an album that is meant to be listened to from beginning to end, and any English major would love to give it a literary analysis. The lyrics in “To Pimp A Butterfly” are multilayered, exploring a variety of political and personal themes related to discrimination, race and culture.

Protest statement: This album touches on everything from capitalism and consumerism, to racism and exclusion.


Santigold – ’99¢’ (Pop, 2016) 

“I give ’em my heart in words, will they remember me?
I’ll leave ’em alone and time’ll want to smother what I say
I round another year and wonder did I go someplace” – From the track “Chasing Shadows”

Released in 2016, the record centers around hyper-consumerism and the way capitalism transforms life into a shopping mall. What separates this album from others that preceded it is that Santigold specifically focuses on how our relationships are attributed to price tags.

Protest statement: Anti-materialism, individual innovation and the effects of aging in the music industry.


Zebra Katz – Nu Renegade (Hip Hop, 2015)

“If I bite your apple, is it really a sin?” – From the track “You Tell Em’”

Zebra, along with similar rappers Mykki Blanco, Cakes da Killa and House of Ladosha, is part of LGBT artists who emerged in 2010. Although Zebra doesn’t specifically have albums of protest, he is an LGBT icon, breaking down barriers in the mainstream hip-hop community, one of the least LGBT-friendly genres of music, with a significant body of the genre that contains homophobic and “anti-gay” lyrics.

Protest statement: For freedom of expression and sexuality


Honorable mentions:

A Tribe Called Quest – “We got it from Here” (Rap, 2016)

Kimya Dawson – “KNOCK, KNOCK- WHO?” (Indie, 2013)

Childish Gambino- “Awaken, My Love!” (R&B/Soul, 2016)

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