Hip-hop has always been the voice of The Culture, the people, the struggle. The voice of the revolution. Check out our list of 10 powerful hip-hop protest songs.
“Alright” by Kendrick Lamar (2016)
When it dropped in 2016, “Alright” instantly become the soundtrack to national protests and the Black Lives Matter movement in the wake of several high-profile police killings of unarmed black people. The hook “We gon’ be alright,” is more than a chant, it serves as an affirmation of black life, black community and black hope. The entire song (and accompanying video) is a brilliant, genre-bending pro-black manifesto with bars that are both smart and powerful.
“A Song For Assata” by Common (2000)
Likely not the most popular protest record, “A Song for Assata” is still one of the most important. It is a moving tribute and retelling of the trial of activist and Black Panther member Assata Shakur. In it’s day, her case was highly publicized and controversial because it was widely believed she was framed for the murder of a police officer. Assata ended up escaping from prison and sought political asylum in Cuba. Common raps “I read this sister’s story, knew that it deserved a verse/ I wonder what would happen if that would’ve been me?/ All of this just so we could be free.”.
“Be Free” by J. Cole (2014)
“Be Free” is J. Cole’s tribute to teenager Mike Brown who was killed by police in Ferguson, MO that year. Powerful and lyrical. the song communicated depth and emotion on a level few artists can reach. Cole’s voice was worn and his pain of the situation is audible. Cole took the song to an even deeper level by including the harrowing eyewitness account of Mike Brown’s friend, Dorian Johnson. “All we wanna do is break the chains off.” Cole raps, “I just wanna be free.”
“Changes” by 2Pac (1992)
“Changes” is Pac’s pointed rumination on police brutality and the war on drugs that attack black communities. The song is as poignant and painfully relevant today as it was when he released it. There are so many quotable lines that Pac could’ve spit yesterday. “Cops give a damn about a negro/ Pull the trigger, kill a n***a, he’s a hero/'” The hook of “That’s just the way it is” is a reminder that this cycle of oppression persists but the overall message from Pac is encouraging Blacks to stay positive as a way to battle the U.S. government. Pac was always good at making you proud to be Black.
“FDT” by YG feat. Nipsey Hussle (2016)
YG was the first rapper to make a trump diss record, dropping FTD (F@%k donald trump) before he was even elected. The song’s title and hook (the title repeated over and over) resulted in the Secret Service investigating his lyrics. YG and the late-great Nipsey Hussle both rip into trump’s racist and dangerous rhetoric trying to expose the black and brown youth to his potential dangers. But the song is much more than inflammatory, it’s true message is to inspire people to get engaged and vote. And the song showed hip-hop’s influence and it’s potential to shift political perspective and dialogue.
“F Tha Police” by NWA (1988)
There have been many anti-police songs in hip-hop’s history but NWA’s “F$&k The Police” has a special place all it’s own. So raw, so scathing, so unflinching, NWA spends 4 minutes putting the LAPD (and PD’s in all major metropolitan areas) on trial for the ways black communities are targeted and treated. Ice Cube ferociously raps: “A young n***a got it bad ’cause I’m brown/ And not the other color, so police think/ They have the authority to kill a minority.” Still blistering to this day, and unfortunately still true.
“Fight The Power” by Public Enemy (1989)
“Fight The Power” has been a hip-hop anthem for over 30 years. The song is an unflinching critique of America then (and now) and a not-so subtle call for a revolution. Speaking directly to and for frustrated African-Americans, PE frontman Chuck D put it down. Capturing both the psychological and social conflicts of the time. Militant. pro-black, and anti-establishment, “Fight The Power” is one of the most powerful hip hop protest songs.
“Police State” by Dead Prez (2000)
Another pro-black/militantly minded hip-hop act, Dead Prez created “Police State,” to address the ways black communities are over-surveyed, over-policed, and over-incarcerated in America. As in almost all their songs, the duo calls for a revolution, one in which wealth would be redistributed and where black freedom would finally be realized: “I want to be free to live, able to have what I need to live/ Bring the power back to the street, where the people live”.
“Their Eyes Were Watching” by Sho Baraka (2020)
“Their Eyes Were Watching.” finds Christian Hip-Hop artist Sho Baraka waxing poetic over a Gospel sample. Mixing religion, politics, and social commentary Sho drops blistering lines like, Hello, America Please stop with the eulogies/I wrote my own narrative, You don’t know what to do with me,” Then asks white America “What’s your identity outside of white supremacy/ do you love yourself or are you jealous of your enemy?” Not surprising Sho ends up putting his faith in a higher power over man in these turbulent times.
“U.N.I.T.Y.” by Queen Latifah (1993)
Mysogony is part of the struggle as well. And in U.N.I.T.Y., legendary female emcee Queen Latifah addresses the issue head on. The song attacks misogyny in society (harassment on the street), the home (domestic violence) and hip-hop (sexist rap lyrics). Latifah focuses specifically on dealing with these issues as a black woman. It’s all about empowerment of black women and knowledge of self-worth as the song’s classic hook states. “Love a black woman from/ Infinity to infinity (You ain’t a bitch or a ho),”.
We hope you enjoyed our list of 10 Powerful Hip Hop Protest Songs. Check out some of our other lists:
Written by @TalentedMrFord