Black Lives Matter isn’t a moment. It’s a movement. And these 9 anti racism songs prove that it has been for generations. The mantra “Black Lives Matter” didn’t enter the lexicon until the 2010s. But the sentiment has been there for a long, long time.
We’ve come to the end of this musical journey, but the struggle and fight for Black rights and equality goes on. To be honest, I didn’t intend for this to get stretched out for so long. But the further I researched and dug into the music that’s accompanied the Black struggle over the past 80ish years, the more I realized this topic couldn’t be a “one and done” post. It wouldn’t have done justice to the music, the artists, or to the movement, quite frankly.
It’s been a joy to share these songs with you. I hope it’s been a joy for you to follow along. And I hope that you’ve learned some things from them. And that they’ve inspired and motivated you. I know they’ve had that effect on me.
Over the past couple months I’ve collected anthems of the Civil Rights movement, Golden Age of Rap songs that protest police brutality and systemic racism, anti-racism songs that were written by allies, and tribute songs about the real people whose deaths have inspired the Black Lives Matter movement.
For this fifth and final slideshow, I wanted to end on a high note. The songs I’ve put together today are celebrations of Black culture, pride, and heritage. These songs were written to inspire and empower their listeners to love themselves, have pride in their history, and claim what’s rightfully theirs. They were written to uplift the downtrodden, and offer hope for the future.
There are so many more songs than what I’ve written about here. These have just been some of my favorites. I’ve curated a Spotify playlist that’s much, much more inclusive that I encourage you to follow! It’s collaborative, too, so feel free to add your favorite songs that I’ve missed.
“This Land” – Gary Clark, Jr.
Gary Clark Jr. is no stranger to racism being a Black man living in the American South. He’s been taunted with racist slurs and Confederate flags his entire life. When he got into an altercation with a neighbor who insisted he couldn’t possibly own the home and land he owns, that was the final straw. Clark wrote this seething song to reinforce that “this land” – this country – is his home, too.
“Sweeter” – Leon Bridges
Leon Bridges wrote and recorded “Sweeter” a year ago for an upcoming album, but following the murder of George Floyd, decided to release it on its own ahead of schedule. The song finds Bridges mourning the perpetual narrative of Black people marginalized and oppressed, but full of hope and optimism for a better, “sweeter” future.
“Change for the World” – Charles Bradley
Dire times inspiring stirring music. And there aren’t many who understand dire times quite like Charles Bradley did. Check out the documentary about him, “Soul of America” to learn about the “Screaming Eagle of Soul.” One of his final singles, “Change for the World,” flips America’s current state of social, racial, and political tumult into a rousing anthem of empowerment.
“It’s Okay to Be Black” – Jac Ross
50 years ago James Brown urged people to stand up and “Say It Loud (I’m Black & I’m Proud).” In 2020 Jac Ross took a much softer tone in his emotionally charged debut single, reassuring his audience – his daughter, and perhaps other Black children who are growing up feeling “other” – that “It’s Okay to Be Black,” that they’re beautiful, that their lives matter.
“Glory” – Common & John Legend
John Legend and Common teamed up to compose “Glory,” the Academy Award-winning original song for the film “Selma.” In this beautiful song, Common ties the Civil Rights work of MLK to the Black community’s struggle in America today, while Legend belted out an inspiring and uplifting chorus that still acknowledges that there’s work to do.
“Black Gold” – Esperanza Spalding
Esperanza is Spanish for “hope.” Jazz bassist, vocalist, and composer Esperanza Spalding could not have been given a more fitting name. Spalding has been pushing the boundaries of jazz for the past 20 years. She released “Black Gold” on February 1, 2012 to commemorate Black History Month, and to celebrate the beauty and heritage of the Black community.
“Black Parade” – Beyonce
There’s no shortage of masterful Beyonce songs to choose from when building out a Black Lives Matter playlist. “Freedom,” “Formation,” and the entire “Black Is King” soundtrack come to mind. I’ve selected “Black Parade,” her latest single. Released on Juneteenth 2020, this track is a celebration of the culture, heritage, history, and excellence of the African diaspora.
“Be Free” – J. Cole
“Tired of seeing black boys killed. Tired of seeing black men killed. No more being numb to it,” rapper J. Cole wrote in a statement to accompany the release of “Be Free.” Cole wrote “Be Free” in 2014, just after the tragic death of Micheal Brown. Over a somber beat, the artist urges for peace and equality.
“Alright” – Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” instantly became an ubiquitous modern Civil Rights anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement. At demonstrations all over the world, one can find protesters chanting “We gon be alright!” So many protest songs are teeming with justified anger and outrage. Lamar is angry, too. But he’s also filled with hope.
Andrew is a husband, father, dog lover, craft beverage enthusiast, content creator, and niche market Internet celebrity. Formerly of A Table in the Corner of the Cafe and The Pulitzer Project and contributor to Barista Magazine and Mental Floss, he’s been writing on the Internet for years.