Sometimes, there are not two sides.
“Black lives matter.” That’s it. To argue something else is either wrong or switching from the subject at hand—which is that systematic racism has made black people matter less in America, hence the need to speak up in order to change that.
The protesting that’s broken out across the world in the wake of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Derek Chauvin and his fellow Minneapolis police officers is the correct response to an ongoing pattern of police brutality inflicted on people of color—no matter how much peripheral looting (or how many invisible Antifa buses sneaking into town under cover of night) accompanies it. Protesting the protesters instead of the murderers is wrong.
America is getting its shit twisted taking cues from a president who suggests things like there are “very fine people on both sides” at a rally with neo-Nazis on one of the “sides.” There is no rationalizing here. There’s no siding with Nazis and white supremacists—they’re wrong always. That’s it.
Sometimes, the only sane/healthy reaction to Donald Trump’s dog-whistling or to those bigots who manufacture hateful self-serving narratives against their fellow humans, is to tell them to STFU. Or better yet, how Public Enemy puts it to Trump in the band’s brand-new single, “State of the Union”: “Shut the fuck up, sorry ass muther fucker/Stay away from me” (or STFU SAMF SAFM).
The song is a refreshingly raw and angry response to a president who divides instead of leads, kicking off with the line: “Whatever it takes, get rid of this dictator.” At first listen, the main hook sounds disjointed until you start to feel that the flow’s been interrupted due to the annoyance of this “clown show”—“Stay away from me!”
Trump’s term has inspired many protest songs, but the string of black Americans being murdered by police has brought about a wave of musical responses. Starting with PE’s new one (which you can download for free at their website), here’s a sampling of some of the more moving examples of fresh new songs:
“State of the Union” – Public Enemy
“I Just Wanna Live” – Keedron Bryant
The 12-year-old’s heart-wrenching a cappella plea should make us all ashamed. His song got him a recording deal, but the studio version isn’t as powerful as the homemade Instagram recording.
“untitled” – LL Cool J
Speaking of powerful Instagram videos … With tears of anger welling in his eyes, LL starts with “For 400 years you had your knees on our necks,” and doesn’t stop until “black lives matter.”
“I Can’t Breathe” – H.E.R.
“I Can’t Breathe” – Bruce “Sincere” Dixon & Alex “Baby Shell Dogg” Batriz
I came across a handful of songs that took their titles from the dying pleas of Eric Garner and George Floyd. Two of the best are a righteous slow jam by H.E.R., and a prison rap by two incarcerated collaborators from Zoe Boekbinder’s Prison Music Project (that was just released as part of the Long Time Gone compilation on Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records).
“Walking in the Snow” – Run the Jewels
All of the just-released Run the Jewels 4 works as a hard-hitting soundtrack for rallying in the street, but this track with Killer Mike’s lines “And you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me/And ’til my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, ‘I can’t breathe'” is made for the moment.
“Pig Feet” – Terrace Martin
The celebrated producer/musician/rapper has assembled a crew of heavy-hitters—Denzel Curry, Daylyt, Kamasi Washington and G Perico—to capture all of the pain, anger, frustration, crazy-making confusion of America in 2020 with this fractured, heavy, skronky, breathless rap.
“Rage” – NNAMDI
Add this weird mathy, groovy rocker by the Chicago multi-instrumentalist/rapper to “Pig Feet” and you have everything you need to fight the power. Opening Line: “They kill us dead in the street.” Hear it and the rest of the Black Plight EP on Bandcamp.