By: Alyssa Wilson
As Black America faces continued turmoil by way of police brutality after the murder of George Floyd, and viral cases including Breonna Taylor, activism came alive in many forms. Many took to the streets to march for justice, and Black musicians created music that flooded the streets and became anthems for change.
Here is a list of protest songs by Black artists inspired by calls for change after Floyd’s murder.
Usher – ‘I Cry’
Usher released “I Cry” after the summer protests. He said he wrote the song to teach his sons that it is okay for a man to be vulnerable and feel his emotions deeply. Part of the lyrics read:
I cry/ For the sons without fathers/ And the pain that their mothers/ Hold deep inside/ And I’ll fight/ For the future we’re making/ We can change if we face it/ ‘Cause these tears won’t dry/ So I cry/ Ooh (I cry), ooh.
Lil Baby – ‘The Bigger Picture’
Lil Baby’s “The Bigger Picture” comes from his personal experience with police and the criminal justice system. In an interview with NPR, the rapper said he’s proud of the song and what it means. The song mentions George Floyd by name and part of the lyrics read:
It’s too many mothers that’s grieving/ They killing us for no reason/ Been going on for too long to get even/ Throw us in cages like dogs and hyenas/ I went to court and they sent me to prison/ My mama was crushed when they said I can’t leave/ First I was drunk, then I sobered up quick / When I heard all that time that they gave to Taleeb/ He got a life sentence plus.
H.E.R. – ‘I Can’t Breathe’
“I Can’t Breathe,” a common rallying call in the Black Lives Matter movement, was released by musician H.E.R. The video features footage from Black Lives Matter protests around the world and all the proceeds from the song were donated to Black Lives Matter. Part of the lyrics read:
Starting a war, screaming, “Peace” at the same time/ All the corruption, injustice, the same crimes/ Always a problem if we do or don’t fight/ And we die, we don’t have the same right/ What is a gun to a man that surrenders?/ What’s it gonna take for someone to defend her?/ If we all agree that we’re equal as people/ Then why can’t we see what is evil?/ I can’t breathe/ You’re taking my life from me/ I can’t breathe/ Will anyone fight for me?
Trey Songz – ‘2020 Riots: How Many Times’
R&B singer Trey Songz released the protest song “2020 Riots: How Many Times.” According to NME, a portion of the proceeds from the single benefited Black Lives Matter and the Community Justice Exchange’s National Bail Fund Network. He told the publication that the protests after the murder of George Floyd inspired him to write the song. “With the words in this song I just wanted to speak to everyone’s hearts and acknowledge the pain and anguish everyone is going through right now,” he said. “I know this ain’t usually my message and you’re not used to hearing this from me, but this is the person I’ve always been.” Part of the lyrics read:
How many mothers have to cry?/ How many brothers gotta die?/ How many more times?/ How many more times?/ How many more marches?/ How many more signs?/ How many more lives?/ How many more times?/ Take a look around, can you see it now?/ Don’t be colorblind, ’cause when they’re killing mine/ They’ll try to justify it/ Oh, each and every time/ Playin’ in a park, takin’ your jog/ Sittin’ on the couch, in your own house/ Never seem to matter what we do.
Leon Bridges – ‘Sweeter’
Singer Leon Bridges said the release of “Sweeter” was birthed after Floyd’s murder. “The death of George Floyd was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. It was the first time I wept for a man I never met,” he said. “I am George Floyd, my brothers are George Floyd and my sisters are George Floyd. I cannot and will not be silent any longer.” Part of the lyrics read:
Hoping for a life more sweeter/ Instead I’m just a story repeating/ Why do I fear with skin dark as night?/ Can’t feel peace with those judging eyes/ I thought we moved on from the darker days/ Did the words of the King disappear in the air/ Like a butterfly?/ Somebody should hand you a felony/ ‘Cause you stole from me/ My chance to be.
Dame D.O.L.L.A. – ‘Blacklist’
NBA player Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers, also known as rapper Dame D.O.L.L.A., wrote the protest song “Blacklist.” During the summer 2020 protests after Floyd’s murder, Lillard took to the streets to participate and call for justice. He has also been vocal on social media about the broken relationship between police and Black America. Part of the lyrics to the song read:
We in a pandemic, thought gettin’ out, I’d be more joyed/ Then I watched a cop, knee to the neck and kill George Floyd/ They hide behind the badge, we get to postin’, it never last/ Like was we ever mad? Speed up the process and do the dash, uh/ Showin’ up at every establishment, breakin’ glass/ Takin’ all they high-end products and makin’ cash.
T-Pain – ‘Get Up’
T-Pain’s “Get Up” was originally set to be released in March, but was pushed back until June. “This song was actually meant to come out at the end of March, but I decided to switch it out last minute,” he said. “I want people to be motivated, inspired and to continue to get up and push forward.” The music video features audio from Malcolm X speaking on police brutality in 1962, and the lyrics are meant to motivate the Black community to keep fighting by saying:
Long as my heart beatin’ and I’m breathin’ air/ I’ll fight for me, you decide, anytime, anywhere/ And I will never back down from it from it (From it)/ That’s not comin’, I just attack from the front/ And don’t ask questions or nothin’, do you hear?/ Yeah/ Yeah (Wo)/ Oh no I can’t stop now (Stop now)/ I gave it my all and it still ain’t enough (Still ain’t enough)/ Everybody gettin’ knocked down (Knocked down)/ The only thing that matters is what you gon’ do when you get up/ Get up there, get up now/ Get up there, get up.
Jords – ‘Black & Ready’
Singer, songwriter and rapper Jords has set out to bring “genres from Africa to the forefront.” Motivated by cries for justice after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, he dedicated his 26th birthday to marching with protesters in London. In an interview with NME, he revealed that he was stopped by the police at the young age of nine, and he was frustrated seeing what Black people experience. “I couldn’t get it right because of the anger at first. I left it for hours, and then got a good take. Later on, I found a Black Lives Matter chant and added that in. Now’s not the time to be silent: we need to start doing what we can to build as a community,” he said. Part of the lyrics read:
I know that Black is beautiful, but can they see it?/ I know that Black is powerful, but can they feel it?/ Done talkin’, now we’re past reason/ There’s only more glass behind all these glass ceilings, uh/ Do you know how hard it is for us to trust/ When you get strip-searched just for runnin’ for the bus?/ And you’re only 13, you don’t tell nobody else / No, you just blame yourself/ Then you see ’em tearin’ down your history in the media/ That you don’t learn in school, you gotta learn on Wikipedia/ They tell you you’re a menace ’til you think that you ain’t good enough/ All because you got your hoodie up, man/ There’ll be some trouble you get in just for the colour of your skin/ But don’t forget to look after your brothers ’cause they’re kings/ Don’t forget to look after your sisters ’cause they’re queens/ Do not let them kill our dreams, man.