Since the very beginning of time, music has been a powerful tool to bring about change. Every major human rights movement has been marked by songs created by the people at the center of the crisis, people who were desperate to get their voices heard. When they didn't always have the words to say, their songs fulfilled a specific purpose for its time — disseminating information, stirring up righteous indignation, bringing people together, and sparking joy. Music did the work.
Thankfully, the movements of the past have provided us with a powerful discography to energize our efforts. The fight continues, and so does the music. Ahead, the songs created by Black artists that you need to listen to right now.
"Lift Every Voice and Sing" -James Weldon Johnson and J. Rosamond Johnson
Better known as the Black National Anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing" is one of the most well-known songs within the culture. It's a powerful reminder of where we've come from, where we are, and where we're going.
"Fight the Power" - Public Enemy
Public Enemy's 1988 call to action called on the Black community to speak up about the need for radical change. "'Cause I'm Black and I'm proud," rapped the duo. "I'm ready and hyped plus I'm amped!"
"Black Rage" - Lauryn Hill
A heartbreaking reimagining of The Sound of Music's "My Favorite Things," this song details the perpetual rage that Black people feel on a daily basis.
"Say It Loud (I'm Black and Proud)" - James Brown
The king of soul made his stamp on music by being loudly and unapologetically Black everywhere he went.
"Fuck the Police" - N.W.A.
You can't stand up against police brutality
without the original police protest anthem from N.W.A. Its message shouldn't still ring so true thirty years later, but here we are.
"To Be Young, Gifted and Black" - Nina Simone
Despite the struggles that Black people face at the hands of white supremacy, don't be mistaken — Blackness is a gift to be celebrated.
"Freedom" - Beyoncé featuring Kendrick LamarFormation
was Beyoncé's most radical, sociopolitical era yet, and "Freedom" was her rallying cry for people to keep fighting the good fight against systemic injustice.
"Glory" - John Legend and Common
Created for the 2014 biographical drama Selma
, "Glory" was inspired by the pain and power of the 1960s civil rights movement — and the ongoing effort against anti-Blackness.
"The Charade" - D'Angelo & the Vanguard
D'Angelo's third studio album Black Messiah features this deceitfully pleasant track with a dark underlying commentary about the loss of Black lives.
"Alright" - Kendrick Lamar
Ending racism and global anti-Blackness is hard, backbreaking work, and it's normal to feel overwhelmed by the never-ending push for justice. But even though our knees are getting weak, and our voices are getting hoarse, we're going to be alright.
"Strange Fruit" - Billy Holliday
Billy Holliday's haunting vocals work to bring to life the horrors of the lynchings taking place across the United States in the 1930s. Decades later, we're reminded that that type of violence is still a reality.
"A Change Is Gonna Come" - Sam Cooke
Soul singer Sam Cooke penned this sorrowful tune after he and his entourage of friends were turned away from a white-only hotel in the 1960s. It went on to become one of the most important songs of the civil rights movement.
"Be Free" - J. Cole
The rapper released this single following the killing of Michael Brown in 2014 — unfortunately, its sentiment still applies.
"What's Going On?" - Marvin Gaye
Motown hero Marvin Gaye wrote and performed "What's Going On" from the unique vantage point of a veteran returning from the Vietnam War to find his home country ravaged by its own political unrest. Generations later, his pleas still hit home.
"Wake Up, Everybody" - Brandy, Mary J. Blige, Missy Elliott, Wyclef Jean, Musiq Soulchild, Ashanti, Babyface, Monica, Claudette Ortiz, Eve, Faith Evans, Fabolous, Jadakiss, Akon, Jamie Foxx, Jaheim, Floetry, Jon B, Keke Palmer, Marques Houston, Miri Ben-Ari, Nick Scotti, Omarion, Rev Run
This 2004 remake of the Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes original featuring Teddy Pendergrass called in the big guns of R&B and hip hop to share an all-star message of the importance of unity in making real change.