Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar is one of many artists who writes about the experience of being Black in America. (NRK P3/flickr)

With Black Lives Matter protests unlikely to end anytime soon, protest songs can continue to be a rallying cry for many of those on the front lines. This list includes not only songs from recent artists but also shows that their themes are very similar to past songs that gained prominence in previous protests for racial justice. 

I Can't Breathe - H.E.R

Released in the middle of June 2020, I Can’t Breath is titled with the last words of Eric Garner, Christopher Lowe, Javier Ambler II, George Floyd and up to 70 other cases, according to The New York Times. H.E.R. helps to show the disrespect that Black men and women have experienced throughout American history. She notes the double standard that Black people face in the United States. “Always a problem if we do or don’t fight / And we die, we don’t have the same rights.”

Alright - Kendrick Lamar 

This song comes off Lamar's masterpiece, "To Pimp a Butterfly." The album demonstrates the plight that comes with being Black in America. While many of the songs are grim, this song gives listeners quite a bit of hope. Rather than look at all the burdens of being Black, Lamar constantly reinforces the message "We gon' be alright."

Mad (feat. Lil Wayne) - Solange 

On her critically acclaimed album "A Seat at the Table," Solange perfectly encapsulates a brilliant James Baldwin quote: "To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in rage almost all the time." At times Solange takes the voice of someone against the Black Lives Matter movement, asking questions such as "Why you always gotta be so mad?" Wayne explains why there is a reason to be mad: getting stares as he walks into a bank because he doesn't dress in "appropriate" attire or people being mad that he wasn't given more jail time for a weapons charge. Some want to make him feel unwelcome because he doesn't fit the White standard created in this country.

2020 Riots: How Many Times - Trey Songz 


In this track, Songz is baffled by what is going on around him. The amount of death at the hands of police is staggering. Songz asks some of the obvious questions about what more has to be done by police before something changes. "How many mothers have to cry? / How many brothers gotta die?" How many more innocent lives must be lost before we can change our world around us? 

Self - Noname 

Noname never shies away from political talk. Here she describes the struggle that intersectionality can bring. Not only does she struggle with being Black, she also has to deal with the suppression that can come with being a woman. She is frustrated that critics say she can't rap. She's frustrated about the double standard that women aren't allowed to rap about sex when many male rappers hinge their careers of their sexual prowess. She also notes the fear that many Black people have concerning the war on drugs, starting in the early 70s. 

A Change Is Gonna Come - Sam Cooke 

Sam Cooke started as a pop singer with hits like "You Send Me" and "Twistin' the Night Away." A Change Is Gonna Come changed his career and made him a prominent face of the Civil Rights Movement. The song was inspired by real-life events: while on tour, Cooke was denied entry into a whites-only motel and was later arrested for disturbing the peace. Here he sings how hard it is to be Black, yet he still lives with hope. "A long time comin', but I know / A change gon' come." 

Strange Fruit - Billie Holiday / Nina Simone

Written by Abel Meeropol, who was born to Russian Jewish immigrants, Strange Fruit is an anti-lynching song made famous by performances from Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. The song uses fruit as a metaphor for lynched Black Americans that were hung throughout southern states. These innocent Americans were treated as nothing more than objects which were then left, forgotten, to rot and blow in the wind.