Illustration by Dakota Cox

Music of the Moment

The hip-hop community rallies behind the Black Lives Matter Movement
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The hip-hop community rallies behind the Black Lives Matter Movement

When footage of an unarmed black man named George Floyd being murdered by police officer Derek Chauvin was uploaded to the internet on May 25, Black Lives Matter protests began erupting across the country and throughout the world. Given the role hip-hop plays in the black community, it’s natural that protesters adopt anthems from the genre to fuel their cause.

In the weeks following Floyd’s death, several members of the hip-hop community took their frustrations to the studio and created new anthems to further fuel the protests, notably including FTP by YG, Other Side of America by Meek Mill and The Bigger Picture by Lil Baby, all of which are raw reflections of the artists’ real experiences as black men living in America.

An unlikely protest anthem came from the late Pop Smoke, who was gunned down in his Los Angeles residence earlier this year. Thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets of Manhattan during the initial protests, chanting the words to the former rapper’s hit song “Dior.”

To celebrate Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the abolition of slavery in the United States, Beyoncé released her own Black Lives Matter anthem, “Black Parade.” On July 31, she delivered an entire visual album titled “Black is King” celebrating the African race throughout history.

When the protests were at their height, another song from Beyoncé’s 2016 album “Lemonade” titled “Freedom,” featuring Kendrick Lamar, was also being played across the country. Along with Lamar’s own song, “Alright.” Another artist with a critically acclaimed album celebrating Black excellence in “To Pimp A Butterfly,” Lamar has remained suspiciously silent since the protests broke out, beside participating in the Compton Peace Walk.

Regarded alongside Lamar as one of the best and most progressive rap artists of the era, J.Cole chose a different path that landed both him and Lamar on the list of Twitter cancellation campaigns.

Afterwards, Cole admitted in a tweet, “[he hasn’t] done a lot of reading and [doesn’t] feel well equipped as a leader in these times.” Cole released a song on June 16 titled “Snow On Tha Bluff,” addressing both his own ignorance of the plight of his people, and the criticisms of an unnamed Black woman, quickly discovered to be Chicago rapper, Noname. On the track, Cole compels Noname to preach her knowledge rather than shame those unwilling to speak up and to share it with audiences outside of those that already have access. Cole’s “queen-tone” lyric, however, muddied the message with accusations of policing a Black woman’s tone and inspired a response track from Noname with “Song 33,” in which she questions how he could write about her in a time of such international tragedy.

As the Black Lives Matter movement carries into the fall, hip-hop continues to celebrate its roots, most recently with the release of the first official, full-length Nas album in over eight years, “King’s Disease,” preceded a week by his own Black Lives Matter anthem, lead single “Ultra Black.”

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