Art work credited to Michael White
*This is part of a series showing undying support to the Movement for Black Lives, which consist of various activist groups & organizations, such as Black Lives Matter, actively fighting for black liberation and social mobility. We give thanks to Dream Defenders, Race Forward, Black Youth Project 100, Blackbird, Million Hoodies, OBS: the Organization for Black Struggle, Ferguson Action, Southerners on New Ground, Project South, and countless other collectives fighting against social and economic injustice:
The intertwining of hip-hop music and culture into #BlackLivesMatter is not only clearly on the forefront of pop culture’s fixation on the movement itself, but it’s very, very necessary. Rap music, in the form of its artists AND its fans, has acted as one of the loudest mouthpieces regarding the mistreatment of African-Americans by police in the U.S.. Hip-hop has been the megaphone for the voiceless in this country; it’s the lightning rod attracting more eyes and ears to this extremely pressing, tragic issue of state violence.
Here are 10 of the most impactful instances where hip-hop spoke up for #BlackLivesMatter, whether directly or indirectly:
BEYONCE’S “FORMATION” MUSIC VIDEO
Possibly the most famous (or infamous) example of hip-hop commentary on police violence is the visual for Beyonce’s “Formation”. While the song’s lyrics emanate Black pride (“I like my baby hair with baby hair and afros/ I like my negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils”), it was the music video that really drove home a message in line with the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Amongst a good deal of pro-black imagery, Bey is shown perched on top of a cop car submerged in water (that sinks with her lying on it by the video’s end), sending a clear visual message regarding police brutality: her people ain’t taking it anymore. This video can definitely be coupled in with the pop star’s much-discussed Super Bowl half time performance of the track as well, complete with dancers whose outfits resembled those of the Black Panthers.
DAVID BANNER’S VERSE IN THE 2014 BET HIP-HOP AWARDS CYPHER
One of the earlier examples of hip-hop speaking up on the same issues #BlackLivesMatter does is Mississippi’s own David Banner’s socially conscious verse in a cypher segment during the 2014 BET Hip-Hop Awards. The rapper references George Zimmerman and rising up from an oppressive system trapping his people in poverty, before having the DJ cut the beat and ending the verse with a simple question: “where were the white rappers when they mowed Mike Brown down?”
KENDRICK LAMAR’S 2016 GRAMMY PERFORMANCE
This year, Kendrick Lamar put on one of the most powerful performances during the Grammys in recent memory. His critically acclaimed album To Pimp A Butterfly was a prominent example of what this piece is discussing by itself, but it was this live performances right in the mostly white establishment’s face that added the much-needed exclamation point to his message.
Lamar walked out shackled in a chain gang, donning traditional old-school prison garb, rolling right into the angriest cut on his album, “The Blacker the Berry”. Next, in front of a blazing bonfire, Kendrick runs through the more optimistic but still realistic single “Alright”, before ending his performance with an intense then-new track, “Untitled 3″. These 6 minutes are packed with so much frustration, passion and honesty that any open minded person can’t help but respect it.
COMMON & JOHN LEGEND’S “GLORY” WINNING AN OSCAR
The Grammys and BET Hip-Hop Awards are not the only award shows affected by #BlackLivesMatter movement and hip-hop’s stance on it, as in 2015, Common & John Legend’s song “Glory” from the soundtrack of the profoundly moving historical film Selma. Just as moving, though, was the pair’s acceptance speech for Best Original Song.
BEYONCE’S LEMONADE VISUAL ALBUM FEATURING MOTHERS OF POLICE VIOLENCE VICTIMS
The most recent example on this list, Beyonce’s new visual album Lemonade picks up where her “Formation” video left off in that towards the end of the hour-long music video monolith, the mothers of some of the most talked about victims of police brutality towards minorities are shown holding pictures of their sons. The mothers of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown and Eric Garner are all captured in a raw, emotional light with Bey’s music in the background.
PUSHA-T’S SONG “SUSHINE” FEATURING JILL SCOTT
While not as well-publicized as most of the previous examples, GOOD Music president Pusha-T wrote one of the best, most scathing criticisms of American society’s still-racially oppressive dynamics, with commentary that is poignant but never heavy handed. Jill Scott’s strong, soulful vocals make for a hook that completes an excellent example of rap music further bolstering up what #BlackLivesMatter stands for.
KILLER MIKE’S INTERVIEW WITH BERNIE SANDERS
The hip-hop community’s open-armed embrace of a 74 year old Jewish white man running for president this year has been extraordinary and powerful. Killer Mike of the acclaimed duo Run the Jewels, in particular, has been vocally supportive of Bernie Sanders’ campaign. The burly rapper has spoken out on social media in support of Sanders’ policies and even spoken at his rallies, but it was his hour-plus sit-down interview with the presidential candidate that solidified just how intertwined hip-hop and politics have become. They discussed everything from the economy to, of course, police violence in minority communities.
TEF POE INCITES A TWITTER RIOT
While he is the least known musician on this list, St. Louis indie rapper Tef Poe still sparked quite a bit of controversy with a series of tweets expressing his frustration regarding Donald Trump’s increasing popularity as a presidential hopeful. The activist/emcee told his 40K plus followers that he would be “hell bent on inciting riots” if Trump is to actually win, which sent the internet into a firestorm. It’s up for debate whether this was ultimately good or bad for the #BlackLivesMatter movement, but it certainly drew more attention to it.
KENDRICK LAMAR’S “ALRIGHT” MUSIC VIDEO
If you watch this video, hear this song, and don’t see how strongly this ties into #BlackLivesMatter, then I don’t know what to tell you. One of the greatest rap videos of recent times, from one of the greatest rap albums of recent times, sending one of the most necessary messages in recent times.
PROTESTORS CHANTING THE HOOK TO “ALRIGHT” AT A TRUMP RALLY
And to ice the sociopolitical cake, a group of #BlackLivesMatter activists crashed a Trump rally in Chicago, chanting the hook to Kendrick’s single in the middle of the crowd. The rally wound up being cancelled (success!), which is a testament to the effectiveness of hip-hop culture, especially when coupled with a movement as meaningful as this one.