Protest Music For All Your Feelings

Black Lives Matter Activist Jenaya Future Khan speaks to a crowd of thousands at the Black Lives Matter March on June 7, 2020. (Chava Sanchez/ LAist)

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Ever since the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer almost three weeks ago, songs that implicitly or explicitly call for racial justice have echoed in the streets and shown up on Spotify playlists.

Add to that new protest songs by artists responding to today's movement and there's plenty of music to match the many, many feelings you're having these days — from angry to inspired to just plain fed up.

Just this week H.E.R. shared a new song, I Can't Breathe.

Morgan Rhodes and Oliver Wang co-host the podcast, Heat Rocks and are regular contributors covering music on KPCC's Take Two. Rhodes is a music supervisor whose credits include the TV show "Queen Sugar." Wang is a culture writer and DJ.

This week they each picked three songs that make up their protest soundtrack for 2020.

Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, Wake Up

"He's saying 'Wake Up,' but I think it means the same as today's jargon, Be woke, which is to say, to use your voice to affect social change and also to pursue justice. It's a call to action for the community, for the world and personally." — Morgan Rhodes

Gil Scott-Heron, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

"Even though [this] song is not specifically about the police, it is one of the most notable songs from that era that have endured, in which Gil Scott includes this line that says, 'There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down on the instant replay.' And it's the only line, besides the title of the song, that he repeats twice ... which is to me a reminder that this current moment has plenty of echoes from the past." — Oliver Wang

Joi, Freedom

"What I find so engaging about this song besides the pure funk of it ... is the chorus, which echoes 'freedom' over and over again. And in the way that [producer] Dallas Austin arranged the vocals so they sound like Joi is singing through a megaphone, which is the vehicle for transmitting power and strength, especially in protest movements and marches and revolution." — Morgan Rhodes

Kendrick Lamar, Alright

"Alright was a song that originally emerged and was adopted effectively as a protest song about five years ago during the protests around Ferguson and Cleveland and Baltimore, etc. And to me it's a great reminder that protest songs rarely become so by design. It's not like Kendrick Lamar sat down thinking or hoping that 'Alright' would end up being chanted in the streets. It's something that when the people find something that resonates with them, then they will be the ones to put it forward in that sense." — Oliver Wang

Leon Bridges + Terrace Martin, Sweeter

"This [newly released] song was written from the perspective of a black man taking his last breath ... and what I think is so powerful about [it] as a protest song is that the tempo is slowed down just long enough for you to sit with the tone of the song. And the lyrics they just cut you at your core." — Morgan Rhodes

Suede the Remix God and iMarkkeyz, featuring footage of Johnniqua Charles, Lose Yo Job

"This is one of those very much social media remixes that begins with a bit of news footage and then someone takes that footage and remixes it into a song that was never intended to be a song to begin with ... This really captures not just the political moment, but also the technological and pop cultural moment in which all of these things are coming together." — Oliver Wang

For more music, check out NPR's recommendations.

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