N.W.A, Kendrick Lamar and Detroit Techno: The Music of the Uprising

Black Lives Matter

Image credit: Yash Mori

Music has always played a vital role in political moments throughout history. From giving the marginalised a voice to providing perspective or even momentary relief, music unites, liberates and motivates more than ever in times of political unrest. After the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer sparked rightful outrage throughout the United States and across the world, millions of protestors took to the streets to call for an end to police brutality and systemic racism in law enforcement. And, just as they did in the 2015 rebellions in Ferguson and other cities, protests songs became unifying anthems of the movement.

In a recent report by Rolling Stone, the publication outlined the fact that many songs championing anti-police-brutality messages and political commentary have seen a resurgence in light of the protests. Using Alpha Data (the data analytics provider used for the Rolling Stone charts), they’ve been able to access data which shows just how many people are turning to protest anthems in the last few weeks, and the increase many of these songs have had since protests erupted across the world.

N.W.A‘s ‘Fuck The Police’ has seen an increase of 272 percent increase in on-demand audio streams from May 27 through June 1 compared to the five days prior to Floyd’s death. In the period from May 31st to June 1st, the song picked up “765,000 on-demand audio streams” in just those two days. The iconic protest song has long served as a call-to-arms for those railing against police brutality since its release in 1988, and sadly remains as valuable and poignant as ever over twenty years later. Similarly, Kendrick Lamar‘s ‘Alright’ has also seen an increase in streams from the same period. The song, integral to the Ferguson protests in 2015 for the very same reasons, has turned into an anthem for the #BlackLivesMatter movement and has seen an increase of 71% in the period of May 27 to June 1. ‘Fuck The Police’, also an anthem in the Ferguson protests, is being streamed double what it was during that time just five years ago.

It doesn’t stop there either. Childish Gambino‘s ‘This Is America’ has had an increase of 149 percent, Public Enemy‘s ‘Fight The Power’ has jumped 89 percent, and Beyonce‘s ‘Freedom’ saw an increase of 70 percent. Some of this can be attributed to Spotify‘s various playlists launched over the last couple of weeks. In the case of ‘This Is America’, its recent surge in streams can also be attributed to TikTok, which has sent the song viral due to creators using a remix of the song to soundtrack their own protest videos. And, as Rolling Stone also pointed out, it’s not just recent songs that are seeing jumps in streams as well: “Decades-old songs have also received large spikes in streams, including James Brown’s “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud,” which has spiked 455%, and Nina Simone’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free,” which saw a 34% jump in streams.”

In Detroit, protestors chanted “No justice! No peace! Fuck these racist ass police!” over a 2015 Dirtybird release and footage of this has since also gone viral. A fitting display of residents embracing the genre which originated in their city, the deep techno cut provides the perfect soundtrack for the megaphone-lead chant by a black man on a painted car, slowly moving in a crowd of thousands. The song in question is ‘Line Five’ by Bruno Furlan which, according to Purple Sneakers own analysis using data from ChartMetric, has since entered iTunes dance charts in Australia, the UK and Norway — the first time this song has ever appeared in these charts. Shazam numbers for ‘Line Five’ were also up, and have been steadily climbing since the video’s publication on June 6th.

Closer to home, Ziggy Ramo‘s monthly listeners has increased by 12,000 on Spotify according to ChartMetric thanks to his vital, deeply personal and sadly still relevant new album, Black Thoughts which he released to coincide with solidarity protests in Australia. A.B. Original‘s monthly Spotify listeners also bumped up 10,000 as we clocked over into June, with many blasting their songs during the protests. While a spike in new listeners is commonplace for an artist when releasing new music, the immediacy of the spike in listeners for Ramo speaks more to the relevancy and poignancy of the record itself, so while it may not have been the record many were marching to, it provides an insight into another vital aspect of these protests which needs to come hand in hand with performative activism as well: reflection and introspection. In the case of A.B. Original, the duo consisting of Briggs and Trials hasn’t released new music since their 2018 single ‘Blaccout’, so we can safely assume their spike in streams also largely protest-related as well.

In 2016, Daphne A Brooks wrote a piece for The Guardian looking at the “musical revolution” spawned by the #BlackLivesMatter movement. In her piece, she said, “Black protest music should sting and burn, be hard to digest for some, leave an aftertaste for others, make us feel more rather than less – whether it’s hate or love – make us recognise our conflicted passions, and the contradictions of our strange, post-civil rights and post-black power movement lives. Lives that shouldn’t have to be defended as mattering. Black pop radicalism should shake our culture to its core. Thank goodness for all of us that right now Bey, Kendrick, D’Angelo and company have enough in their bag to pass around.” As many around the world look at our own behaviours and attempt to figure out what more we can do in the fight against systemic racism, the lessons we need to be learning are in these very songs we’re hearing more and more now. And we are LUCKY we have access to these songs and that these artists and many, many more have shared their stories with us. It is now up to us to listen, and while the stats show that many of us are indeed doing that, we must go one step further and heed the wisdom in these songs. The fact that a hit from 1988 still holds so much truth and relevance today is as indicative as it damning about the state of the world when it comes to this fight, so it is up to us to make sure this soundtrack of the uprising is well and truly being heard.

Words by Emma Jones
Image: Yash Mori

LISTEN TO NEW MUSIC HERE

SEE ALSO

“I’M ON MY MALCOLM X” GENESIS OWUSU RELEASES POWERFUL NEW SONG ‘WHIP CRACKER’
WATCH SAMPA THE GREAT PERFORM AT THE BLACK LIVES MATTER PROTEST
READ BAKER BOY’S POWERFUL STATEMENT ON BLACK LIVES MATTER


PURPLE SNEAKERS STANDS IN SOLIDARITY WITH THOSE DEMANDING JUSTICE FOR SYSTEMIC RACISM AND POLICE BRUTALITY, AT HOME AND ACROSS THE WORLD.

BELOW ARE LINKS TO DONATE AND MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD. #BLACKLIVESMATTER

The Justice Fund for David Dungay Jr who died in police custody
Free Her Justice Fund to raise funds for incarcerated Aboriginal women imprisoned for unpaid fines
Sisters Inside, an organisation that supports criminalised women and girls, and their children, both inside and outside prison
SIGN: Justice for George Floyd
DONATE: Minnesota Freedom Fund to post bail for arrested protestors in the US

Australian Indigenous Legal Services & Agencies you can donate to:
VIC – https://vals.org.au
NT – http://naaja.org.au
NSW & ACT – https://alsnswact.org.au
WA – https://als.org.au
SA – https://alrm.org.au
QLD – https://atsils.org.au
TAS – http://tacinc.com.au

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Just a Robyn stan who loves going to the club.