Sometimes you need to be reminded just how powerful a song can be — when it clarifies, or responds to, or rips open a moment as we’re in it. Two of these songs were written a while ago, two of them are very new, and one is both new and old, which is unfortunately part of the whole point. But all of them are vital reflections of hurt and anger in this country, and all of them arrived right when we needed them. For information and ways you can protest against police brutality, check out these lists of funds and resources.
“Front Lines” exudes a simmering rage that’s boiled over. On the track, Conway The Machine encourages everyone to take to the streets, apply pressure — by any means necessary. “The Ahmaud situation and Breonna situation and now George Floyd has brought me so much pain and anger because I’m a black man: a father, a brother, I have 2 sons,” Conway explained of the song.
The killing of innocent black men and women by law enforcement is not new — it’s been happening for centuries. In the second verse, Conway recounts an all-too-familiar story of someone getting pulled over by the police. It’s chilling because of just how normal it is, even cliché. It shouldn’t be that way. “He drivin’ home from work, you pull him over ’cause he black/ Think he gangbangin’ ’cause he got dreads and a few tats,” Conways raps. “He reach for his ID, you think he reachin’ for a strap/ He get out, put his hands up, and he still gettin’ clapped.” The song ends with a recording of a Minneapolis news reporter during last weekend’s protests, a beat-by-beat of that rage taking concrete form. –James
Usually, “FTP” stands for “file transfer protocol.” Not today. On “FTP,” YG brings back the pure disgusted fire of “FDT,” the anti-Trump screed that he and the late Nipsey Hussle released four years ago. As with “FDT,” YG’s not out here making sober, cogent political points. Instead, he’s reacting with righteous, roiling, confident ire. He’s “tired of being tired of being tired.” He’ll “make your rich-ass city look like trash.” Fuck cardboard signs, he’s in the field. Underneath him, we hear the time-honored sound of West Coast thump, once again weaponized. Sometimes, the only response to brutality is a different kind of brutality. Put that in your shared network. –Tom
How many of Hüsker Dü’s peers are still raging with the righteous vitality of Bob Mould today? Even on an album called Sunshine Rock, Mould came out with guitars blazing. Now that he’s tapped back into his anger, those guitars and everything else have gone supernova. “I never thought I’d see this bullshit again/ To come of age in the ’80s was bad enough,” Mould roars on “American Crisis,” alluding to his past life as a young gay man in Reagan’s America at the height of AIDS. “We were marginalized and demonized/ I watched a lot of my generation die.”
There has been no shortage of American political anger under Donald Trump, but George Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minneapolis police has incited new levels of revolutionary fury. Mould, who lived in the Twin Cities throughout Hüsker Dü’s run, has a personal connection to that situation, but “American Crisis” was written well before it unfolded. Floyd’s death is a symptom of a larger disease, one Mould rips into ferociously here, backed by his band’s full-speed-ahead fusillade. “Here’s the newest American Crisis/ Thanks to the evangelical ISIS!” he cries out, condemning the voting bloc who seems to always support entrenched power structures despite supposedly worshipping a champion of the underdogs. It all builds to a searing, sobering line in the sand: “You’re one of us/ Or one of them/ If you’re one of them/ Don’t come near me again.” –Chris
People always compare El-P’s production style to science fiction. It makes sense. His beats sound like angry robots breaking down and conjure up images of bombed-out post-apocalyptic wastelands. But on Run The Jewels’ new album RTJ4, he and Killer Mike aren’t rapping about some distant theoretical future. They’re rapping about right now. They don’t have to imagine a fucked-up dystopian society. We’re already living in one.
“And every day on evening news they feed you fear for free/ And you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me/ And ’til my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, ‘I can’t breathe’/ And you sit there in the house on couch and watch it on TV/ The most you give’s a Twitter rant and call it a tragedy.” That’s Killer Mike on “Walking In The Snow,” the defiant centerpiece of RTJ4. He wrote that verse last fall, not last week. He was talking about Eric Garner, not George Floyd. The fact that those lyrics are as relevant now as they’ve ever been is just an eerie, sobering reminder of how deeply fucked up our country truly is.
“All of us serve the same masters, all of us nothin’ but slaves/ Never forget in the story of Jesus, the hero was killed by the state,” Mike continues. Under the capitalist white supremacist patriarchal police state, everybody loses. “We be the heroes, the breakers of chains, and the busters of locks,” he concludes. “You be them suckers supportin’ them snitches that talk to the cops.” Which side are you on? –Peter
Terrace Martin’s “PIG FEET” arrived on the first of June — exactly a week after George Floyd’s murder, and days into the responding protests that would soon reach not just every state, but even other countries. Its accompanying imagery — taken from those protests, featuring cops abusing and tear-gassing protesters — begins with a message asking us to wake the fuck up: “This video is happening right outside your window.”
Everything about it is urgent: As one of the first salvos of musicians grappling with this moment, “PIG FEET” is the sound of everything finally boiling over, no longer able to be tamped down or brushed aside. But at least part of “PIG FEET” goes a long way back, all the way to 2014. It’s a piece of music left over from when Martin was working on To Pimp A Butterfly with Kendrick Lamar. That album, of course, became one of the most important works of art of our time, a sprawling and complicated document of the black experience in America. It split the decade in two: arising from the pain and state violence black Americans had known forever but that so much of white America was just acknowledging, and later playing like a warning before the direction this country took in 2016.
“PIG FEET” bears the spirit of To Pimp A Butterfly in more ways than one. Martin is joined by Kamasi Washington, Denzel Curry, Daylyt, and G Perico. As two artists who have straddled the worlds of jazz and rap, eliding the imagined boundaries between the two, Martin and Washington have already made work that taps into generations of black music and black experience. It collapses the past and present together, underlining the cyclical and unending nature of these struggles. Much like the Butterfly sessions it originated in, “PIG FEET” uses forms both foundational and contemporary — perhaps partly to reach back to an ancestral wisdom, but more so to wield an inherited fury.
Everyone gives their most intense performance on “PIG FEET.” Over clattering, frantic percussion, you have Curry running right out the gates with a scene that’s a real-life apocalypse of police helicopters and police brutality. You have Washington’s sax lacerating the whole track, ferocious in its own right but like a cry in the backdrop trying to answer Curry and Daylyt’s verses. The whole thing sounds like a cyclone.
You might want to hear “PIG FEET” as something cleansing, or a rallying cry after several more days of protests. But this is music that comes from years of suffering many of us don’t know firsthand. Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, Martin talked about how he and his collaborators had all grown up with these experiences, with fear of the police. And what he predicted was “an energy that we all are going to regret. It may not come tomorrow. It may not come next year. But until things change, people should be prepared for the darkest moment. Because the lightest moment takes real change, and I don’t see the government wanting to change.” Anger and grief mingle: In only a few minutes, “PIG FEET” erupts, collapses into the last remaining strains of Washington’s lone melodies, and yields to silence as the video plays a long list of black men and women murdered by the police — a passage of mourning that feels like it will never end. –Ryan