Before Beyoncé and Kendrick made statements, Marvin Gaye wondered, "What's Going On?"



10 Throwback Black Power Anthems to Listen to Now

This year has been a big year for music celebrating civil rights. Yet as we relish the recent works of Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, and more, it’s also important to remember that this certainly isn’t the first assertion of black power in music. To celebrate this long-standing tradition, we look back at our favorite black protest songs and anthems in history.

The Wailers with Bob Marley “Get Up Stand Up” (1980)

Marley wrote this song with Peter Tosh, a core member of The Wailers, to speak about their upbringing in Jamaica and the oppression they faced for believing in the Rastafarian religion.

“But if you know what life is worth
You will look for yours on earth
And now you see the light
You stand up for your rights. Jah!”

Public Enemy “Don’t Believe the Hype” 1988

The song called out the conservative politics of the time, criticizing negative press against the band. The group’s music is legendary for it’s consistent protest against the oppression of African Americans. In 2013, they became the fourth hip hop group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“Some media is the whack
You believe it’s true, it blows me through the roof
Suckers, liars get me a shovel
Some writers I know are damn devils”

2Pac “Changes” (1998)

Tupac Shakur and Talent candidly speak about the war on drugs, poverty and police brutality against African Americans (which, as we all know, is sadly still all too common). Both of Shakur’s parents were in the Black Panther party, and their ideals are reflected in some of his music, which is constantly listed as one of the greatest and influential art of all time.

“Cops give a damn about a negro
Pull the trigger kill a n**** he’s a hero
Give the crack to the kids who the hell cares
One less hungry mouth on the welfare”

Sam Cooke “A Change is Gonna Come” (1964)

This iconic song was released after Cooke’s death, and automatically adopted by the U.S. Civil Rights movement as their anthem.

“I go to the movies and I go downtown
Somebody keep telling me don’t hang around
It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gon’ come, oh yes it will”

Billy Holiday “Strange Fruit” (1939)

This gorgeous, legendary anthem was originally written to protest horrifying lynchings in the United States. It was later (somewhat controversially) sampled on Kanye West’s “Blood on the Leaves.”

“Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees”

Curtis Mayfield “If There’s a Hell Below, We’re All Going to Go” (1970)

The groovy tune by the massively influential singer-songwriter, guitarist and record producer Curtis Mayfield speaks as a warning against all who weren’t doing anything about race relations.

“Everybody’s praying
And everybody’s saying
But when come time to do
Everybody’s laying”

The Isley Brothers “Fight the Power” (1972)

The Isley Brothers trio, who recorded for Motown Records, say exactly what we’re all thinking: fight the power!  The song discusses the struggle it takes to start a revolution—but that you just have to keep trying.

“I tried to play my music, they say my music’s too loud
I tried talking about it, I got the big runaround
And when I rolled with the punches I got knocked on the ground
By all this bullshit going down, hey”

James Brown “Say It Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud” (1968)

The legendary King of Soul, James Brown, keeps it pretty short, simple and self-explanatory with a message of self-love: I’m Black, and I’m Proud.

“Look a’here, some people say we got a lot of malice
Some say it’s a lotta nerve
I say we won’t quit moving
Til we get what we deserve”

Gil Scott-Heron “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” (1970)

The spoken word piece was titled after a popular Black Power slogan in the ’60s.  According to Marcus Baram, the author of Gil Scott-Heron’s biography, Heron started to realize that him and his partner were “paying more attention to what was actually being shown on television.”  T.V. tended not to show what was really happening in the world and the friends encouraged people to get out on the streets.

“The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs
The revolution will not make you look five pounds thinner
Because the revolution will not be televised, Brother”

Marvin Gaye “What’s Going On” (1971)

This album was Marvin Gaye’s first credited production, and it’s rated #6 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The magazine quotes Gaye as saying, “I was very much affected by letters my brother was sending me from Vietnam, as well as the social situation here at home. I realized that I had to put my own fantasies behind me if I wanted to write songs that would reach the souls of people.”

“You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today, oh oh oh”

Appreciate. Read. Listen. Celebrate. Learn.

power to the people
Thanks, Ashley.

Stay tuned to Milk for more powerful jams.

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