Celebrate Black Music Month with All the Songs to Come Out of the Protests

Meek Mill, Mickey Guyton and Kane Brown are among the black artists to release new music in response to the protests against racial injustice

Meek Mill, Mickey Guyton and Trey Songz
Photo: Getty Images (3)

Black Music Month — which kicked off its 41st annual celebration on June 1 — has come at a crucial point in this nation's history, as thousands of people across the country have joined together in protest of police brutality and systemic racism following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.

Not only have the protests brought about tangible changes in the charges against the officers who took part in the killing of Floyd, they also have become the grounds for a great deal of new music from black artists speaking to this time.

As "We Shall Overcome," the anthem of the civil rights movement of the '50s and '60s, has proved, music has always had the power to unite.

Here are all the songs to listen to in celebration of Black Music Month and everything that has been accomplished by the protests so far:

"I Just Wanna Live" — Keedron Bryant

Keedron Bryant, a 12-year-old rising gospel singer who competed on NBC's fourth season of Little Big Shots, went viral at the end of May when he shared a video of himself singing about his experience as a "young black man."

"Just singing what’s on my heart...hope this blesses someone," he captioned a clip of the song, which features the lyrics: "I’m a young black man/doing all that I can/to stand/Oh, but when I look around/and I see what’s being done to my kind/every day, I’m being hunted as prey/My people don’t want no trouble/We’ve had enough struggle/I just want to live/God, protect me/I just want to live/I just want to live."

As of Tuesday, the heartbreaking video has received more than 3.1 million views on his Instagram. It has also been reposted by many celebrities on social media, including Janet Jackson and former President Barack Obama.

"2020 Riots: How Many Times" — Trey Songz

After watching the video of Floyd being killed at the hands of a police officer, Trey Songz told the Associated Press that he felt a pain so heavy that it woke him in the middle of the night and brought him into his home studio to record a new song.

Though the lyrics and melody came quickly to Songz, 35, he couldn't get the lyrics out when it came time to sing. “My voice would break, or tears would fall," he said.

So he went out into the streets of Los Angeles to join protesters in grieving Floyd's death.

“It was so much love and good energy out there, like so much hope," he said. "Really looking to your right, to your left, seeing people of so many ethnicities standing for our cause — it gave me the strength that I needed to come back and finish the song."

The result was "2020 Riots: How Many Times," released on Friday. In addition to Songz's vocals, the track features an-all black choir from Atlanta.

"I was actually crying on some of them lyrics,” Songz said. “It’s pain. It’s sadness. It’s anger. It’s rage. It’s confusion."

(Warning: this video contains profanity)

"Otherside of America" — Meek Mill

Meek Mill's "Otherside of America" opens with a clip of Donald Trump lobbying to black voters during a 2016 campaign rally: “You’re living in poverty. Your schools are no good. You have no jobs. Fifty-eight percent of your youth is unemployed. What the hell do you have to lose?”

Mill, 33, then highlights the harsh realities of being black in America as he raps the lyrics, "N—, we homeless/Momma at work, daddy, he dead, n— we lonely/Stomach growling like an AMG going to bed, we hungry/Uzi on me, all my friends is dead, n— we lonely."

"Otherside of America" ends with a sample from another clip, this time from Mill's 2018 interview with CNN's Michael Smerconish.

"I always dreamed to be on CNN to be able to express myself and speak for the voiceless young men of America," he says in the sample. "The first step I would say: I grew up in America in a ruthless neighborhood where we are not protected by police, we grew up in ruthless environments, we grew up around murder, you see murder, you see seven people die a week, I think you would probably carry a gun yourself. Would you?"

(Warning: this video contains profanity)

"Worldwide Beautiful" — Kane Brown

Country singer Kane Brown released his new song "Worldwide Beautiful" on June 4 to advocate for justice and equality.

"I'm releasing this song early that I've been holding onto for a year," he wrote on Instagram. "I'm hoping it will bring us together during this time and proceeds are being funded to the boys and girls club ❤️ I love you guys."

In the first verse of the song, Brown, 26, sings the lyrics, "White churches, black churches/Different people, same hearses/ It's kinda hard to fight with each other/ Laying down in the ground, six under /At every show I see my people /They ain't the same but they're all equal /One love, one God, one family."

He continues in the chorus, "You're missing every color/ If you're only seeing black and white/ Tell me how you're gonna change your mind/ If your heart's unmovable /We ain't that different from each other /From one to another, I look around /And see worldwide beautiful ."

"Get Along" — Ludacris and KidNation

In direct response to the racial injustices impacting our country, Ludacris and his new media platform for kids, KidNation, released a music video entitled “Get Along" to teach children the importance of love and inclusivity to instill acceptance and prevent racism before it even starts.

"With everything going on in this world, we felt extremely passionate about releasing 'Get Along' early,” Ludacris, 42, said in a statement. “The message is simple, but needed now more than ever. You tell your kids how important it is to lead with love. Somewhere along the way, we sometimes forget that. We’re going to let the kids remind you. Let’s ‘Get Along.'"

KidNation is set to officially launch later this year.

"You See It" — Ty Dolla $ign feat. Skrillex

Ty Dolla $ign teamed up with Skrillex, German DJ Virtual Riot, singer Ant Clemons and actress and activist Nia Miranda for a one-minute long anthem titled "You See It," released on June 1.

"I know you see it/My people dying in the streets they ain't breathing/I know you heard about it/You know the issues, but the problems you ain't speaking," Ty Dolla $ign, 35, sings. "How many more of my brothers/Do I gotta lose till I see change/I know you see it/but we need change/How many more of these mothers/Gotta lose they child til' we fix things/I know you see it/but we need change."

"Sweeter" — Leon Bridges feat. Terrace Martin

On Monday, Leon Bridges released a powerful new song "Sweeter," featuring producer Terrace Martin. The song is written from the perspective of a black man taking his last breath, and though it was intended to be released in a film at a later date, Bridges, 30, and Martin, 41, felt the world needed it now.

"Growing up in Texas I have personally experienced racism, my friends have experienced racism," Bridges wrote on Instagram. "From adolescence we are taught how to conduct ourselves when we encounter police to avoid the consequences of being racially profiled. I have been numb for too long, calloused when it came to the issues of police brutality."

"The death of George Floyd was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me," he continued. "It was the first time I wept for a man I never met. I am George Floyd, my brothers are George Floyd, and my sisters are George Floyd. I cannot and will not be silent any longer. Just as Abel’s blood was crying out to God, George Floyd is crying out to me. So, I present to you Sweeter."

"They Don't" — Nasty C and T.I.

T.I. and South African rapper Nasty C teamed up for their powerful collaboration, "They Don't." On the track, T.I. directly names Floyd, Taylor and Sandra Bland.

"Guess they'd rather see us all in civil unrest/Than to go and make some f—in' arrests," he raps. "How you supposed to serve and protect with your knee on my neck?"

As his verse comes to an end, T.I., 39, shares his thoughts on seeing police stations being set on fire during the protests.

"Big thing I seen, the police station goin' up in smoke/Hmm, felt like vindication for so many folk/Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, and so many more," he raps.

Nasty C, 23, wrote on Twitter that proceeds from the track will go towards Until Freedom and Solidarity Fund.

(Warning: this video contains profanity)

"Let Go" — D Smoke and SiR

The season 1 winner of Netflix's Rhythm & Flow, rapper D Smoke, and his brother SiR linked up for "Let Go," a track dedicated to Floyd.

“But in this life some wars we can’t avoid,” D Smoke, 34, raps. “I wrote this the day they killed George Floyd/We won’t forget your story.”

(Warning: this video contains profanity)

"Black Like Me" — Mickey Guyton

Mickey Guyton, one of the few black female singers in country, wrote her track "Black Like Me" more than a year ago about her experiences with racism. Though plans to release the song were initially put on hold due to coronavirus, the deaths of Arbery, Taylor and Floyd pushed Guyton, 36, to release it on Blackout Tuesday.

"I didn't feel right trying to promote anything while people are suffering and not able to buy food ... And then I saw Ahmaud. And then I saw Breonna. And then I saw George," Guyton told NPR. "I just put 'Black Like Me' on my Instagram. No permission, no nothing. I just put it out there because people need to hear that. And then Spotify called and asked for it. I was like, 'Here. Take it. No, there doesn't need to be promotion, because that's tacky.'"

"This is not about me," she continued. "This is about the bigger spectrum of things and about humanity. And that's why we did it. It was purely to try to at least get people to hear different perspectives."

In the chorus of "Black Like Me," Guyton sings, "It's a hard life on easy street/Just white painted picket fences far as you can see/If you think we live in the land of the free/You should try to be black like me."

"Walking in the Snow” — Run the Jewels

Killer Mike and El-P of hip-hop duo Run the Jewels released their new album, Run the Jewels 4, on June 3, two days earlier than expected.

"The world is infested with bulls— so here's something raw to listen to while you deal with it all," the duo wrote in a statement shared to their Twitter page. "We hope it brings you some joy. Stay safe and hopeful out there and thank you for giving 2 friends the chance to be heard and do what they love."

On the album is the poignant "Walking in the Snow," during which Killer Mike, 45, raps, "And you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me/And till my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, ‘I can’t breathe.'"

(Warning: this video contains profanity)

"FTP" — YG

On June 2, YG released his protest song "FTP," or "F— the Police, which shares a name with N.W.A.'s 1988 anthem.

“F— the police, that’s how I feel,” YG, 30, raps. “Buy a Glock, break down the block, that’s how I feel/Murder after murder after all these years."

"FTP" is a follow-up to his 2016 anthem, "FDT," or "F— Donald Trump."

(Warning: this video contains profanity)

"Who Do I Turn To?" — Joy Oladokun

Singer Joy Oladokun co-wrote "Who Do I Turn To?" with The Highwomen's Natalie Hemby to reflect on the current state of events.

“When Natalie [Hemby] and I started writing last week, we were just catching up and talking about life,” Oladokun told American Songwriter. “It felt irresponsible to even write about something other than what’s going on. It was and still is at the forefront of my mind.”

In the chorus of the song, Oladokun sings, "If I can’t save myself/If it’s all black and white/If i can’t call for help/In the middle of the night/If I can’t turn to god/If I can’t turn to you/Who do I turn to."

"In the chorus, the line that is most important is 'If I can’t save myself … in the middle of the night' because it’s illustrating that I don’t trust the police since I’m black,” Oladokun said. “I don’t trust the police enough to know that they would think I’m not robbing my own home. I don’t think a lot of people understand what that is like. The feeling sucks.”

"How Long?" — Fantastic Negrito

Bay Area musician Fantastic Negrito released "How Long?" on May 27 as a statement to perpetrators of violence and as a response to white supremacy.

"How long are we going to keep doing all the things we’re doing before we break?" he told Pollstar. "Because this is not very sustainable; because we can’t keep doing the same things we’ve been doing in this country for the last 40 or 50 years. You can only destroy, and that’s what we’ve done. It’s broken. Maybe this is just the catalyst for ending [white supremacy]. We’re in need of it. We need to turn it around if we’re going to survive."

“I’m saying how long are you going to buy this s—?" he continued. "It’s easy to kill this brother because you’ve dehumanized him. That’s who I’m singing to in this song. Because he’s the perpetrator of the crime … There are good police officers, and I’m not going to become the evil that I rally against. I’m not going to become the destruction that I oppose. But artists have to speak the truth. Are we enraged? Yes. Are we fed the f— up? Yes, we’re fed up. Are we hurt? Yes, we are crushed. OK, now what’s next? What do we do with that?"

Fantastic Negrito, 52, concluded by saying "every one of us has power."

"The hope is that we’re talking about this for a change," he said. "I know if you want to solve problems with the opposition, you start talking. Find compromise. Stop pointing fingers. Stop doing that and start communicating and get on the same page."

(Warning: this video contains profanity)

"Front Lines" — Conway the Machine

Rapper Conway the Machine paused work on his upcoming new album, From King to a God, to release his song "Front Lines," in response to the deaths of Arbery, Taylor and Floyd.

"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," he told Complex. "I wanted to give you the mindset from the protesters' point of view, and I was able to paint that picture perfectly over this Beat Butcha production.”

After criticizing fans of Tekashi 6ix9ine, Conway, 38, raps in the song, "I just seen a video on the news I couldn’t believe/Another racist cop killed a n— and get to leave/He screamin’ ‘I can't breathe,’ cop ignoring all his pleas/Hands in his pocket, leaning on his neck with his knees."

(Warning: this video contains profanity)

"Body Cast" — Dua Saleh

Minneapolis musician Dua Saleh released the song "Body Cast" on May 30. Though Saleh (who uses the pronouns they/them) originally intended to save it for a future project, they wrote on Instagram that they couldn't "wait that long with what is happening in minneapolis."

"this song is about police brutality and injustice," Saleh wrote. "100% of the proceeds will be donated to @blackvisionscollective who are mobilizing their efforts for real change ... all of the names listed in this cover art were unarmed black people killed by police in recent years."

(Warning: this video contains profanity)

"PIG FEET" — Terrace Martin feat. Denzel Curry, Daylyt, Kamasi Washington, and G Perico

Along with his track with Bridges, Martin came out with another collaboration, titled "PIG FEET," which features saxophonist Kamasi Washington and rappers Denzel Curry, Daylyt and G Perico.

“Someone asked, how do I feel? I told them hurt, fearless, angry, aware and fully ready to protect me, my family & my people at all cost,” Martin wrote on Instagram. “I got together with Black men that felt the same way and created a work of truth.”

At the end of the music video for the song, a list of names of black people killed by police scrolls for two minutes and 45 seconds.

(Warning: this video contains profanity)

"Captured on a iPhone" — Dre

After some encouragement from Snoop Dogg, rapper Dre released his song "Captured on a iPhone" on May 30 as a tribute to the black people whose deaths at the hands of cops weren't documented.

“I just hope that when people hear it, it moves them and makes them reflect on everything that’s going on,” Dre told HipHopDx. “Hopefully, it’s also a force of positivity. Music is like medicine; it’s healing. I hope it inspires the artists to get a boost and create some music to talk about what’s going on.”

"I can remember growing up and in the beatings captured on tape, the people survived,” he continued. “Now, they’re just straight-up killing you on tape. And it’s like, ‘Damn, things are supposed to get better.’"

(Warning: this video contains profanity)

"Tribute" — Papoose

Rapper Papoose remembers 27 black people beaten and killed by police, one victim for each letter of the alphabet starting with Amadou Diallo and ending with Zamiel Crawford.

In the verse about Floyd, he raps, "George Floyd, three officers kneeled on him/He told 'em he couldn't breathe, they didn't care for him/The country, rioting everywhere for him/F— those cops, I have no fear for 'em."

In the verse for the letter "U," Papoose raps, "The U stands for the unknown/Who died by racism, their faces weren't shown."

(Warning: this video contains profanity)

"Lose Yo Job" — iMarkkeyz and DJ Suede

The same artist who brought the world the Cardi B "Coronavirus: S— is real" remix is back at it again.

On June 4, Brandon Davidson (aka DJ iMarkkeyz) released "Lose Yo Job," a now-viral remix he made of a woman singing and dancing while in police custody.

"I Cry" — Usher

On July 6, Usher released the self-directed music video for "I Cry," a song he released in June inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests.

The video features an emotional Usher singing over a piano as photographs taken by the late Gordon Parks are flashed across the screen.

"I cry/For the sons without fathers/And the pain that their mothers/Hold deep inside/And I'll fight/For the future we're making/It can change if we face it/'Cause these tears won't dry/So I cry," Usher sings in the chorus.

Usher will be donating his proceeds from the record to LISC, the Local Initiatives Support Corporation. LISC is one of the nation’s largest nonprofits investing in underserved communities and communities of color across the country.

"Black Lives Matter" — BeBe Winans

Grammy Award-winning Gospel and R&B singer BeBe Winans released his timely single "Black Lives Matter," named after the movement, on July 2.

Winans began writing the song after Freddie Gray's death in police custody in 2015. After recent events, he was moved to finish and record the song in an effort to help support the Black Lives Matter movement.

“After witnessing the horrific tragedies of Freddie Gray, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and so many other countless lives being cut short, I started to think about the ways I could lend my voice to this movement,” Winans said in a statement. “Music has always been a way to bring positivity, hope and people together so I wanted to create a song that could help bring a sense of peace to this world for our children, including my own. Black. Lives. Matter.”

The music video for the song is meant to honor the lives lost over the years from police brutality and racism. To support the movement, all proceeds from the song will be donated to Black Lives Matter and Bryan Stevenson's Equal Justice Initiative.

"I Can't Breathe" — H.E.R.

H.E.R. wrote her song “I Can’t Breathe” in response to racial injustice and to help make a change in history.

During a livestream performance of the song as part of iHeartRadio's Living Room Concert Series Presented by State Farm, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter said the track means something “very painful and very revealing” and came from a conversation of “what’s happening right now, what’s been happening and the change that we need to see.”

"I can't breathe/You're taking my life from me/I can't breathe/Will anyone fight for me?" H.E.R. sings in the chorus.

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