The Protest Songs That Soundtracked a Movement in 2020
Music has always reflected the culture and society that it was cultivated in. Hip hop naturally has long been at the forefront of social commentary music. With the more underground and activist-minded artists having plenty of time to cook up in quarantine, conscious protest songs came to light nearly throughout the entire past year. The United States (and much of the globe) experienced a lot of unrest, and tensions were high. Musicians are for the people though, so the voices that needed to be heard were carried onto radio and streaming via our favorite artist’s releases. From NWA to RTJ, social commentary and protest music has always done its job of capturing the feelings of a strung out society.
“Front Lines” – Conway the Machine
Featuring the classic, haunting Beat Butcha production, Conway stands up straight with his chest out proclaiming the injustices he watched unfold this year. His Buffalo upbringing is clearly a driving factor behind the disgust you can hear in his voice throughout the track. With a news reporter audio clip slotted in at the end of the 4 minute runtime, this may not be an anthem for the cause, but it sure shows the harsh reality of it. The Machine laments the cruelty and unfairness he and millions of other black Americans face when interacting with the law as the keys and drums lurch beneath his cold yet casual flow.
“Fight the Power: Remix 2020” – Public Enemy (ft. Nas, Rapsody, Black Thought, Jahi, YG, ?uestlove)
1989 brought us the iconic protest song Fight The Power, and Public Enemy revived the anthem in true 2020 style. ?uestlove, YG, Nas, Rapsody, Black Thought, and Jahi join the group in bringing back the soul and determination of the original. Each feature adds something new to the track, with fresh lyrics reflecting current events like:
This is perhaps the most apt song for this mess of a year. Social justice has come a long way since the original conception of this song, but sadly there is still a long way to go. While retaining the original sound and simultaneously modernizing the lyrical content, Public Enemy did their job once again in uniting the cause under music.
“12 Problems” – Rapsody
Elevated by mesmerizing looped background vocals, the attitude and grit practically flows out of the speakers with Rapsody’s 2020 commentary of a track. Trading flows like a stylist choosing outfits, she touches on subjects such as police brutality, weed charges, the thirteenth amendment, and the plight of black lives in a country and system that is still not corrected. She’s got 99 problems, but 12 is still the biggest.
“walking in the snow” – Run The Jewels
Distorted guitars and frantic orchestral hits ring in this forerunner of a track from Run The Jewel’s 2020 album. Dropped in the midst of the biggest riots and turmoil in the country, the energy is palpable throughout every line. With varied production throughout, RTJ does the job once again of providing music for the masses that doesn’t sacrifice the message. The breakneck speed of the drums and bars alike are enough to get anyone up off their seat and headed to the street.
“Same Sh!t Different Toilet” – Pharoahe Monch, Styles P, Marco Polo
Mirroring the feeling of those experiencing injustice around America for the nth time, “Same Sh!t Different Toilet” chronicles the systemic problems that plague minorities across the nation. The lyrical talent of Monch is always a welcome addition to any movement, while Styles P joins the fray created by the producer Marco Polo.