7 Important songs for racial discussion

By Ryan Wallace – Featuring Phibi Olumide

In a time as heated as this, it’s important to educate ourselves on the reasons why we’re fighting against racism. Seeing as though music has always been an important tool in pushing challenging ideas and questioning the norm, I got in contact with musician Phibi Olumide to help me collate 7 songs which we urge you to listen to. Each one tackles racial disputes, struggles and prejudices in their own way, making them extremely relevant to our current situation.

I also suggest you check out Phibi’s music on Soundcloud.

PHIBI’S PICK:

Billie Holiday – Strange Fruit (1957)

“First song that hit me hard in my youth was Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”, it’s still a hard song to listen to now really. I think that song is important because of how raw it is. How blatant it is. It doesn’t let you hide behind the fact “slavery is over” because black people were still hung from trees long after slavery was abolished”.

RYAN’S PICK:

Rage Against the Machine – Voice Of The Voiceless (1999)

It took great difficulty to pick a Rage Against The Machine song to fit this list as they have a full discography of material that comments on racial prejudice. However, “Voice Of The Voiceless” stands out as it commented on the unfair trial of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a Black Panther spokesperson convicted and sentenced to death over the murder of police officer Daniel Faulkner. This was a very serious and real case at the time, with many including the members of RATM arguing that Jamal was innocent, with clear evidence that the case against him was racially charged.

PHIBI’S PICK

Jay Z – The Story Of O.J. (2017)

“I remember when I first heard this song, I showed my whole family. Jay Z sheds light on the mindsets of American people both black and white. No matter how rich you are or how important, you’re still a n****r. He also says how frustrated he is when African Americans would prefer to get rich, rap about it and die young rather than invest that money into themselves and their community. I think it shows the destruction of the mind America likes to keep pushing”.

RYAN’S PICK:

Bob Dylan – The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll (1964)

Dylan’s 1964 album “The Times They Are a-Changin” presents the early 60s as an intensely divided time. “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” is one such track from the album that discusses racial prejudices in America at the time. The track explores the death of an African-American maid at the hands of a wealthy white man, who was only sentenced to six months in prison. Dylan doesn’t hold back in delivering every unfair and brutal aspect that plays into a situation involving prejudice in this way, it’s one of his darkest songs as a result. 

PHIBI’S PICK:

Earl sweatshirt – Chum (2013)

“This may be a personal one since I’m multicultural and my dad looks white but there’s a line in the song that I resonated with deeply “too black for the white kids and too white for the black kids”. Earl is African American but he’s into skating and punk etc. There’s also pressure to be a proper “black person” and obviously there’s always going to be issues staying with the white kids. Most people kind of feel stuck in the middle. Culture is important, race however should not determine someone’s predisposition. Fucks with the mind when you’re expected to be a certain way because of the colour of your skin”.

RYAN’S PICK:

Public Enemy – Burn Hollywood Burn (1990)

Never had a hip-hop group ever been as unapologetic as Public Enemy. In their prime, they aimed to push challenging lyrics and ideas through energetic and loud production. “Burn Hollywood Burn” features none other than Ice Cube and Big Daddy Kane, and it completely critiques black stereotypes in Hollywood. From referencing the use of black face to commenting on black representations as gang members on TV, Public Enemy hold nothing back in their callouts of racism and stereotyping in American film and media.

PHIBI’S PICK:

Dave – Black (2019)

“One of the most uplifting and beautiful songs to hear as a black person truly. He talks about the struggles but he sheds light on the beauty of being black. I cried listening to that actually haha”.

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