Most instances have atleast some room for error. When Deadmau5 plays one of his coveted 3 hour warehouse sets he takes comfort in the fact that he has a song or two that can flounder with the crowd. When Eli Manning leads his two-minute drill, the shot caller for the NY Giants still has the wiggle room to waste a down. Even my father, who trifles with income and expense like a C.P.A. rather than an OB/GYN, has the space in his inventory to discard a faulty suture or trash a tattered and stained pair of scrubs. While most situations have some form of leeway to allow for imperfections…the #BlackLivesMatter playlist published by the Spotify Staff does not enjoy the same luxury.
Days ago, America was served its latest dose of police brutality with the shooting of yet another unarmed black man. Keith Scott, 43, was gunned down in Charlotte, NC, and similar to other ground-zeroes, protests and mayhem have plagued the city where another death has already been recorded. In a time with such heightened sensitivity and racial tensions that have stretched throughout the entire spectrum, it is essential to not only be intentional with the words you use when taking a stand on the situation, but for mega-companies like Spotify, they must be exact.
In the wake of the tragedy, Spotify took to their music streaming application and released a 43 song playlist simply titled, “Black Lives Matter.” As I stretched and lifted at the gym today, I threw the mix on and listened to its entirety. For the majority of the 1.5 hour medley, I was perfectly pleased with the rhythmic tones the creators chose to soundtrack the current situation. We all know music speaks a language that words simply can not, so as the mix rests on the laurels of a national protest and an outcry for change, its assumed that most of the tracks will be empowering by nature and concoct some form of Pathos from the listener. Jumping from genre to genre, my foot never stopped tapping as most songs bolstered the spirit of the movement perfectly…but not all. The folks over at Spotify, when taking on this project, don’t enjoy the luxury of the negligible 2 song amongst a 3,000 song year for Deadmau5 nor do they get to take a knee on third and bring out the kicking unit like Eli can. No, with a topic so pointed and provocative like race, every second counts. As such, when it comes to situations like protests and stigma reversal, the music must lend itself to those ideals. It must be empowering and inspirational, vindictive yet poised. Music evokes emotion; knowing that the listeners are highly reactive, anger and violence should be omitted…here’s how Spotify did.
“Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.”-Mahatma Ghandi
Amongst the library of Civil Rights movies Hollywood has shelled out, it’s nearly impossible to tell Glory Road from Remember The Titans to 42 and apart from The Express simply by ear. By that I mean the soundtrack is as consistent as the sunrise. Expand that idea to Django: Unchained, 12 Years A Slave, and The Color of Friendship and the theory turns to fact. When Sam Cooke croons about “how a change is gonna come,” or when Donny Hathaway belts that “someday we’ll all be free,” it time-machines the listener right back to the 1960’s sitting on the back of the bus with Rosa or eating lunch alone with Ruby. There is a nostalgic effect underlying most of the selective Gospel tunes Spotify elected for, obviously the implied tactic. Maybe it’s because most of this music comes from a different era, when protests were trail blazed by names like MLK and Malcolm under the duress of the L.A. riots. It sounds authentic and nudges my will to get up and join the ranks rather than simply lighting a fire under my ass to rise. It’s softer, more melodic, and frankly evokes sympathy with its brass and woodwind sheet music. It explains more than it tells. It opens your heart rather than closing your fist.
The Hip Hop
“I always say that non-violence is not the weapon of the weak. It is the weapon of the strong.”-Betty Williams
Not surprisingly, the girth of the playlist lies within the loose outline of what we define as “rap.” After pillaging through the mix, I found it nearly impossible to typecast Kendrick and The Game with the likes of Pac and Nas….not because of their differing talent nor variance in recognition, but instead, because of the context of their music.
The New School
“Never be afraid to raise your voice for honesty and truth and compassion against injustice and lying and greed. If people all over the world…would do this, it would change the Earth.”-William Faulkner
It’s hard to argue around the notion that Hip Hop is likely the most aggressive and incendiary genres of lyricism out there. I’m rap fan through and through, so this isn’t white boy talking out of his ass from the sideline as much as it is a knowledgeable aficionado speaking from within the trenches. As I scroll up and down HotNewHipHop and Dat Piff, I’m never phased by the track that features the tatted up gang-banger rapping about his money, cars, and hoes and how he’d lose them all just to beat his enemies face in. It doesn’t matter the color of the man that sings the words. Hip hop on a whole has been carrying around a rep since its birth and it’s going to take less Instagram beef and violent arrests to clear that air. While that is neither here nor there, it was Spotifys job to select the songs that highlight the positives of the protest and fuel people with actionable emotions…not the call for violence…it’s a two wrongs don’t make a right kind of thing for me. With that, Ty Dolla Sign earns his berth with ‘No Justice.’ Kendrick Lamars critically acclaimed ‘Alright’ is essentially one of the theme songs of the movement as it assures the audience that “WE GON’ BE ALRIGHT.” I also tip my hat to Vic Mensa who’s ‘16 Shots’ was featured, a haunting joint that counts up to 16, the amount of shots an officer unloaded on LaQuan McDonald. These are the messages a protest should be inspired by which is why YG’s ‘Police Get Away With Murder’ could have been neglected. The L.A. native and notorious crook, while musically astute and culturally involved, paints a picture of violence and beckons retaliation. While this too is another valid offering for people from the outside to look in through…I fear repeating over and over how “we don’t give a fuck” discredits the platform to some extent. YG also advices listeners to never leave home with a gat…an eye for an eye makes the world blind.
The Old School
“When people say Black Lives Matter that doesn’t mean blue lives don’t”-Barrack Obama
The titans of the 90’s were respectfully awarded their fair share of air-time. Yesterday’s Grammy winners include Pac, Nas, Jay, Mos Def, & Lauryn Hill…an ensemble of the very people who put hip hop on the map to begin with. To some extent, these were the ones who tried even harder to paint themselves as bad-asses, as the nature of the game used to be a bit more real…before trigger fingers turned to Twitter fingers. Pac was always received with laud as not only an artist, but a celebrated philanthropist, worldly philosopher, and prolific academic. He earned two songs on the list, the extremely worthy ‘Keep Ya Head Up,’ a track whose name says it all, in addition to ‘N.I*.*.E.R.’ (The Slave and the Master). Don’t let the name fool you, relinquish your assumptions and all experience you have when it comes to the N-word. Although I’m giving Pac the benefit of the doubt, the song speaks directly to black people assuring the populace that they are the master not slave…that’s universal even though it’s exclusionary simply by nature. Old school hip hop didn’t get the perfect 100% however, as Eminems ‘White America’ widely missed the mark. Ironically it’s one of the only white artists selected for the playlist, but again, that’s neither here nor there. Instead, Detroit’s bad boy cries that this is White America,” a term we’ve all heard get kicked around like F.I.F.A. with truancy, however, when it comes to sound tracking a revolution, angry vocals + angry instrumentals + an angry artist isn’t the formula for success.
Side Note: I’m thrilled that Spotify opted for N.W.A.s ‘Fight The Power’ rather than ‘Fuck The Police.’ While the hate and anger has certainly manifested itself, middle fingers to the fuzz will only result in a worsening condition. While most get gun shy when approached with the “racist cop” narrative, the shootings are still the exception rather than the norm. Guilt by association has always been a pain for grade school bullies and drug dealing felons alike, as such, every person deserves the credit to be judged stagnantly, not simply based off of their affiliations.
“You never change things by fighting the existing realty. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”-R. Buckminster Fuller
Bob Marley was the O.G. pacifist; a man on a never ending search to find the key to life and coexistence…and ganja. As they puff on medicinal, the reggae artists have always been keen to sing from a place of peace and happiness…we’ll hear angry Reggae songs as soon as we start seeing pigs fly. With that, Marley came in clutch with ‘Redemption Song’ and ‘Get Up, Stand Up’…two tracks that transcend color and any other stigmatized boundary society has constructed. Bob sings of strength and faith in the almighty while maintaining an omnipresent sense of humbleness. He tells people to emancipate themselves from the MENTAL SLAVERY, which I think is more or less the issue we are battling today. While the story often ends with physicality, the issue is stemming from misinformation and a lack of understanding…earning Bob the M.V.P. of the entire tracklist. The other standout reggae artist in Nina Simone and her track ‘Baltimore.’ While it is out of line with many of the other songs, it is completely in line with the whole hippy mentality. She tells the people that there is always the option to simply escape. Be it through weed or running to the mountains for shelter, there is always the option to pick up and leave when a place isn’t serving you right.
“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”-JFK
The key to a rhythm and blues track is to romanticize, so when it comes to the Black Lives Matter protests, I presume the goal here is to either romanticize the goal or romanticize the struggle. John Legend and Usher are joined by the likes of D’Angello on this front…key word being ‘chains.’ I actually don’t love the Usher track as a stand alone song…its effect, however, is on the money. Usher raises the opinion that black people are still chained, using a crafty play on words with chain/change. The music video was released on Tidal in 2015 under the name ‘Don’t Look Away,’ which deployed first of its kind tactics when compared to early 90’s MTV Hits! Using facial recognition software, the video essentially forces the viewer to watch the montage of recent victims or the video won’t play…Usher says it’s time to stop turning a blind eye. While R&B is essentially baby making music, the genre can also be crafted into love stories for any other topic. With vocal smoothness only rivaled by the instrumentals themselves, the R&B section acts as the paint brush, canvasing images of tomorrow that are so desirable that the listener needs to chase after it like a future baby momma.
“Love is the only force capable of turning an enemy into a friend”-MLK Jr.
White as rice Steve Martin once comically said that “he was born a poor black boy,” a euphemism employed to describe a walk of life that media and journalism has made so available for the masses to consume. The idea of the soul section is to evoke the empathy rather than the sympathy of the Black Lives Matter Spotify playlist…it’s a walk WITH us not FOR us kind of mentality. Marvin Gaye is featured twice, Stevie Wonder once, Harold Mevlin once, James Brown once, and Fat Albert thrice (kidding). Soul music is exactly what it seems like…SOUL. MUSIC. Reach deep down and pull up the muk that lines the darkest corners of your heart and sing it loud and proud! Harold Melvin hits the mark with his “Wake Up Everybody,” which transmits the simple message that people need to WAKE THE FUCK UP. While the song is decades old, the idea has kept peoples foot tapping throughout its entire tenure. At this point, X amount of shootings later and Y more to come, the issue is all but obvious…for those who still deny that there is an injustice, “wake up!” Marvin Gaye pokes at similar ideals, rather than telling people he asks them, “What is going on!?” I fear we may still be in the primordial ooze of the BLM movement and that unfortunately, more blood may spill before a solution is found. With that, the interested person is also the interesting person, so, when Gaye possess a question rather than serving the public an answer, he puts the ball in our court. You can bring a horse to water but you can’t make it drink…most of this movement will stem from the actualization of it from the individual, not from the masses. So, follow the hearty soul singers and ask yourself the question because only then will you find YOUR answer…and maybe that’s the right one for the rest of the world.
Nothing in this world is perfect, a realty that has been pounded into our cerebellums since Pre-K. While most things allow for this quip to hold true, when speaking on your platform in front of an emotionally unstable public, the allowance for mistake diminishes exponentially. The severity of the issue is palpable and the curtailing emotions are blatant when it comes to BLM. For Spotify, a streaming app that solicits its serves to a global audience well into the 8 figure range, the margin for error approaches absolute zero. With that, I tip my hat to Spotify for taking on a task that most conglomerates would shy away from, as market share is usually achieved through objective approaches and remaining side-less when it comes to arguments. In all, the playlist was solid, exploring a breadth of genres and artists that all have different takes on a similar situation. The idolized black musicians found within the 43 songs all act as prolific personalities that will be required to overcome the obstacles ahead. Unfortunately, when it comes to subject matters as sensitive as this one, songs must be drafted with exactitude. Any score under 100 means that there is still room for improvement but in this instance, one misplaced song preaching to the wrong choir could warrant another tragedy…be safe, be smart, and be the change.