Check out staff writer Kamari Jordan's top picks in music for Black History Month!
1. Black is Gold | Wale
In this ode to Black women, Wale raps over D’Angelo’s “Lady.” The lyrics celebrate the melanin in every Black woman and mentions Black celebrities such as actresses Lupita Nyong’o and Viola Davis and musicians India Arie, Justine Skye and SZA.
“Black is beautiful baby, Black is bold. Black is black true, but Black is Gold. Black is beautiful shawty that you should know. Don’t let American standards damage your African soul.”
2. Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat) | Digable Planets
3. Don’t Touch My Hair | Solange Knowles
4. Complexion (A Zulu Love) | Kendrick Lamar
5. Get By | Talib Kweli
6. Strange Fruit | Nina Simone
Originally a poem written by a teacher named Abel Meeropol, “Strange Fruit” was made famous by Jazz singer Billie Holiday. Nina Simone’s version, which was sampled by Kanye West in “Blood on the Leaves,” is my personal favorite. This song protests the lynching of Black people when lynching was at its peak in the South. The trees that produce strange fruit is a metaphor for the victims of lynchings.
“Southern trees bear strange fruit. Blood on the leaves and blood at the root. Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze. Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”
7. All Falls Down | Kanye West
8. The People | Common
9. Good Day | Nappy Roots
10. U.N.I.T.Y | Queen Latifah
11. The Message | Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five
“The Message” is credited as the first hip-hop song to provide socially conscious lyrical content. Hip-hop left the house party scene and was now another medium the people could use to express their opinions. Even if you have never heard the original song, you are familiar with the line “Don’t push me cause I’m close to the edge. I’m trying not to lose my head.”
“It’s like a jungle sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under. A child is born with no state of mind. Blind to the ways of mankind.”
12. High for Hours | J. Cole
13. A Change is Gonna Come | Sam Cooke
14. What’s Goin’ On | Marvin Gaye
15. Be Free | J. Cole
16. I | Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar merged hip-hop and R&B in To Pimp a Butterfly’s lead single “I.” The track was sampled from the R&B group The Isley Brother’s “That Lady.” The cover to the single featured gang members forming a heart with their hands, which complimented the theme of the single. I prefer the music video version, but all versions of this song are phenomenal.
“I love myself. (The world is a ghetto with big guns and picket signs.) I love myself. (But it can do what it want whenever it want, I don’t mind.) I love myself. (He said you gotta get up, life is more than suicide.) I love myself. (One day at a time, sun gon’ shine.)”
17. Freedom | Beyoncé
18. If I Ruled the World | Nas ft. Lauryn Hill
19. Mathematics | Mos Def
20. I Am Not My Hair | India Arie
21. Video | India Arie
22. Black Brotha | Angie Stone
A few of the songs on my list are all about the celebration of Black women, therefore, I thought I needed a song that celebrated Black men. This is an ode to the brothers.
“He’s misunderstood, some say that he’s up to no good around the neighborhood. Well, for your information, a lot of my brotha’s got education.”
23. I Can | Nas
24. Glory | Common and John Legend
25. They Don’t Really Care About Us | Michael Jackson
26. Golden | Jill Scott
27. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised | Gil Scott Heron
This poem/song recorded in 1970 includes examples of popular culture to explain what “the revolution” will not be or include. The title of the song was a popular phrase among the 1960s Black Power movements in the United States. This song has been referenced in several hip-hop songs such as Common’s “6th Sense” where he says “The revolution will not be televised. The revolution is here.”
“The revolution will not be right back after a message. About a white tornado, white lightning, or white people. You will not have to worry about a germ on your Bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl. The revolution will not go better with Coke. The revolution will not fight the germs that cause bad breath. The revolution WILL put you in the driver’s seat. The revolution will not be televised. Will not be televised, WILL NOT BE TELEVISED. The revolution will be no re-run brothers. The revolution will be live.”