Rap. While it’s mostly praised for its bass-thumping beats and lyrics so slick they make your head spin, the genre has done much more for society than people give it credit for.
For decades, rappers have used their rhymes to take on a mission our ancestors fought for years (and still haven’t achieved): social justice. And while many on the opposite side feel like the sound sets our people back, artists still remain extremely unapologetic when speaking about issues such as police brutality, political issues, gender equality and beyond.
Pair their words, which seek transparency and garner responses from higher-ups, with their A-List personas, and you’ve got change-makers at the forefront of protests. You’ve got mega-influencers persuading their flock of fans to follow suit. You’ve got regular people fighting for what they’ve deserved all along.
Let’s look into some of the ways artists have used their passion for music to impact the world and demand change. Check out our list of 15 rap lyrics that call for social justice.
1. Changes by Tupac: “Cops give a d**n about a Negro / Pull the trigger, kill a N**ga, he’s a hero”
Pac was praised for his courage to speak up on issues regarding his people with no fear of consequences. Tired of the unfair treatment of Black citizens at the hands of the police, the West Coast rapper detailed the reality of what played out on a regular basis where he was from.
2. Alright by Kendrick Lamar: “When our pride was low / Lookin’ at the world like, ‘Where do we go, n**ga?’ / And we hate po-po / Wanna kill us dead in the street for sure, n**ga”
For many people, it seems like all we have is each other. When the world turns its back, when the people put in charge of protection fail, and when it feels like we’ve hit rock bottom, Kendrick reminds us that it’s all going to be alright.
3. Cops Shot The Kid by Nas ft. Kanye West: “Tell me, who do we call to report crime / If 9-1-1 doin’ the drive-by? / It’s certain things I can’t abide by / I ain’t bein’ extreme, this is my side”
Aiyana Jones was 7 when she got shot in the neck and killed by Detroit Police during a raid. Aderrien Murry, 11, caught a bullet in the chest by police in Mississippi after they responded to a domestic disturbance call. On this song about children dying by cops, Ye expressed his concern for trusting them even at his age.
4. U.N.I.T.Y. by Queen Latifah: “Instinct leads me to another flow / Every time I hear a brother call a girl a b**ch or a h** / Tryna make a sister feel low / You know all of that gots to go”
Although this record was released in 1993, women are still disrespected and taunted by men. From being judged by what they choose to wear to feeling unsafe in certain environments, it has been an uphill battle for ladies to earn the respect they deserve from their counterparts. Queen Latifah urged women to stick together and stand up against anyone who tries to make them feel inferior.
5. Keep Ya Head Up by Tupac: “And if we don’t, we’ll have a race of babies / That hate the ladies, that make the babies / And since a man can’t make one / He has no right to tell a woman when and where to create one”
Just last year, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to overturn Roe v. Wade, removing federal protections surrounding abortions. Tupac foreshadowed this moment, emphasizing the importance of letting women be in control of their bodies. Additionally, he demanded that Black women be shown love and respect from their community.
6. High For Hours by J. Cole: “American hypocrisy, oh, let me count the ways / They came here seeking freedom then they end up owning slaves”
Given the government’s track record, it’s no shocker that citizens have a hard time trusting those in charge. J. Cole had no problem pointing out the contradiction in America’s tactics. They stole land for their benefit, then captured our ancestors and forced them to create a life they could never benefit from.
7. Georgia Bush by Lil Wayne: “F**k it he just let him kill all of our troops / Look at the bulls**t we been through / Had the n**gas sitting on top they roofs”
In August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina killed 1,833 people and caused over $108 billion in damages in New Orleans, according to the National Weather Service. Lil Wayne, a NOLA native, took aim at President George Bush, saying that instead of sending our soldiers off to war, he should have been rescuing the fearful citizens who sat atop their houses waiting to be rescued.
8. I Wanna Kill Sam by Ice Cube: “So if you see a man in red, white and blue / Gettin’ chased by the Lench Mob crew / It’s a man who deserves to buckle / I wanna kill Sam ’cause he ain’t my motherf**kin’ uncle”
Uncle Sam is the personified version of the United States government and Ice Cube isn’t a fan. While Sam is supposed to represent liberty, the former N.W.A. rapper wanted no association with the man dressed like an American flag.
9. Land of the Free by Joey Badass: “Trickery in the system, put my n**gas in prison / All our history hidden, ain’t no liberty given”
About 13 percent of the United States population is Black. Nearly 37 percent of people in prison or jail in the U.S. are Black, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. Joey Badass used his rhymes to discuss prison reform and how it negatively affects certain groups in society. After all, incarcerating thousands of people of one race prohibits opportunities for them and increases oppression.
10. The Bigger Picture by Lil Baby: “We just some products of our environment / How the f**k they gon’ blame us? / You can’t fight fire with fire / I know, but at least we can turn up the flames some”
A month after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis Police, Lil Baby released a song regarding the Black Lives Matter Movement. Violence may not be the answer, but there’s more pressure that can be applied to the cause. Fun fact: The single raked in $1.5 million, and the Atlanta rapper stated he wanted to give it all to charity.
11. Freedom by Beyonce ft. Kendrick Lamar: “Open our mind as we cast away oppression / Open the streets and watch our beliefs / And when they carve my name inside the concrete / I pray it forever reads– freedom”
In our dreams, we seek fair treatment. In the streets, we show it, pouring our hearts out, hoping that someone listens to our concerns. When everything is said and done, Kendrick wants to be remembered as someone who fought for freedom and justice for his people.
12. F**k Tha Police by N.W.A: “A young n**ga got it bad ’cause I’m brown / And not the other color so police think / They have the authority to kill a minority”
Probably one of the most popular songs about police brutality, N.W.A. sparked a movement that lasted a lifetime. While the song was released in 1988, not much is different in 2023. Black people, men especially, are still more likely to be targeted by the law because of their skin color. The darker your hue, the harder it is for you to simply exist.
13. Fight The Power by Public Enemy: “’Cause I’m Black and I’m proud / I’m ready, I’m hyped plus I’m amped / Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps”
Black people are the blueprint in many areas. Style, slang, music, food – the options are endless. Together, Chuck D. and Flavor Flav taught listeners to cherish their roots. Although there’s a lack of representation in many spaces, history has proven that our ancestors altered the world in ways we’ll never know.
14. Blacklist by Dame D.O.L.L.A.: “Used to call us monkeys and slaves and we overcame / Still, our work is just beginnin’, protests look like parades”
It’s honorable that despite the issues that exist inside the Black community, coming together for the right cause is never a problem. As D.O.L.L.A. points out, from peaceful protests with locked arms and planted feet to forceful marches with loud chants and eyes filled with tears, things are just getting started.
15. FTP by YG: “F**k silence, speak up b**ch, this s**t ill / Big stick on me, y’all kill, we kill / Been tired, f**k cardboard signs, we in the field”
YG wants to take the Malcolm X approach. Enough being quiet when innocent lives are being taken. Enough turning a blind eye to the distress facing our people. Everyone has a platform and everyone has a voice. Forget the gentle approach. The Cali rapper wants to return the same energy and demand what is deserved.
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