Connecting with artists on a personal level is something I have been used to for a few years now. When I think of actions around societal changes I immediately think of Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar, J.Cole, Joey Bada$$, SZA, Miguel, Beyonce, and Jay-Z just to name a few. Within the past few years, I have definitely paid more attention to lyricism and what artists are trying to convey. In present times, it is difficult for artists not to share their views when they are the ones being targeted. When listening and watching the music video of This is America, millions of viewers felt connected to how America protects guns rather than the lives of its citizens. Students go to school every day with precautions due to school shootings so it is personal to many when Gambino just walked away after shooting multiple people in each scene.
The symbolism of how after shooting individuals the gun is properly handled, while dead bodies lay on the floor was also striking after rewatching it. Listening to Kendrick Lamar and J.Cole, their audiences have not only learned about the reality of a Black man living in America but how when struggle turns into passion and you end up successful, that does not mean the color of your skin disappears. A successful Black person still has to deal with watching the news and seeing people who look like them be killed at the hands of law enforcement. The reason why many connect with this is that students like me have spent a lot of time for the past couple of months learning and teaching others about racism and socioeconomic equity not only on a local scale but a societal/systemic scale as well. In addition, I took a class last year called Hip Hop Literature and Culture so I got to connect with artists who have gone through similar experiences as me financially and I got to learn about how skin color was always a factor even if you were rich and famous.
In the famous song “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar, he displays a realistic use of lyrics that an entire community of people relates to. According to NPR, he was inspired to write this song after visiting the specific cell on Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. In addition, he was thinking about the history of chattel slavery in America. Although he was writing about years ago, these issues are most definitely present in America today. Lamar says, “four hundred years ago, as slaves, we prayed and sung joyful songs to keep our heads level-headed with what was going on. Four hundred years later, we still need that music to heal. And I think that ‘Alright’ is definitely one of those records that makes you feel good no matter what the times are.” Not only did this song receive a large amount of recognition but, gives hope to the Black community even when the reality is really hard.
When watching Beyonce’s commencement speech for the 2020 graduates, many students including myself feel a powerful connection to how much we have gotten through and how hard it was to accomplish what has been done. Not only does she mention how the entertainment industry did not have many females to look up to, she says she still created her own label and management company with the help of her parents and mentors. She says, “not enough Black women had a seat at that table. So, I had to go chop down that wood and build my own table.” Following that, she created a place for people of color and females to have a seat at her table because they were continuously rejected by companies even though they were immensely qualified for the position they were applying for.
When scrolling through SZA’s Instagram, her consistent acknowledgment of Black lives, the spread of love and power to the community is something many rely on. Her platform of 7.1 million followers is extremely useful when it comes to providing information and advocacy on social injustices.
Joey Bada$$ drops his album titled “ALL AMERIKKKAN BADA$$” in 2017 which includes a song titled “Land of the Free.” This is a political track that brings up mass incarceration, the bittersweet contrast in American history for Afro-Americans, and Joey’s ambition to create change for the future (Genius). Furthermore, artists don’t just discuss social inequalities through music. They also discuss global environmental issues such as climate change. For example, artist Lil Dicky released a song called “Earth” that got an enormous audience to acknowledge the problem with our planet by using familiar, popular artists in his music video.
You could dig deep into any of these artists and their strive to make a positive change in society. It is so powerful to see those who you look up to also be able to connect with you through their work. The beauty and uniqueness of music and how artists convey their messages never fail to amaze me.