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10 Songs About Social Justice To Add To Your Playlist

Sona Sulakian
Sona Sulakian Intern
A Bay Area native, Sona Sulakian is a rising 2L at USC Gould School of Law.
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    Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
10 songs about social justice
Need a break from reading news, but still want to educate yourself about some of the most serious issues facing our society? We've put together a playlist of songs from a variety of genres that address racial inequality, wealth disparity and other social issues. 

The songs aren't all doom and gloom. Hopefully the lyrics will motivate you, and leave you with a sense that we can make the world better. 

1. “We Shall Overcome” by multiple singers, including Pete Seeger (1962)
Sample lyric: We shall overcome someday. Deep in my heart, I do believe.

Seeger doesn’t get all of the credit for this song. The earliest versions of it were invented and performed by slaves as they worked in fields. Their version was more commonly called, “I’ll be all right someday.” As the song became more popular, minister Charles Albert Tindley published a version of it in 1901 titled “I’ll Overcome Someday.” The song was regularly performed  during a 1945 union strike. In 1962, American folk singer Pete Seeger tweeked the lyrics and melody, and his version became an anthem of the Civil Rights movement.

In 1963, Joan Baez led a crowd singing “We Shall Overcome” during the March on Washington. Dr. King mentioned the song in his sermons, and 50,000 people sang the song at his funeral. Crowds have also sang the song during civil right protests in North Korea, Beirut, Tiananmen Square, and South Africa's Soweto Township.

2. “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke (1964)
Sample lyric: It's been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change gonna come, oh yes it will

Sam Cooke wrote this song after he along with his band were rejected from a whites-only hotel and arrested for disturbing the peace. Tragically, Cooke was killed two weeks before the song was released. In 2007, the song was added to the Library of Congress for being recognized as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.”

3. “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley & the Wailers (1980)
Sample lyric: Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds

This song was Bob Marley’s final single before he died from cancer in 1981. Marley sings of both historic and modern forms of slavery, contrasting physical with mental shackles. The lyrics borrow from Marcus Garvey’s speeches during the “Back to Africa” movement.

4. "Blowing in the Wind" by Bob Dylan (1963)
Sample lyrics:  Yes, 'n' how many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?

This song poses a series of rhetorical questions about social justice issues that we should all ask ourselves.

Dylan, who eventually won the Nobel Prize for his songwriting skills, has said this of it:"There ain't too much I can say about this song except that the answer is blowing in the wind. It ain't in no book or movie or TV show or discussion group. Man, it's in the wind — and it's blowing in the wind. Too many of these hip people are telling me where the answer is but oh I won't believe that. I still say it's in the wind and just like a restless piece of paper it's got to come down some ... But the only trouble is that no one picks up the answer when it comes down so not too many people get to see and know ... and then it flies away. I still say that some of the biggest criminals are those that turn their heads away when they see wrong and know it's wrong. I'm only 21 years old and I know that there's been too many wars ... You people over 21, you're older and smarter."

5. “Fight the Power” by Public Enemy (1989)
Sample lyric: Power to the people no delay
Make everybody see
In order to fight the powers that be
Fight the power

Director Spike Lee asked Public Enemy to write a song for his film “Do the Right Thing.” This song describes the daily struggles of black Americans and decries the lack of progress Black Americans have been allowed in this country. Brian Hardgroove, who played bass for Public Enemy, said, “Law enforcement is necessary. As a species we haven’t evolved past needing that. Fight the Power is not about fighting authority—it’s not that at all. It’s about fighting abuse of power."

6. “Changes” by Tupac Shakur (1998)
Sample lyric: I got love for my brother but we can never go nowhere
Unless we share with each other
We gotta start makin' changes

Released two years after the rapper’s death, “Changes” addresses a range of social issues, including the war on drugs, police brutality, racism and the poverty cycle. On June 4, the song re-appeared on iTunes Top 100 chart, proving that people still want to make changes to improve our world. 

7. “Where is the Love?” By Black Eyed Peas (2003)
Sample lyric: What happened to the love and the values of humanity?
What happened to the love and the fairness and equality?

Released in response to the 9/11 terror attacks, the song calls for human rights and covers a spectrum of issues, including terrorism, racism, pollution, war, gang violence, intolerance and violence against the LGBT community. The band argues that love can solve most issues in this world. 

8. “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar (2015)
Sample lyric: Do you hear me, do you feel me? We gon' be alright

This hopeful song has become a Black Lives Matter anthem. Groups will often chant the verse during protests.  The song was written following the murders of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice at the hands of the police. 

9. “Freedom (feat. Kendrick Lamar)” by Beyonce (2016)
Sample lyric: Freedom, freedom, I can't move
Freedom, cut me loose
Freedom, freedom, where are you?
'Cause I need freedom too

In this song, Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar address systemic racism, especially racial disparities when it comes to prison sentences. Black Americans are incarcerated at 5 times the rate of white Americans, according to the NAACP. The song samples an old song often performed by Black prisoners. 

10. “Perfect Way To Die” by Alicia Keys (2020)
Sample lyric: And you know I'm horrible at saying goodbye
But I'll think of all you coulda done
At least you'll stay forever young
I guess you picked the perfect way to die

Released on Juneteenth, this poignant song is written from the perspective of a mother who has lost her son to police brutality. Keys explains the mysterious title, this way: “Of course, there is NO perfect way to die. That phrase doesn’t even make sense. Just like it doesn’t make sense that there are so many innocent lives that should not have been taken from us due to the destructive culture of police violence.”

If you need a lawyer to help you in your fight to make the world a better place, reach out to us. 

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