Black Lives Matter Protesters March To Rap Songs By Local Heroes

Jul 10, 2020
Originally published on July 10, 2020 6:18 pm
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Every protest movement has a soundtrack, and the backbone of many of those soundtracks is hip-hop.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FIGHT THE POWER")

PUBLIC ENEMY: Fight the power. Fight the power.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALRIGHT")

KENDRICK LAMAR: (Rapping) We gon' (ph) be all right. We gon' be all right. We gon' be all right. Do you hear me? Do you feel me? We gon' be all right.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS IS AMERICA")

CHILDISH GAMBINO: (Rapping) This is America. Don't catch you slippin' now. Don't catch you slippin' now. Look what I'm whippin' now.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Now, some of the songs heard at the current wave of Black Lives Matter protests are a little different.

CHANG: In New York, the song "Dior" by the late Brooklyn rapper Pop Smoke has become a rallying cry, which might seem odd because the lyrics aren't directly political.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIOR")

POP SMOKE: (Rapping) When it rains, it pours. She like the way I err (ph). Mike Amiri, Mike Amiri. Billie Jean, Billie Jean. Christian Dior, Dior. I'm up in all the stores.

ALPHONSE PIERRE: "Dior" itself is basically just Pop Smoke talking about the latest clothes he got, just getting fly on the block.

KELLY: Alphonse Pierre is a staff writer at Pitchfork. He's from New York. He says Pop Smoke embodied a lifestyle that Black kids in the city dream of.

PIERRE: That's what, like, every kid in New York wants. They want to be able to enjoy their day without worrying about the police harassing them, without worrying about what's going to happen to them the next day. They just want to be able to hang out, go to Soho, buy some clothes, play music out of the speakers of their cars, play music from the roof of the buildings.

CHANG: To demand a normal life free from harassment with economic opportunity. For many, that's what this movement is about.

KELLY: Yeah. And where you are, Ailsa, in California, it's no different. A local rap hit is taking on new meaning here.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Corona.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FEELIN' MYSELF")

MAC DRE: (Rapping) Man, I'm feelin' myself.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Corona.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FEELIN' MYSELF")

MAC DRE: (Rapping) I'm in the building and I'm feelin' myself. Man, I'm feelin' myself.

CHANG: The song "Feelin' Myself" by the late Mac Dre is a Bay Area classic. It's full of regional slang. And protesters in Oakland have been marching to its funky groove.

PIERRE: Mac Dre has, like, a legacy that speaks to - across demographics, I think, across racial lines, across age groups. And anytime you have a popular artist who has passed, their music goes to a different level.

KELLY: Pendarvis Harshaw of member station KQED. He's lived in Northern California all his life. He says the Bay Area has a lot of artists with huge local followings who never seem to catch on in the rest of the country.

CHANG: The song "Feelin' Myself" has never charted since it came out in 2004, but Mac Dre is a Northern Californian hero. And we turn to heroes in times of trouble.

KELLY: The man who sparked this wave of protests was a rapper himself.

CHANG: George Floyd was a member of the Houston Rap crew Screwed Up Click. He was known as Big Floyd.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SITTIN' ON TOP OF THE WORLD")

BIG FLOYD: (Rapping) You know what I'm saying? Big Floyd representing. Say he watch me lay low, never come in high. I'm a real G, staying high till I die. B-I-G, it's F-L-O-Y-D. Watch me raise up in my droptop seat.

KELLY: Houston-based music journalist Brandon Caldwell says he's heard Big Floyd's verse on "Sittin' On Top Of The World" at local protests.

BRANDON CALDWELL: Essentially, it just kind of bleeds into, like, a homage of where his world is. His world is, you know, home. Being Black, being around his friends - that's it. That's all that matters.

CHANG: The track now rings out at protests as a way to honor the memory of George Floyd. But, like Pop Smoke's "Dior" and Mac Dre's "Feelin' Myself," it's also a celebration of home, of community and of being Black in America.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SITTIN' ON TOP OF THE WORLD")

BIG FLOYD: (Rapping) It's going down. South Side, know what I'm saying? Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.