Demonstrators danced to Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” and marchers chanted Ludacris’ “Move b—-, get out the way” to officers during recent protests. That hip-hop should emerge as the soundtrack to the current unrest is no surprise – rappers have been drawing our attention to police brutality for decades.

But long before N.W.A. noted that officers “have the authority to kill a minority,” Marvin Gaye was warning of “trigger happy policing.” And long before both, Black musicians of different genres were singing of injustice. As Tyina Steptoe of University of Arizona writes, the rich history of protest in Black American music stretches back to the beginning of the blues.

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Matt Williams

General Assignments Editor

Rapper YG, center in white, at a June 7 protest over the death of George Floyd. AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Hip-hop is the soundtrack to Black Lives Matter protests, continuing a tradition that dates back to the blues

Tyina Steptoe, University of Arizona

Rap songs from Public Enemy and Ludacris have been heard at marches over the killing of George Floyd. But the history of Black American music as a form of protest dates back to the 19th century.


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