UPDATED: 11:22 a.m. EDT, Dec. 13
Black Music Month is every June, but December might be an adequate official substitute since the long-awaited announcement that Janet Jackson would finally be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame came on Thursday.
While many of the songs by the triple threat superstar performer who many know simply as Janet are of the dance variety, she also became known for making some tunes that inspired the listener’s inner revolutionary. As such, we compiled a list of Black women who provide us with music that was or is the soundtrack for a revolution. And, of course, Janet made the list. Read on to see where Janet fits into the revolutionary musical equation.
We are in scary times. Unarmed Black people continue to get killed by police. There is a mass shooting every few weeks. White nationalists are speaking at colleges. Ben Carson is actively trying to ruin the lives of people in low-income communities. Our president is in a scandal with an adult film star. Now is the time to resist.
Resistance could be in the form of a peaceful protest, mobilizing the vote, or just clapping back at bigotry in your daily life. So, to keep you motivated, here are eight songs to inspire your revolutionary spirit, all courtesy of Black women.
Nina Simone, “Mississippi Goddam” (1964)
The High Priestess of Soul was a protest singer who dedicated her career to speaking out against injustice. Nina was moved to write the epic “Mississippi Goddam” after the tragic killing of Medgar Evers in Mississippi, who was assassinated by a Klansman, and the church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, which killed four black girls — both incidents happened in 1963. The song is a live recording and Nina belts out, “Alabama’s got me so upset, Tennessee’s made me lose my rest, and everybody knows about Mississippi goddam.” She also sings, “Keep on sayin’ ‘go slow’…to do things gradually would bring more tragedy. Why don’t you see it? Why don’t you feel it? I don’t know, I don’t know. You don’t have to live next to me, just give me my equality!” Damn right, Nina.
Aretha Franklin, “A Change Is Gonna Come” (1967)
Aretha Franklin’s remake of Sam Cooke‘s “A Change Is Gonna Come” was the final song on her 1967 album I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You. The country was in the middle of the turbulent 1960s, we were at war with Vietnam, Malcolm X had been assassinated two years earlier and Black Americans were fighting for the Fair Housing Act, which would come on April 11, 1968 — seven days after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed.The song represents change, hope and is certainly fitting in 2018, no matter how difficult the times are today.
Labelle, “What Can I Do For You?” (1974)
Labelle (Patti LaBelle‘s group before she went solo) is most know for their hit “Lady Marmalade,” but another flawless song from the album Nightbird is “What Can I Do For You?” The song is a cry for peace and love with these powerful lyrics, “People want to live / Not merely exist / People want to enjoy / Not suffer and fear / People need understanding / Not impatience nor confusion / Oh, I wonder, should we hate / Those who present us disillusion” and “We need peace / I think we all agree / Let’s stop fighting, let’s stop fighting / And become sis and bro, ‘sis and bro.” The end game for revolution is peace. Add this song to your playlist.
Tracy Chapman, “Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution” (1988)
Most people know Tracy Chapman for her hit song “Fast Car,” but the second single from her self-titled debut album was a call to action for people to rise up. Written and composed by Chapman, she sang, “Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation / Wasting time in the unemployment lines / Sitting around waiting for a promotion / Don’t you know / Talkin’ ’bout a revolution / It sounds like a whisper / Poor people gonna rise up / And get their share / Poor people gonna rise up / And take what’s theirs.” The song hits right to the heart of the economic crisis in the 1980s. Sadly, “Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution” is deeply relevant today, especially considering the current tax bill could add millions to the nation’s debt. Who will suffer the most? Poor people.
Queen Latifah, “Ladies First” (1989)
This is a hip hop classic. Latifah inspired million with her women’s anthem “Ladies First.” With Monie Love joining her on the track, Latifah stressed the power of women uniting, as she challenged misogyny in hip hop and the culture-at-large. The video was a perfect compliment to the song with Latifah knocking down men on a chess board-type battlefield. This track will definitely prepare you for the revolution, as La said, “They see a woman standing up on her own two / Sloppy slouching is something I won’t do.”
Janet Jackson, “The Knowledge” (1989)
You might think of Janet Jackson as a sexy pop icon, but in 1989 she fused pop music and social issues with Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814. The album tackled drugs, gun violence, homelessness and more. In “The Knowledge,” Janet stressed the importance of education with an incredible hook and simple but powerful lyrics, “To get over get better / Try to be the possessor / Of the one thing we all need in life / To succeed take my advice / Get the knowledge (that you really want).” Well said, Janet. Another act of resistance is knowledge and education.
Sweet Honey in the Rock featuring Sonia Sanchez, “Stay on the Battlefield” (1995)
This may not be a song you know, but Sweet Honey Rock and Sonia Sanchez teamed up for this powerful track. The all-women group Sweet Honey Rock provided jaw-dropping vocals and Sonia Sanchez delivered incredible poetry, “I say come, wrap your feet around justice / I say come, wrap your tongues around truth / I say come, wrap your hands with deeds and prayer / You brown ones / You yellow ones / You black ones / You gay ones / You white ones / You lesbian ones.” How is that for inclusive inspiration?
Beyonce, “Formation” (2016)
Queen Bey got political with this hit song from 2016. She praised Afros and “Negro” noses, gave homage to New Orleans in the unforgettable video and offered some serious commentary on police. The song angered many people but sparked a national dialogue about being proud of your Blackness—while inspiring others to be even more woke. If you aren’t in formation with your revolutionary spirit, this is the song to get your motivated.
Your revolutionary playlist is complete!