Protest music has existed as long as music itself. Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On released in 1971 was essentially a protest album about the Vietnam War. Rage Against The Machine built a career off of it. The Geto Boys catalog, as macabre as it was sometimes, ultimately felt like sounds of strained voices wanting to be heard.
In hip-hop, N.W.A.’s “Fuck The Police” is always the standard-bearer for such music. Somehow the song has outlived the true measure of what N.W.A was as a group, and that’s perfectly fine. But “Fuck The Police” is eternal and has spawned a generation of similar records aimed squarely at America's police departments for badgering, harassing and in many cases murdering minorities. What was the soundtrack of the uprising in Baltimore last May? Boosie Badazz' "Fuck The Police."
In Houston, numerous protests have sprung up in the wake of this week's police-related killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. The difference between these protests and those of the past? The hip-hop community not only took it to the streets to publicly show displeasure with Sterling and Castile’s murders, they went into the studio as well.
Last May, Genesis Blu released the official video to “Stop Killing Us,” a song dedicated to the memories of Walter Scott in South Carolina and Freddie Gray in Baltimore. But now, in the span of 24 hours, Dante Higgins, Slim Thug, Doughbeezy and Killa Kyleon have all either released tracks from established projects (Higgins’ King Pen EP), a volcano of emotion (Dough, Kyleon) or weren’t set to be singles until August (Slim).
Among the four tracks, Killa Kyleon’s “What Do You See?” record with Jack Freeman and Dante’s “Black Lives Matter” are slices of devil’s advocacy. Freeman penned a letter as to why “What Do You See?” is more than a song. Kyleon is pained about police sponsored murder but is readily agitated by the constant headlines about intra-racial related killings in the city and beyond. “Dr. King had a dream, you can’t tell me this it,” he says on the track produced by Chris Rockaway. “I’m sorry Martin, but I’m with Marvin cause this ain’t livin’.”
Higgins decided to stretch his mode of protest to put the hoods of Southlawn, Third Ward and Greater Houston under a microscope. “We all have issues, every race, every religion, every walk of life, and this song simply encourages African Americans to wake up and fix the issues we have within our selves before we take on a challenging white America,” he wrote about “Black Lives Matter." On the song, he runs through a list of the people who have broken him; they're closer to family than strangers. “A black man broke in my house/ a black man broke in my car/ a black woman broke my heart/ some people that’s how evil they are/ but a white man ain’t done nothing to your brother thus far,” he raps.
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Doughbeezy's and KDOGG's “Fuck the Laws” is far more direct than any of the other records of the day. There’s anger in his voice, and a far higher range than normal. He lists off Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin and highlights the discrepancies in coverage of white criminals compared to black ones. Dylann Roof getting Burger King after killing nine black people in a Charleston, South Carolina church? Mentioned. KDOGG’s anger circulates squarely around the cops in general, willing to go one-on-one with a cop with a camera off a la Willie D back in the day.
Slim Thug takes a somber approach with his protest record featuring X.O., “IDKY." He's fearful for his children and confirms that he’s a man of America, but he’s tired of seeing black people getting killed by the police every day. He continues: “And they do it like it’s okay, like they know they gon’ get away/ To stop myself from thinking reckless I just ignore it and pray.” It may be the most important Slim Thug record since last year’s “Church” in regards to self-help and motivation. But Slim doesn’t want to cry about this. He’s tired of having to say “fuck the police” without necessarily having to say, “fuck the police."
As a matter of fact, a lot of us are.