Today we all have a nice long weekend thanks to the birthday of one Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many people just see it as a day off, others just don't seem to understand why we celebrate it. But Dr. King was a civil rights pioneer who still inspires many to this day.
He inspires artists so much that they often use his words in their songs, either as a tribute to him or as a way to convey a certain message. In particular, his famous "I Have a Dream" speech has been sampled by 35 different musicians!
For the holiday, it seemed appropriate to listen to some of those songs and see what the musicians were trying to say in using Dr. King's words for their own purposes. Some of those songs aren't that great, unfortunately, but there are a lot of great ones that are fitting tributes to the man and his legacy, or at least don't abuse his words too much. These are some of those good ones.
5. Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, "The King" A direct tribute to Dr. King, this is from a later Grandmaster Flash album called On the Strength, which was fairly poorly received in its time. On one hand, the song has a certain cheese factor to it. On the other, the dated '80s sound just about feels fresh again, given current production trends.
That fact is why "The King" probably sounds a lot better to me today than it did to listeners in 1988. It may not be the greatest rap track of all time, but it's a nice tribute to Dr. King and one of the surprisingly few songs directly about him in the rap world.
4. Paul McCartney, "The Fool on the Hill" This 1990 live rendition of the Beatles classic from McCartney's Tripping the Live Fantastic album features a portion of Dr. King's speech and a little shout-out to Macca's former bandmates at the beginning. It's a prime cut from the elaborate live set Paul was doing in those days that sees him getting a little bit sentimental, and not even in the saccharine way he usually does.
In the context of the song, one can take it to mean that McCartney is implying that MLK was preaching to people who didn't want to listen and considered him a fool, even though if Dr. King were alive today he would have had the last laugh, like the titular character.
3. Common feat. Will.i.am, "A Dream" As one of the more socially conscious rappers around, Common's using Dr. King's speech is something that seems obvious. It seems like it would have been something he would have gotten around to a lot sooner, actually.
When he finally did choose to use the speech, he made not only a great song, but Common effectively conveyed a great message about his dreams of freedom and a better life for himself and his people. The sample is effective in the Will.i.am-sung chorus, and surprisingly the Black Eyed Pea doesn't ruin the song with his presence.
2. Bobby Womack, "American Dream" Bobby Womack's incredible performance here of "American Dream" doesn't feature his sample of Dr. King's speeches, which were included on the original version of the song released on his Poet II album in 1984.
The song itself, however, is a love song which intermittently provides insights into Womack's idea of what the "American dream" should be and how he finds it in his love. I presume that his sampling of Dr. King was intended to convey that they both have a dream and that the only way to get to either of those dreams, in the end, is love.
1. Michael Jackson, HIStory" During a turbulent period in the King of Pop's life, MJ must have taken inspiration from Dr. King's words. Jackson's album HIStory features a lot of discussion about racism and civil rights issues, which were apparently heavy on MJ's mind, especially while he was embroiled in personal battles with the media and his criminal charges.
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In the title track of the album, he samples the "I Have a Dream" speech along with a lot of other quotes to make a point about rising above all the bullshit, in particular the bullshit he was going through at the time, and making history.