The List: Mixtape for the revolution
With the BLK PWR mixtape taking place this week (read Jim Fischer's Arts feature on page TK), we thought we'd assemble a black power mixtape of our own. Raise a fist and crank the volume.
“You Are Not Alone,” Mavis Staples
I could have filled the entire list with songs from Staples' mind-numbingly great catalog, but I'm leading off with this 2013 gem. When Mavis sings, “Open up this is a raid,” it sends chills down my spine. Every. Single. Time.
“Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos,” Public Enemy
Chuck D & Co. attack the prison-industrial complex on this jailbreak fantasy, with the MC delivering his words in a sledgehammer of a voice that sounds fit to reduce concrete walls to rubble.
“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” Gil Scott-Heron
Heron's 1970 spoken-word anthem even played in Tahrir Square during the 2011 attempt to overthrow Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.
“Mississippi Goddam,” Nina Simone
Goddam, Nina. This searing show tune cuts against its jaunty rhythm with visions of hound dogs on the hunt and jailed schoolkids.
“Freedom,” Beyonce featuring Kendrick Lamar
“I break chains all by myself,” Beyonce sings on this black empowerment anthem, which is given an extra lift by a guest verse from Lamar, who raps about casting off oppression.
“Message from a Black Man,” The Temptations
It wasn't all sunshine on cloudy days for the soul quartet, who sing about the struggle of living in black skin on this slow-simmering soul tune.
“Black Rage (Sketch),” Lauryn Hill
Hill revisited “Black Rage” following the shooting death of Michael Brown, taking the melody from “My Favorite Things” from the musical “The Sound of Music” and transporting it to the darkest corners of society.
“Birmingham Blues,” John Lee Hooker
“I ain't going down to Birmingham by myself,” a grizzled Hooker repeats throughout, leaving the emphasis squarely on the passage's four opening words: “I ain't going down.”
“The Charade,” D'Angelo
“All we wanted was a chance to talk/'Stead we only got outlined in chalk,” the soul man sings on this trippyBlack Messiah track, which sounds like it could have been penned at the height of the 1960s Civil Rights movement.
“Black Liberation Struggle,” Gregory Isaacs
The reggae backdrop conjures island imagery, even as Isaacs sings of being enchained.
“We the People,” A Tribe Called Quest
The hip-hop legends' performance of this track — a ferocious denunciation of intolerance in all forms — was a highlight of the Grammys telecast earlier this year.
“Triptych: Prayer/Protest/Peace,” Max Roach
This track — the centerpiece of jazz drummer/composer Roach'sWe Insist! — is fueled by a stirring vocal turn from singer Abbey Lincoln.
“How I Got Over,” Mahalia Jackson
Jackson crooned this soaring piano ballad just prior to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s “I Have a Dream” speech during the historic 1963 March on Washington.
“George Bush Doesn't Care About Black People,” The Legendary K.O.
Written in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, this song ably captures the angst, anger and mistrust that bubbled up with the storm-driven floodwaters.