We are living in a historic time in America. From seeing the world in turmoil after the health crises of the coronavirus pandemic to nationwide uprisings due to police killing Black men and women, these moments have inspired hip-hop to sound off within their music.
Some of your favorite rappers have stepped up and delivered some powerful protest songs about America. For example, D Smoke and SiR‘s urgent track “Let Go” was written and recorded in May following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man killed while in police custody in Minneapolis.
Throughout hip-hop’s history, rappers have addressed America’s societal problems in songs. West Coast rap icon Ice Cube spews his vitriol at the government on “I Wanna Kill Sam.” Fellow rhymer Rapsody addresses institutionalized racism in America on “Nina,” and Juicy J tackles police brutality on “Don’t (Shoot).”
Other tracks like Joey Bada$$‘s “Y U Don’t Love Me? (Miss AmeriKKKa)” features the Brooklyn rapper questioning America’s perceived disdain for Black life while T.I.‘s “Letter to the System” highlight the problems with the criminal justice system.
But artists have also celebrated the good in America. North Carolina rapper Petey Pablo turned his hometown anthem “Raise Up” into a patriotic shout-out to all the U.S. cities, while Nas dreams of a perfect world of no crime and less hatred on “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That).”
In the end, rap artists have always been at the forefront when it comes to addressing the good and the bad sides of America.
So without further ado, XXL highlights Hip-Hop Songs Dedicated to the Many Sides of America—the good, the bad and the ugly sides of the nation. These songs are mix of artists delivering truth to power through their thought-provoking lyrics and providing a sense of escape as well.
“This Is America”
Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” is his blistering commentary about Black life in America. The song and video remains poignant and relevant to our current times. “This is America/Don’t catch you slippin’ now/Don’t catch you slipping’ now/Look what I’m whippin’ now,” he raps.
On “American Dreamin’,” Jay-Z reflects on his days as a street hustler and the limited opportunities for himself and his friends to make it out of the ghetto.
Kendrick Lamar raps that America has lost its religion while helping the rich get richer and the poor get poorer on the third verse of his song “XXX.” “Homicidal thoughts, Donald Trump’s in office/We lost Barack and promised to never doubt him again/But is America honest, or do we bask in sin?” K.Dot spits in the third verse.
When it comes to “White America,” Eminem aims his anger at the legislators who he believes are trying to infringe on his freedom of speech because of his influence on White suburban kids. “See, the problem is I speak to suburban kids/Who otherwise would’ve never knew these words exist/Whose moms probably would’ve never gave two squirts of piss/’Til I created so much muthafuckin’ turbulence,” he raps on the song.
Run The Jewels’s fourth album, RTJ4, has become the soundtrack of our current times. The LP cut “Walking in the Snow” features El-P and Killer Mike tackling issues related to police brutality and the prison industrial complex.
D Smoke penned this heartfelt song on the day of George Floyd’s death. His poignant lyrics about police brutality and SiR’s urgent vocals on the hook make this record one to remember. A powerful tribute to Floyd and others who are victims of police brutality.
“Y U Don’t Love Me? (Miss AmeriKKKa)”
Joey Bada$$’s “Y U Don’t Love Me? (Miss AmeriKKKa)” is his heartbroken love letter to America. The Brooklyn rapper questions the country’s mistreatment of African Americans throughout history. “Why you gotta kick me down on all fours?/Why you can’t stand to see me stand tall?/Tell me why we got to war?/Why we gotta fight?/Why we always gotta spar for?/Why the cops always gotta get called?/Why you always tryna see me in trouble with the law?” Joey asks.
“I Wanna Kill Sam”
Ice Cube shows no love for the United States government on the blistering track “I Wanna Kill Sam.” The West Coast legend blames Uncle Sam for the enslavement of Black people and vows to get revenge by any means necessary.
On the politically-charged track “America,” Logic calls out Kanye West for his support of Donald Trump. “George Bush don’t care about Black people/2017, and Donald Trump is the sequel so/Shit, I’ll say what Kanye won’t/Wake the fuck up and give the people what they want,” he raps on the song. Meanwhile, rappers Chuck D, Black Thought, No I.D. and Big Lenbo air out their grievances with America.
“Sound of da Police”
In the wake of several killings of unarmed Black men and women by police, KRS-One’s 1993 protest song “Sound of da Police” is relevant today. The veteran lyricist takes aim at police and the history of brutality against the Black community. “You hotshot, wanna get props and be a savior/First show a little respect, change your behavior/Change your attitude, change your plan/There could never really be justice on stolen land,” raps the Blastmaster.
“An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times,” Nina Simone said during her lifetime. On the thought-provoking track “Nina,” which is named after the singer and civil rights activist, Rapsody promotes the importance of Black power and unity behind the backdrop of institutionalized racism in America. “No matter if you street or more like the promenade/We gotta come together like the corn and the dookie braids,” she spits.
ForArrested Development’s funky 1992 anthem “People Everyday,” Speech recounts a rude encounter and urges Black people to love each other and unite for a peaceful cause.
“Black America Again”
“Black America Again” finds Common addressing police brutality and racial violence in America. “Hot damn, Black America again/Think of Sandra Bland as I’m staring in the wind/The color of my skin, they comparing it to sin,” he raps on the song.
Rappers Dizzy Wright, Big K.R.I.T. and Tech N9ne celebrate Black pride on “God Bless America.” The three MCs’ deliver powerful testimonies of perseverance amid the struggles and pain they had to endure during their come up in the rap game.
“Every Ghetto, Every City”
Lauryn Hill reminisces about her days growing up in South Orange, N.J., and how the city shaped her to become the pivotal artist that she is today in American music on the Stevie Wonder-influenced “Every Ghetto, Every City.” “Writing my friends’ names on my jeans with a marker/July 4th races outside Parker/Fireworks at Martin Stadium,” Ms. Hill reflects on the track.
OutKast members André 3000 and Big Boi along with Khujo Goodie express their contempt for politicians and the criminal justice system in America on the abrasive track “Gasoline Dreams.” Three Stacks spews his vitriol in the chorus, rapping, “Don’t everybody like the smell of gasoline? Well, burn, muthafucka, burn American dreams.”
T.I. addresses the racial injustice towards Black people in America on “Letter to the System.” “I’m confused, I thought every man was treated equal, read it in the Constitution/Yeah only when they feel like sticking to it/But U.S.A. the greatest nation in the world, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it/Keep sticking to it,” he raps on the song.
One of Tupac Shakur’s most beloved songs, “Changes” features the late rapper addressing societal issues facing African Americans. Later in the first verse, Tupac urges for change. “I got love for my brother/But we can never go nowhere unless we share with each other/We gotta start makin’ changes,” he raps on the track.
“Fight The Power”
On Public Enemy’s classic protest song “Fight the Power,” Chuck D runs down a laundry list of America’s injustices and throws a few sacred cows under the bus. Who can forget Chuck’s classic verse: “Elvis was a hero to most/But he never meant shit to me you see/Straight up racist, that sucker was simple and plain/Muthafuck him and John Wayne/’Cause I’m Black and I’m proud I’m ready and hyped plus I’m amped/Most of my heroes don’t appear on no stamps.”
On “Don’t (Shoot),” Juicy J tackles police brutality and the criminal justice system. There’s unfair treatment when it comes to Black men in Juicy’s world. “We don’t get justice, we just get handcuffed/They don’t want to see a nigga get his bands up/Crooked judge just handing out sentences/’Cause we’re guilty until proven innocent,” he raps on the song.
Scarface goes after President Trump on “Black Still,” which flips Public Enemy’s 1988 track “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos.” On the protest song, the Houston legend demands his 40 Acres and a Mule that America still owes to Black people and gives the middle finger to MAGA supporters. “And now they saying ‘Make America Great’/But what America hates kept America straight/And America safe, muthafuck that flag/My people are not free, we wanna touch that bag,” ’Face spits on the fiery track.
“Raise Up (All Cities Remix)”
It’s not all doom and gloom in America. On “Raise Up (All Cities Remix),” Petey Pablo not only shoutouts his beloved state of North Carolina, but also gives a salute to every major city in the U.S. If you are feeling patriotic, come on and raise up, this song is for you.
Nas wishes for a better America on his classic track “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That),” which features Lauryn Hill singing the hook. Throughout the song, the Queens legend imagines a world where crime doesn’t exist, political prisoners are set free and Black men are not predators to police. “So many years of depression make me vision/The better livin’, type of place to raise kids in,” ponders Nas.
“We the People…”
A Tribe Called Quest
A Tribe Called Quest‘s Q-Tip and the late Phife Dawg highlight the societal problems plaguing America on the political track “We the People.” On the song, Tip addresses police brutality, immigration and inequality. The rapper also relays what he feels is President Trump’s perceived disregard for people of color. “All you Black folks, you must go/All you Mexicans, you must go/And all you poor folks, you must go/Muslims and gays, boy, we hate your ways/So all you bad folks, you must go,” Q-Tip raps.
Vic Mensa and 93Punx
Vic Mensa examines the mistreatment of illegal immigrants by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on “Camp America.” Backed by his band 93Punx, the Chicago rhymer aims his vitriol at ICE for separating parents from their children at detention centers. “We’ll be living it up, not giving a fuck/Splitting you up, then we put you in cuffs/Then we shipping you off, yeah, you could get lost at Camp America,” spits Vic on the song.