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Meticulously-Curated BLM Playlist


ight now many people—not only Americans—are processing the endless onslaught of police violence in response to the murder of George Floyd. In this issue’s playlist, I explore songs that focus on how musicians respond to racial discrimination. Some songs respond with positivity, some with anger. Some songs ask for moderate reforms while others are more radical. I want to honor the variety of ways that musicians have responded to racism and police violence without imposing my own values as an ally. Note that this list contains explicit lyrics.

This playlist covers many genres. Though it has many new songs, it spans many decades, including rare gems from nineties hip-hop, sixties folk, seventies funk, and even one incredible song from 1929. I hope this list gives you some comfort, but even more than that, I hope it inspires you to action.

This is a Rare Gems playlist.

That means it goes deeper than a Best-Of list. If you don’t see your favorite radio hit here, that’s the point. These rare gems are to expand your collection and your horizons with new artists or forgotten-but-great tracks from your favorite musicians. Though we do have a few radio hits mixed in to whet your appetite.

Meticulously sequenced BLM playlist with over 90 tracks

We open with Erykah Badu, a song that surprises when you discover the real soldier is Badu herself, positioning herself as Harriet Tubman: if you think about turning back
I got the shotgun on ya back

You’ve likely heard Stevie Wonder’s “Living in the City,” so here we highlight this song targeted at Richard Nixon, featuring backing vocals from The Jackson Five. Track four is Ice Cube, an artist who has had plenty to say about law enforcement. In the final verse of “Good Cop Bad Cop” he perfectly perfectly summarizes the prison pipeline so problematic in America.

Gil Scott-Heron’s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised is getting a lot of hype lately, yet still many haven’t really heard it. While we understand that everyone has a TV in their pockets these days, the final line of the song is still meaningful: The revolution will be live is a reminder that if you stay home, nothing changes.

The harder-hitting rap songs fall later in the list so that there is a buildup and flow, but Meek Mill’s Trauma is so important I wanted to get it in their early. It’s hard not to shed a tear when he raps The ambulance, they coming baby, just breathe. The podcast Song Exploder revealed that he did this all in one take as a freestyle, which is incredible.

As the list moves into the teens I explore some of folk music’s contributions to songs about American racism. You’ve all heard Bob Dylan’s “Times They Are A Changin” on the radio, so instead we offer Dylan’s epic tribute to real-life boxer Rubin Carter who was wrongly imprisoned for murder. Barbara Dane and Phil Ochs were folk peers of Dylan, famous in their time but even more political in their lyrics.

The pace picks up with lesser-known songs freedom songs by classic soul singers Mavis Staples, Diane Ross, and James Brown moving into the chillest song about looting of all time, by the Wailers. The faster-paced and harder hitting songs round out the end of the list, with lyrics that quake with truth from Lupe Fiasco, Bobby Sessions, Lil Baby and punk rockers Parquet Courts. But that’s just a sample from this enormous list that extends over eighty songs. Have a listen: Spotify is embeded above; below is the full track list. If you want to share or copy the playlist link is:

Join Us November 20th at
10 a.m. PST/1 p.m EST.

Share Your Favorite Black Lives Matter Songs at our Rare Gems Listening Party

We’ll be sharing these songs and chatting about them at our JQBX music sharing party November 20th at 10 a.m. EST/1 p.m PST. Anyone with a Spotify Premium account can join us for this virtual celebration by going to Chat with our contributors and staff, and share the BLM songs that have meant the most to you, or just listen in. We’ll be sharing songs all day.

Edit: We opened up the room to let other DJs share their favorite BLM songs, and got some outstanding additions. Here’s a full 8.5 hour Black Lives Matter playlist of every song played in the live set. In particular big thanks to @middtown and @BillyShakes for contributing so many great tracks to the live set.


About the Rare
Gems Listening Parties

Editorial note: this article first appeared in the August 2020 “Freedom” issue of Rare magazine.

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