THIS WEEK was the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The American clergyman and activist delivered the speech in 1963, during the civil rights movement, at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in front of more than 250,000 people. In the speech King demanded the end of racism in the United States saying: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
At present, our country still faces many problems of equality, violence and even lack of self-love, but thankfully music is at the forefront bringing these issues to light and pushing for change. In celebration of King’s inspirational words we bring you nine socially conscious songs of today. From hip-pop, to punk, to pop, take a listen to these artists’ messages.
Bruce Springsteen – “American Skin (41 Shots)” (2001)
Is a song inspired by Amadou Diallo, an unarmed 23-year-old immigrant from Guinea who was shot and killed on February 4, 1999 by four NYC Police officers dressed in plain clothes. On July of this year, the singer dedicated the song to Trayvon Martin during an Ireland stop on his Wrecking Ball Tour where he said: “I want to send this one out as a letter back home. For justice for Trayvon Martin.”
Christina Aguilera – “Beautiful” (2001)
This tear-jerking pop ballad touches on the topics of various forms of low self-esteem and insecurities, and it encourages the audience directly to not to let outside opinions affect them. “You are beautiful no matter what they say/Words can’t bring you down.” This song was also in support of the LGBT community.
“When people aren’t being heard or seen or aren’t being treated fairly or equally because of their own individual choices or who they are, I really stick up for that,” the singer told The Backlot during a November 2010 interview. “It means a lot to me to put it out there, in my video for ‘Beautiful,’ for example.”
Black Eyed Peas – “Where is the Love” (2003)
Talks about the lack of love between humans and comments on the violence brought on by wars and gangs.
Green Day – “American Idiot” (2004)
This song was released during the 2004 presidential campaign, where George W. Bush was re-elected, and for the band it shows their discontent with the political system of the U.S.
“The world is in a confused state,” Bass player Mike Dirnt told Spin Magazine in a November 2004 interview. “I’m pissed off, and I’m angry and I don’t feel like I’m being fully represented.”
John Mayer – “Waiting on the World to Change” (2006)
During a December 2007 interview with The Daily Mail Mayer said: “I wanted to start a debate. Most of us are happy to wait for things to change.” This blues-rock tune centers on this generation’s failure to stand up and do something about our current world conditions, but in the song the singer also mentions that this is brought on by lack of power and corrupt leaders.
Pink – “Dear Mr. President” (2006)
The song is an open letter to George W. Bush, former President of the United States. It criticizes the Iraq War, the No Child Left Behind Act, his disapproval of equal rights for homosexuals, his lack of empathy for poor and middle class citizens, his drinking and drug use during college and many other problems during his administration.
“I hope the president is proud of the fact that we live in a country where we can do things like that, where we can have dissent, talk, communicate and share our opinions,” she told MTV during a January 2006 interview.
Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis — “Same Love” (2012)
“Same Love” talks in support of the legalization of same-sex marriage and of Mackelmore’s frustration with hip-hop’s view of homosexuality.
“You can only watch injustice go on for so long until you’re compelled to say something. To speak out against it,” Mackelmore told MTV during an interview November of last year. “I read an article about a 13-year-old kid who committed suicide because he was ridiculed at school over being gay. That was it. I had to say something.”
Miguel – “Candles in the Sun” (2012)
The song speaks on various topics in present United States: war, drugs, guns, violence, and inequality.
When “the television is on and CNN comes on and that coverage of … genocide here, or warfare here, or contention here, or economic strive, I don’t completely ignore them, they’re there,” he told AmaruDonTV during a January interview this year. “[This song] was my way of addressing the fact that … I think about this shit [and] it bothers me. I haven’t heard it from anyone lately, but I know that people think about it.”
Killer Mike – “Reagan” (2012)
This song mostly condemns the picture and dream that most hip-hop sells to the urban youth of joining gangs and owning mansions. It also criticizes Reagan for allowing the privatization of prisons making prisoners into profits, as well as his war on drugs as an attack on black youth.
Ronald Reagan “was a pitchman at first, and so people naturally trust him,” he told NPR during an interview on June of last year. “He understood how to weave magic when he was speaking, and that’s what we as entertainers do. So when Jay-Z tells you to buy some Reeboks, it means more. Ronald Reagan at one point was the biggest pitchman in the world. I think that Reagan was used by a political party, by people who had vested means, to push their own agendas. He had his own agendas, and I think that no rapper had ever said, ‘I’ve been guilty of this. I have hurt my community as a rapper.’”
Let us know what you think about our list and if you know of any other modern day social conscious songs that should be part of the list.