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A Look At Songs Inspired By The 2020 Protests For Racial Justice

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

There is a lot of music in the recent Black Lives Matter protests. Let's hear some of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK LIVES MATTER")

RICHARD ALEXANDER: (Singing) Just know you ain't gonna break my soul - break me down today.

SIMON: Richard Alexander of Floral Park, NY, recently uploaded his song "Black Lives Matter" to Soundcloud. It's about marching in this movement at this moment. He'd been thinking about boot camp after joining the Marines.

ALEXANDER: I can remember, like, on that march, wanting to give up. But the more and more I marched, you know, the more I got goosebumps and the more I felt like I was fighting towards a cause.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLACK LIVES MATTER")

ALEXANDER: (Singing) One step - keep pushin'. Two step - keep movin'. Three step - (unintelligible)...

I feel like, you know, Martin and all the civil right leaders that did march - they didn't know what tomorrow was going to promise, but they kept on marching.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MERCY")

JOY OLADOKUN: (Singing) I double checked my phone - no new messages, no missed calls. Everybody needs somebody to hold them too close. I need a little mercy - mercy...

SIMON: Here's how Joy Oladokun describes her song, "Mercy."

OLADOKUN: Just a Black person sharing their, like, day-to-day experiences is super important right now because I think people are realizing, despite what we were told in middle school about racism being over, that being Black in America is a very different experience than being white in America.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MERCY")

OLADOKUN: (Singing) I don't wanna talk to God. I just want to smoke weed. Mercy...

SIMON: People are uploading BLM content almost daily through apps that include Instagram and Facebook. Joy Oladokun posted "Mercy" on Spotify and Twitter.

OLADOKUN: It's really cool. I think we have such a gift. And, as an artist, it takes, like, three or four clicks to be able to put a song out into the world. I try to recognize that gravity every day and try to use that responsibility as best I can.

ALEXANDER: She also had a song go viral on TikTok. It was about corporate America's response to racism and how it often begins with an image.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

OLADOKUN: (Singing) Graphic design is the cure to racism. Graphic design - it will make the world fair. Here's a white hand and a Black hand and we put them together. Graphic design - hey, look over there.

SIMON: Social media is also capturing the mood on the streets and showing it out to the rest of the world in real time. That mood is sometimes joyful.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) She like the way I dance. She like the way I move. She like the way I walk. She like the way I woo.

SIMON: That's from a video recorded in New York City. Marchers are wearing face masks as recommended by public health officials and dancing to the song "Dior" by the late rapper Pop Smoke. Other songs are about the tension of living in a pandemic while protesting police brutality.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOCKDOWN")

ANDERSON PAAK: (Rapping) Sicker than the COVID, how they did him on the ground. Speakin' of the COVID - is it still goin' around? And won't you tell me 'bout the lootin'? What's that really all about? 'Cause they throw away Black lives like paper towels...

SIMON: This is "Lockdown" by the Grammy winner Anderson Paak, who was out on the streets in Los Angeles.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOCKDOWN")

PAAK: (Singing) You should've been downtown. The people are rising. We thought it was a lockdown. They opened the...

SIMON: Richard Alexander, the Marine veteran that we mentioned earlier, says that he agrees with that Paak lyric - you should have been downtown. He says there's nothing quite like people marching together for a cause.

ALEXANDER: You have to be there. You're walking, and you're marching for something that you believe in. And all the people behind you and in front of you are marching for the same things.

SIMON: And he says it's a great feeling to share that message with the world.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOCKDOWN")

PAAK: (Singing) They tell us to - downtown. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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