10 powerful songs that embody black empowerment in music

In the wake of George Floyd’s death — and the Black Lives Matter movement that has intensified because of it — protest music is providing the soundtrack of the times once again.

Jay-Z has released the “Songs for Survival Playlist 2” available exclusively on his Tidal streaming service to provide a sonic tonic to those fighting, marching and taking a knee for change. Meanwhile, Apple Music has a “For Us, By Us” playlist celebrating the work of black artists.

Here’s our own playlist of protest and black empowerment music to raise your fist and spirit this weekend.

Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On”

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Honestly, you could pick just about any song from Gaye’s 1971 opus “What’s Going On” — from “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” to “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” — and it would speak to these turbulent times. But you can’t beat the classic title track, which sadly is even more relevant today than it was almost 50 years ago.

Donny Hathaway, “Someday We’ll All Be Free”

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Blurring the lines between gospel and R&B, this 1973 beauty from the late, great Hathaway lifts your spirit in dark days, urging you to “keep your stride” as you march on fighting the good fight. When he sings, “Take it from me, someday we’ll all be free,” your soul finds comfort — even if the black struggle to truly be free still goes on.

Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, “Wake Up Everybody”

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“Wake up everybody/No more sleeping in bed/No more backward thinking/Time for thinking ahead,” sings Teddy Pendergrass at the beginning of this plea for a peaceful uprising. Long before people were talking about being “woke,” this was a wake-up call in 1975.

Stevie Wonder, “Living for the City”

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This epic from Wonder’s brilliant 1973 album, “Innervisions” captures the plight of a black man just trying to be his black self in the city. When he is profiled and arrested in the second half of the seven-minute track, the 70-year-old’s song sends chills that the same injustices go on today.

Prince, “Sign o’ the Times”

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As much as he sang about sex and his own kind of spirituality, the artist born Prince Rogers Nelson — who would have turned 62 Sunday — also had a revolutionary spirit when it came to his social consciousness. So spare that you could really hear the message in the music, the title track of his 1987 masterwork was his own “What’s Going On.”

Janet Jackson, “Rhythm Nation”

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In all of her considerable catalog, Miss Jackson made her most important statement with the title track of her 1989 blockbuster, “Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814.” And the image of her dancing in lockstep with an army of change agents to “join voices in protest to social injustice” remains a powerful one.

Beyoncé, “Freedom”

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Yes, Beyoncé was a woman taking a bat to a sorry man — presumably, her husband, Jay-Z — on her 2016 insta-classic “Lemonade.” But when she paired with Kendrick Lemar on the ferocious “Freedom,” she was a black woman ready to burn down whatever was blocking her complete and utter liberation.

Kendrick Lamar, “Alright”

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On this Grammy-winning anthem from 2015’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” K-Dot breaks it down why “we hate po-po, wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho.” Sadly, that was exactly what happened to George Floyd. But Lamar will not be defeated: “Do you hear me? Do you feel me? We gon’ be alright!”

Janelle Monáe, “Americans”

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The final track on Monáe’s 2018 “Dirty Computer” album — one of the best LPs of the ‘10s — is a rousing call to action: “Alone, don’t fight your war alone/ Hangin’ around you, don’t have to face it on your own/We will win this fight/Let all souls be brave/We’ll find a way to heaven.” Amen, sister.

Deniece Williams, “Black Butterfly”

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She may be best known for “Let’s Hear It for the Boy,” but Williams — who turned 70 Thursday — was also the voice of black power and perseverance on this 1984 track that finds her soaring with the gods. “Tell your sons and daughters what the struggle brings,” she sings, letting you know that the movement will not be in vain.

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