Protest Song Of The Week: ‘Uncle Sam Goddamn’
“Welcome to the United Snakes. Land of the thief, home of the slave. Grand imperial guard, where the dollar is sacred and power is God,” Brother Ali raps on “Uncle Sam Goddamn,” a contemporary classic protest song.
The song is about the legacy of genocide, slavery, and imperialism in the United States. It draws inspiration from the legendary protest song, “Mississippi Goddamn,” by Nina Simone.
It was released in 2007 on the album, “The Undisputed Truth,” four years after the start of the Iraq War and five years after the start of the Afghanistan War. It became a popular protest song against President George W. Bush’s administration and yet it is an enduring song with only a reference to plasma televisions and reporter Dan Rather to date it.
In one of the verses, Ali raps, “Only two generations away from the world’s most despicable slavery trade/Pioneered so many ways to degrade a human being/That it can’t be changed to this day.”
Ali contends the legacy is “ingrained in the way that we think” and says, “We no longer need chains to be slaves.”
During the bridge of the song, Ali reflects on the indifference of Americans to the homeless and those who claim they cannot support “crackheads” by giving them change. “Shit the government’s an addict with a billion dollar a week kill brown people habit,” he retorts, amidst wars raging in the Middle East.
Ali draws a line from the slave trade to wage slavery under capitalism. “When massah yell crunch time, you right back at it.” The taxes from your low wages pay for the killing of brown people. “Three outta twelve months your salary pays for that madness.”
Some of the most searing lines of the song are, “Now the grown up Goliath nation/Holding open auditions for the part of David, can you feel it?”
When Ali recorded this rap, he was not yet the overt political rapper that he is known as today. But “Uncle Sam Goddamn” led Verizon to cut him from a college tour with Gym Class Heroes. He lost tens of thousands of dollars.
Also, around the same time, the Minnesota-based albino Muslim rapper attracted the attention of the Department of Homeland Security. He was in Australia for a show. The promoter wired money to a bank account in Minneapolis, and DHS stopped the transfer. The particular bank account was frozen.
“What we had to do [was] register with the Department of Homeland Security,” Ali told HipHopDX.com. “I had to give ‘em [information on] all my people in my crew, their social security numbers, addresses, [and explain] what we were doing, what the money was for, our schedule. And then they finally released everything to us after that. But it was a few days where everything was just held in this show of force.”
In 2012, Ali released an album of political music called “Mourning In America And Dreaming In Color.” The same year he participated in Occupy Homes in Minneapolis and was arrested while trying to block the foreclosure of a home.
While Ali’s music acknowledges the legacy of genocide, slavery, and other institutions of oppression in American history, he also recognizes the tradition of protest and resistance, the struggles of ordinary working class people of all colors and backgrounds who chose to fight the system.
Ali said in a YES! Magazine interview in 2013, “It’s everybody’s job to move things a little bit in the right direction, and be willing to risk it all. Too many people have died or been willing to die. So if we just say “F–k it,” that’s too easy. That doesn’t affirm what they did. What right do we have to give up, when these people have done all this stuff?”
Musically, the bass line at the beginning makes for a fine buildup to the bluesy harmonica groove, which underpins the sharp lyrics.
Listen to “Uncle Sam Goddamn”:
Are you an independent artist who has written and/or produced a protest song that you would like featured? Or do you have a favorite protest song? Submit a song to protestmusic@Shadowproof.com