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Top Ten Albums Of Protest Music In 2018

*The following is a collection of some of the best albums of protest music released in 2018. They were selected by Kevin Gosztola and C.J. Baker, who publishes writing regularly at Ongoing History Of Protest Songs.

Camp Cope – How To Socialize And Make Friends

The personal intersects with the political on the sophomore album from this Australian all-female indie rock trio. Throughout the album, they deal with different aspects of navigating through a patriarchal society.

“Opener,” a scathing tune, addresses tokenism (“Yeah, just get a female opener, that’ll fill the quota.”), while the emotionally charged “The Face of God” deals with singer Georgia Maq’s real-life #MeToo experience (“That somehow what happened to me was my fault.”)

On “I’ve Got You,” Maq deals with watching her father, folk musician Hugh McDonald (best known for being in Redgum) die from cancer. Watching a loved one die causes her to reflect on the injustices in the world, such as, “There’s still some things I don’t understand, like the casual blindness toward the cruelty of man and a cop shot the wrong guy again and they tore down a childhood home again.”

Maq’s impassioned vocals turn every tune into an empowering anthem, and it’s the perfect soundtrack for the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.

(C.J. Baker)

Petra Glynt — My Flag Is A Burning Rag Of Love

For her music, Petra Glynt says she aims to create an immersive experience for listeners. Music videos and album artwork pull people deeper into her compositions, as she uses these forms to deal with challenging issues in the world.

Glynt hits a range of subjects. On “Surveillance,” she declares, “You know all about me, and I know all about you,” as she pledges resistance to the intrusive executives at Facebook and other companies that mine people’s private data. “I’m Watching You” is a kind of inverse of “Surveillance”—except she is addressing the patriarchy and daring them to continue to abuse and exploit women because she will fight back.

“Health” is a sonic-whirl directed at those more focused on enriching themselves at the expense of people and inspired by the injustices involving water in Flint, Michigan. She asks, “What are we leaving behind in our memory?” and insists we fight for a better future on “Legacy.”

It is enchanting electro-pop music with a punk vibe that demonstrates her flair for crafting music that protests.

(Kevin Gosztola)

Jean Grae & Quelle Chris – Everything’s Fine

Satire is a powerful tool in exploring complex social issues, and it is a tool which is effectively employed by underground hip-hop duo, Jean Grae and Quelle Chris. The marriage of witty observations with inventive beats makes for a powerful combination.

On the theme of the album, Chris said, “We have a dickhead for a president, and before our eyes, racial, religious, and sexual identity rights are moving backwards.” He added, “Money is still a thing (I’m waiting for Star Trek life to start). There’s war, your kids may be sick, but if someone randomly asks, ‘How’s it going?’ most people will say ‘fine.'”

It features guest verses from fellow emcees, as well as several comics, including Hannibal Buress, Michael Che, John Hodgman, and Nick Offerman. Issues such as gun violence (“Peacock”) and cultural stereotypes (“Gold Purple Orange One”) are addressed.

“My Contribution to This Scam” addresses the dangers of being seduced by branding and offers a scathing indictment of systemic racism, referring to America as “the land of the Klan” and mentioning “blue bloods and white hoods.” They make it abundantly clear everything is not fine, and we should talk about that.

(C.J. Baker)

Lonnie Holley – MITH

Lonnie Holley is a black working class artist in his late ‘60s, who makes folk-art and sings music that is abstract and most similar to free jazz. The cosmic expressions are both discombobulating and emancipating. They reflect the pain and misery of oppression but also feature the heart and soul of someone who will not give up on survival.

On “I Woke Up In A Fucked-Up America,” Holley captures through words and sonic noises what it felt like when Donald Trump became president. He wrestles with the surrealness of the experience, trying to discern what are fucked-up visions from his sleep and fucked-up nightmares in real American life.

The album opens with “I’m A Suspect,” where Holley reflects on his life in America and all the “friends and relatives,” who are now in their graves. He’s been whipped around and battered and does not know how much longer he’ll live before the “dark shadows” catch up to him.

Finally, there’s the mesmerizing 17-minute composition, “I Snuck Off The Slave Ship,” that draws from his ancestors in Alabama. He effectively is a sojourner through the history of American capitalism built on the backs of slaves, who were brought over to the fields and then moved into factories during the Industrial Revolution. He sees the fruits of his people’s labor, but are his people able to enjoy those fruits?

(Kevin Gosztola)

IDLES – Joy As An Act Of Resistance

The UK punk band’s sophomore album shows that resistance does not have to be driven by anger. Trying to maintain joy in the wake of the current political turmoil is a powerful act of defiance. You can choose not to be brought down by a culture of hatred.

Tunes, such as “Great,” are a direct response to Brexit, and it highlights the dangers of isolationism. “Burning bridges and closing doors” could easily apply to the regressive views of the MAGA crowd. Roots of xenophobia are explored on “Danny Nedelko” with the potent lyrics, “Fear leads to panic. Panic leads to pain. Pain leads to anger. Anger leads to hate.”

The band also confronts the issue of toxic masculinity on “Samaritans”. Lead singer Joe Talbot encourages his fellow males to remove “the mask of masculinity,” and to break free of the shackles of gender stereotypes (similar issues are also explored on “Never Fight a Man with a Perm”).

IDLES is focused on fighting off the negative forces that cause humanity to lose hope, and they provide a perfect soundtrack for joyful resistance in the face of adversity.

(C.J. Baker)

Last Poets – Understand What Black Is

The forefathers of hip-hop, who developed their music for black liberation around fifty years ago, return following President Donald Trump’s election. Through ten tracks, they rap over a combination of jazz and reggae rhythms and confront American colonialism, imperialism, and systemic racism.

On “How Many Bullets,” they pay homage to the black lives that have been lost to oppression. The “collective psyche” of America is challenged on “Rain Of Terror,” as they reflect on the terrorism that America has inflicted, especially on non-white people of the world.

“North, East, West, South” and “The Music” are celebrations of black culture. “The Bridge” imagines what it would be like to achieve liberation and cross over into a world, “where people greet each other with a smile, where children can play without being hit by stray bullets. There are no guns there. And they offer a powerful vision of life with “no prisons, no locks, no keys” on “What I Want To See.”

(Kevin Gosztola)

Shad – A Short Story About War

The Canadian rapper’s sixth album is a concept album involving a protagonist known as The Fool, who finds himself in a middle of a war which is controlled by Snipers, Revolutionaries, the Establishment, and the Stone-Throwers. Each of the players in the story have modern-day counterparts. Shad uses the concept to explore social issues such as racism, immigration, gentrification and the environment.

The jazzy arrangement blends well with Shad’s honest poetic delivery. Even though the album does have it darker moments, it also balances the darkness with moments of exuberance, such as “The Fool Pt 1 (Get It, Got It Good)”, which is a celebration of black pride (“They keep on killing us / We just keep killing it”).

The album’s closing track, “All I Need”, ends with the potent reminder that “the truth is bulletproof.” The truth frees us from the lies that lead humans to an endless cycle of greed, violence, fear, and hatred.

(C.J. Baker)

Sihasin – Fight Like A Woman

Sihasin is the brother and sister duo of Jeneda and Clayson Benally, who were formerly part of indigenous punk trio Blackfire (with their brother Klee). The duo is named after the Navajo (Dine’) word which means to think with hope and assurance. That message of hope permeates their entire sophomore album.

The album is produced by veteran producer Ed Stasium, whose credits include Living Colour, Motörhead, Ramones and Talking Heads. Some of those influences can be heard in Sihasin’s sound, but primarily, their sound is inspired by traditional indigenous music. And the way the drum and bass duo effortlessly blend punk and rock with native elements invigorates their music with a fresh and anthemic feel.

Lyrically, the songs rally opposition to environmental damage and cultural genocide. The album’s title track is an anthem of empowerment for women, which name drops several influential women activists. One of the album’s standout tracks is “Strong Together,” which is a cry of unity that features an infectious children’s choir. Their lyrics fuse the past with the present to create anthems for a brighter future.

(C.J. Baker)

Kamasi Washington – Heaven and Earth

“The real reality is what the most of us make it to be. When I travel the world, the people I meet just want the world to be a beautiful place, with their lives full of love and peace, and they want that same thing for everyone else,” jazz musician Kamasi Washington told MOJO Magazine, which selected the album as the “Best Album Of The Year.” “Atrocities are happening everywhere, but the hope is that the world will start to mirror more of that majority.”

“Heaven & Earth” deal with what Washington sees as two realities—the reality projected at us by powerful elites and the reality that most people of the world understand, that there is more to bind us than divide us.

The double album opens with “Fists of Fury,” which reworks the theme to Bruce Lee’s film into a call to action—to no longer ask for justice but fight for dignity and respect. This, and other tracks on the first album (“Earth”), confront the darkness.

On the second album (“Heaven”), the sense of despair is transcended by cosmic and spiritual jazz music that takes one on a journey. Washington invites us to imagine a better world and instill hope in ourselves that we can get there.

(Kevin Gosztola)

Xiuhtezcatl – Break Free

Xiuhtezcatl is an indigenous hip-hop artist, who became aware early in his life that he had a responsibility to his people’s culture, their community, the water and environment, as well as the legacy of his ancestors, who have spent so many years fighting for justice against colonialism. He feels the destruction of land by extractive industries that are wrecking our planet and raises his voice.

He is only 18 years-old, but that makes his music that much more powerful. On “Sage Up,” he shows his commitment to indigenous resistance at Standing Rock and other frontlines, as he raps, “Politicians ordering missile strikes, playing war games. Digging poison from the Earth, pushing through a pipeline.”

“Clockwerk” is a protest anthem, with a fantastic hook featuring Isa who sings the chorus. “Dance to the rhythm of the movement. We’ll be in the streets singing about the revolution.”

But it is the introspective tracks, like “Magic,” and “Young,” where Xiuhtezcatl really shines. For “Magic,” he raps about losing touch with the land as it is more and more degraded by humanity’s destructive acts. And on “Young,” he bares his ambitions, working through what it means to be a young indigenous artist who must fight so his generation has a future.

(Kevin Gosztola)

HONORABLE MENTIONS: “Origami Harvest” – Ambrose Akinmusire | “Black Times” – Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 “Room 25” – Noname | “Queer As Folk” – Grace Petrie | “What A Time To Be Alive” – Superchunk | “In A Poem Unlimited” – U.S Girls

 

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