This month’s resource roundup focuses on music, and we’ve invited Afro Puerto Rican writer and self-proclaimed music nerd Miguel Machado (who happens to be BA@M co-editor Sarah Jinee Park’s partner) to share five picks from his anti-racist soundtrack:

In response to the trying times we find ourselves in, anti-racist practices are becoming ever more ingrained in our lives. From the personal to the professional, there is no shortage of pedagogies to incorporate or articles to avail oneself of in pursuit of greater change. But another powerful anti-racism resource that often goes overlooked is music. 

I say overlooked because oftentimes the messages in our favorite songs don’t always spell things out for us (a la “We Are The World” route). No, the best anti-racist music is, first and foremost, good music. It’s only when we dig in and analyze the lyrics that we unravel a deeper meaning.

So here are a few selections that combine anti-racist messages with masterful composition.

Solange: “A Seat at the Table”

Okay, this one shouldn’t come as a surprise. Solange’s jazzy and subdued junior album is a masterclass in empowerment. Diving deep into the Black feminist perspective, a song like “Don’t Touch My Hair” serves as a rallying cry against the microaggressions rampant in society. However, beneath the surface, it harkens to something much simpler and much more universal: self-love and embracing idiosyncratic beauty. 

These principles form the foundation upon which Solange builds a soundscape that consistently reminds listeners of their self-worth and the power that comes with setting boundaries. 

Why It’s Anti-Racist: One of the effects of racist behavior or rhetoric is to instill a sense of inferiority in the victim. This allows the oppressor a disproportionate amount of control over the oppressed while elevating their own position. 

A “Seat at the Table” understands this. Solange crafts an album that revels as much in the beauty and power inherent in the Black female figure as she does in the subtle bass and trumpets that underscore her delicate vocals. It is as much an album as it is a tutorial on self-love and combating racism.

Nas: “King’s Disease”

While at this point, it’s doubtful that any of Nas’ albums will match the raw quintessence of his debut, the Queensbridge emcee doesn’t seem too phased by it. Moving ever forward, the Grammy-winning “King’s Disease” sees Nas painting vivid pictures of street life with a sage-like wisdom refined over three decades in music. 

As wondercon beatmaker Hit-Boy provides an arrangement of soulful samples and classic boom-bap baselines, the master MC drops gems to guide the next generation of kings and queens into the future. The lead single, “Ultra Black,” is a rousing endorsement of pro-Blackness, while weaving in a subtle undercurrent of racial unity.

Why It’s Anti-Racist: Racism is often fueled by stereotypes and misconceptions about race. These misconceptions can often lead to toxic shame and a habit of self-policing among the BIPOC community, the idea being that in order to achieve some measure of success we have to whitewash aspects of our culture.  

On “King’s Disease,” Nas unapologetically embraces all aspects of the Black identity, refusing to let the stereotypes or negative perceptions put an asterisk on his success. He shows that excellence is achievable without having to embrace Eurocentrism.

Marvin Gaye: “What’s Going On”

That’s right, the OG. Anti-racist, anti-war, anti-environmental degradation, what can’t be said about Marvin Gaye’s 1971 classic? The fact that these themes and Gaye’s presentation of them has aged so well is as much a testament to the late singer’s genius as it is a haunting reminder of how slow progress can be. 

The topics the album tackles are heavy, no doubt. But Gaye’s versatile intonations and soulful voice deliver them with effortlessness.  Each track flows into the next almost seamlessly, creating a soundscape grounded in the Black experience and the problems we continue to face today.  

Why It’s Anti-Racist: Racism, by its very nature, sows division. One of the main tools we can use to combat this division is empathy.  By offering up unprecedented insight into the trials and tribulations of the Black man, Gaye’s magnum opus is a rousing call for empathy and understanding from a world that all too often doesn’t take the time to see how its actions impact its most vulnerable.

Ismael Rivera: “Las Caras Lindas

During a career that spanned three decades, Afro Puerto Rican legend Ismael Rivera composed a body of work that revels just as much in vivid images of quotidian island life as it does the Black experience. Probably one of his most famous songs, “Las Caras Lindas” is a simple yet stirring ode to the beauty and humanity found within Black bodies, those in Puerto Rico and around the world. 

While the main refrain of the song translates to “the beautiful faces of my Black people,” the song is as much about Black beauty as it is about Black resilience, hope and pride.

Why It’s Anti-Racist: Racism often devalues and dehumanizes those who are most affected by it. Knowing that when something has been devalued to the point that a human being could be seen as nothing more than property, Rivera elevates the Black body and humanizes its experiences by singing about the faces of his people and how they “possess sorrow … melody … beauty and … beautiful poetry.”

Joyner Lucas: “I’m Not Racist”

**Trigger Warning. Content Warning**

Joyner Lucas’s 2017 deconstruction of racial stereotypes and the cavalierness with which they are thrown around is not an easy song to listen to. Starting off utilizing a right-wing, Trumpian persona, Lucas launches into a racial epithet-laden diatribe that criticizes everything from the Black Lives Matter movement to hip-hop cullture to the impact of slavery in modern times. But the genius of the song comes in the second verse, where Lucas flips perspectives and effortlessly rebuts each of his previous talking points. 

This switch of lens doesn’t make the song easier to listen to. Lucas’ anger is palpable no matter which side of the aisle he is rapping from, and he does not mince words when on the attack. But he does this in order to paint a visceral and complex picture of racial tension in America. 

Why It’s Anti-Racist: Post-Trump society has left us awash in a sea of casual racism and right-wing talking points disguised as harsh truths. By embodying this persona, Lucas is able to better dismantle the misguided lines of thinking that allow racism and misunderstanding to thrive.  

Conclusion

Like most social justice work, anti-racism and true allyship require real commitment. Music like the entries mentioned above, keep us motivated on the long journey towards progress, while giving us much needed perspective and guidance. 

So if there are any anti-racist songs or albums you’d like to share with us, we’d love to hear about them! Feel free to post them in the comments. 

Mochi magazine’s Black Allyship @ Mochi column is an ongoing project that urges an awareness of racial injustice in the United States, particularly the oppression of Black people in America. The articles, resources and opinions we share are a call to action, an open discussion, and a place to take a stance against anti-Black racism. Read more about the column here.

We want Black Allyship @ Mochi to spark productive conversation. We want to know how we can do better: Feel free to email the co-editors at giannina.ong@mochimag.com. 

Photo credit: Anthony Delanoix//Unsplash

Author

  • Miguel Machado is a Afro Puerto Rican writer who grew up in New York City but currently writes out of Isabela, Puerto Rico. His work can be found in Azahares Literary Magazine, Level: A Medium Publication, and ROVA Magazine.