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once, left, and Kendrick Lamar perform ‘Freedom’ at the BET Awards at the Microsoft Theater on June 26, 2016, in Los Angeles.Matt Sayles, Invision/AP
In “Freedom,” one of the world’s foremost stars marches through an empowering musical sermon. In liberating words often echoed at protests, Beyoncé sings: “Won’t let my freedom rot in hell/ Hey! I’ma keep running/ ‘Cause a winner don’t quit on themselves.”
Childish Gambino performs at the 2018 iHeartRadio Music Festival Day 1 held at T-Mobile Arena on Friday, Sept. 21, 2018, in Las Vegas. (Photo by John Salangsang/Invision/AP) ORG XMIT: CAJS207John Salangsang/Invision/AP
In “This Is America,” Donald Glover — under his stage name Childish Gambino — stretched protest music to corners previously unreached by the artform. As he guns down a gospel choir in the music video, Glover raps that “This is America …,” reminding viewers of senseless violence fueled by racism that shouldn’t be compartmentalized.
Lil Baby at the recording studio Killer Instinct Studios in Los Angeles on Nov. 6, 2020.Michael Owen Baker / For The Tennessean
Last summer, as thousands to took to streets around the world to protest racism and police brutality after George Floyd’s death, Lil Baby released a song capturing a sentiment echoed by many who pleaded for change. In “The Bigger Picture,” he offered the lines: “… Bigger than Black and White’. It’s deep-rooted, it’s systematic and it’s going to require a lot of time to change.” The message climbed Billboard charts and resonated with the star’s peers; “The Bigger Picture” received two nominations at the 63rd Annual Grammy Awards for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song.
Dave Paulson and Matt Leimkuehler contributed.