Playlist: My Favorite Anti-Cop, Pro-Black Songs for the Revolution

I talked about this in my post about Black Rage, but on the day George Zimmerman was acquitted for Trayvon Martin’s murder, I was angry. That anger pulled its way through me in an almost cartoonish way. I saw myself with steam coming out of my nose and ears, felt that heat coursing over my body. I was at the gym, so I was able to get some of that anger out immediately by punching a heavy bag. That wasn’t enough though, I needed something more, words that would put together what I was feeling in my head and heart, what I knew to be true. I pulled out my iPod and put on “They Don’t Care About Us” by Michael Jackson. By the white supremacist society we live in, I felt unseen, unheard, and stepped on. That refrain of “they don’t really care about us” rang loud and clear for me. I knew it like I knew my own name.

Music has been a place of safety and visibility for me for a long time. From my emo middle school days to the melodic, brooding R&B of my adulthood, I’ve always spent most of my day listening to music. It’s a point of teasing amongst my friends and acquaintances that you’ll never catch me without my huge headphones covering my ears, head bobbing to a beat. These past few weeks I’ve been drawn to music that is anti-cop, anti-establishment, and/or pro-black. These songs span genre but mostly lie somewhere between punk and hip hop. They embody either my rage or my love for the unwavering strength, resilience, and spirit of black people. I’ve compiled them on a playlist you can find on Spotify.

PTSD – Remix by Brittney Chantele

This song is related to the military, but the military is still an arm of the state, much like the police. Brittney Chantele is a Pittsburgh-based rapper, visual artist, and activist whose recent work, The Golden Opportunity, deals with her experience in the military, specifically dealing with military sexual assault, racism, homophobia, and the xenophobic ideals that were engrained in her. PTSD unsurprisingly deals with the way we treat veterans once they come home.

Just another piece in your war game
Nothing but a pawn on your board mane
Carrying that piece took my peace of mind
Now I can barely even sleep anymore mane
Living in the nation that I fought for
But who fighting for me?
My brothers out in the streets
Why my mom and dad
Gotta scrounge for a little bit of a piece
Of what they earned overseas
I never prophesied them profitizing
Off the lives and the blood we spilled
Feeding all the lies ignoring all the cries
Cutting all the ties and treating us like filth
Damn!

What I was struck by in these lines in particular is how they address the state versus civilians, common people who have not necessarily served in the military. The government and the military seem to have turned their back on the speaker here after using them as a “pawn.” The pain of being used that way is palpable in the flow of JM the Poet who is featured on this track. The speaker asks “who fighting for me?” and the answer is not his fellow veterans or those high ranking individuals in the military. Not the army or veteran affairs, but “my brothers out in the streets.” I can’t help but draw a parallel to what we are dealing with now. While celebrities and politicians make hollow gestures kneeling in Kente cloth, my siblings are out in the streets almost every day fighting for my life. The real power rests in the people, and this song makes it clear.

Fuck Tha Police – NWA

What list would be complete without this absolute banger on it? This song goes hard as hell, and that’s why its such a timeless classic. The lyrics hit you in your chest, it’s raw and emotional and ruthless. Any list of ACAB songs would be incomplete without it. I do need to address that in Ice Cube’s opening verse, there is a homophobic slur intended to describe cops who intentionally sexually assault black men in their custody. I won’t attempt to explain it away or justify it, it’s wrong, and a word that has done a lot of harm in our community. The rest of the song is an aggressive homage to a world where black people would be able to defend themselves against police violence.

Fuck the police comin’ straight from the underground
A young nigga got it bad ’cause I’m brown
And not the other color so police think
They have the authority to kill a minority
Fuck that shit, ’cause I ain’t the one
For a punk motherfucker with a badge and a gun
To be beatin’ on, and thrown in jail
We can go toe to toe in the middle of a cell
Fuckin’ with me ’cause I’m a teenager
With a little bit of gold and a pager
Searchin’ my car, lookin’ for the product
Thinkin’ every nigga is sellin’ narcotics

The song addresses many forms of violence that black people suffer at the hands of police, from relatively “mild” racism that makes cops assume “every nigga is sellin’ narcotics” to the sexual assault that I referenced earlier. It blatantly states without dancing around terms that cops will kill you because of the color of your skin and nothing else. We have seen it time and time again. What’s heartbreaking is that this is a song from the 80s and we are still fighting the same fight. What I love about this song is its refusal to be calm or respectable, it openly wishes for violence against violent cops. It’s like a small revenge fantasy, of which I have had many. It really captures the rage and frustration of being assumed a weapon or a criminal just because of the color of your skin. I think it will continue to top the list of protest/anti-police songs for decades to come.

Police State – Dead Prez

This song has a very old school “real hip hop” vibe, but coupled with the energy of your local Socialist Alternative chapter. It’s a song that wants to energize and educate you. The song samples a speech by Chairman Omali Yeshitela, leader of the Uhuru Movement and a member of the African People’s Socialist Party in which he discusses how police are only needed at the juncture in society between those who have and those who have not. Police aren’t used to protect and serve people, but to protect capital.

The average Black male
Live a third of his life in a jail cell
Cause the world is controlled by the white male
And the people don’t never get justice
And the women don’t never get respected
And the problems don’t never get solved
And the jobs don’ never pay enough
So the rent always be late
Can you relate?
We living in a police state

Tackling mass incarceration to fake radicals in activist circles, this song states a somber reality. Every day we grow deeper and deeper into living in a police state where small infractions become life-long prison sentences and black children are victimized at much higher rates than their white counterparts.

Fuck Police Brutality – Anti-Flag

This song, much like Fuck Tha Police, has a pretty straight forward message and is packed with images of police brutality. I love that punk and hip hop joins hands at this juncture where cops are the enemy. Fuck Police Brutality is punchy and fast and makes me wish I was agile enough to jump around and do spinning kicks in the air.

The chorus is a simple “fuck police, fuck police, fuck police brutality” screamed in a method that matches the rage and anger I’ve dealt with when I see police brutality in action or through a screen.

But the cops can do no wrong
They can kill, they can rape
They can do what they want
But the cops can do no wrong
We’ve got to fight, take back the night
The cops are just like Hitler’s Third Reich
Do what they want

Who do we fear, who do we trust, how do we know
Who do we fear, who do we trust, how do we know

That final refrain above calls to mind the language of “protect and serve” that is so often parroted by cops and their sympathizers. Just as doctors are required to take an oath at the beginning of their service, police are too, and one of the tenets of their oath is to protect and serve the civilians they patrol. Police are so often caught egregiously violating this oath, in person and on camera, that one begins to wonder why they continue to take such an oath if they continue to violate it. Who do we fear? the answer should be potential “criminals” or people that wish us harm. Who do we trust? the answer is supposed to be the police, but those two are flipped more often than not. The people around us become the ones that protect us from potential police brutality.

Inner City Blues – The Chi-Lites

First I need to say I’m a bit of a stan for this kind of music. When I’m feeling depleted I’ll through on some classic R&B and feel invigorated, like a loving warmth has been wrapped around me. There is a version of this song by Marvin Gaye but I prefer this one, the vocal performance is just a little more pleading which I like. Now, the content of the song is full of the many plights of inner-city living, rent too high, jobs hard to find, food insecurity, etc, but these lines, in particular, strike me:

Make me want to holler
And throw up both my hands
Yeah, it makes me want to holler
And throw up both my hands

Crime is increasing
Trigger happy policing
Panic is spreading
God knows where we’re heading

Throwing up your hands is a pretty universal sign of giving up and being exasperated by something, but it also has been the position in which so many black men and women have died at the hands of police. It is a position of surrender that is often overlooked because of the color of one’s skin. Now I’m sure that wasn’t the intent but in the current climate we’ve lived in, and frankly, since Ferguson, it’s hard to read those lines and not think of that connection. The next lines, “crime is increasing, trigger happy policing” directly address police brutality. This song, released over 50 years ago, addresses the same struggles we have today. For me, listening to it is a great reminder of how much work we still have to do.

Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud – James Brown

I don’t have much to ruminate over with this song; it just goes hard. It’s so vibrant and celebratory, it showcases the best of black talent, when we are proud and boisterous and in your face about it. When despite everything, we overcome.

Some people say we got a lot of malice, some say it’s a lotta nerve
But I say we won’t quit movin’ until we get what we deserve
We’ve been buked and we’ve been scourned
We’ve been treated bad, talked about as sure as you’re born
But just as sure as it take two eyes to make a pair, huh!
Brother we can’t quit until we get our share
Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud
Say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud
One more time, say it loud, I’m black and I’m proud, huh!

To Be Young Gifted and Black – Nina Simone

Nina Simone is a legend and I could have chosen a number of her songs for this list, but something about the high and bright vocal performance of this song just sings “black joy” to me. Young, gifted, and black has become a sort of rallying cry for many young black people, appearing on T-shirts and even in other songs (Young, Gifted, Black, In Leather by Special Interest).

When you feel really low
Yeah, there’s a great truth you should know
When you’re young, gifted and black
Your soul’s intact

This song is so important because so many young black children grow up getting told that they are a problem, that they are troublemakers and fire starters. Black children are often the victims of police brutality in and out of their schools, as many schools across the US have contracts with local police forces with the intent to keep students safe. But with the national conversation moving toward defunding the police in general, students are leading the charge to get police out of their schools. . Young, Gifted, and Black is a song of affirmation, a song that dares to say that the world is open to black people instead of opposed to us. Listening to it always makes me hold my head a little higher.

Every Nigger is a Star – Boris Gardiner

I first heard this song in Barry Jenkins’s 2017 film “Moonlight” and listening to it never fails to make me feel championed and sung. Part of where it’s power comes from is the title and the refrain daring to use nigger/nigga in a positive light.

I have walked the streets alone
Twenty years I’ve been on my own
To be hated and despised (Poor nigga)
No one to sympathize (Poor nigga)
But there’s one great thing I know
You can say, “I told you so”
We’ve got a bright place in the sun
Where there’s love for everyone, and
Every nigga is a star

When I first heard that word, when many other black people have had it thrown at them, it has been in the form of a knife. It’s normally an ugly word that encompasses centuries of oppression and hate. To have nigger followed up with “is a star” turns the tables and flips the narrative. Its an incredibly sweet and affirming song that makes me feel proud of my skin and my heritage despite the trials that whiteness imposes on us.

Killing in the Name – Rage Against the Machine

Rage Against the Machine has been one of those bands that always has a song for me when I’m in an anti-capitalist, anti-police mood. This song is no different. The refrain below is one that dares to point out that many of the cops that are supposed to protect us are often white supremacists in uniform.

Some of those that work forces
Are the same that burn crosses
Some of those that work forces
Are the same that burn crosses

You justify those that died
By wearing the badge, they’re the chosen whites

The phrase “chosen whites” is fairly direct in supposing that many cops are “chosen” by their race to enact crimes of racist violence against citizens on the streets. Because these people where a badge, we are supposed to believe that all of their actions (even the most deadly) are justified. We hear a lot that being a cop is “just a job like any other” but, and I’ve said this before, the problem with stating being a cop is just a job is that it positions the deaths of unarmed black people as just hazards of the job and not intentional tragedies and acts of terrorism inflicted on the black community. Killing in the Name reveals how it’s not just a job, but a cult of mostly white supremacists chosen to enact violence.

16 Shots – Vic Mensa

16 Shots is a reference to the police killing of Laquan McDonald in 2014. Laquan was shot in the back by a white officer a total of 16 times well after he was lifeless. Much like now, protests erupted demanding the officer be charged and convicted of murder.

He never had a chance and we all know it’s cause he black
Shot ’em 16 times, how fucked up is that?
Now the police superintendent wanna double back
Cops speeding up to the block like a runnin’ back
Tension is high, man these niggas is irate
You can see it in they eyes, they wanna violate
Screaming out “Oink oink! Bang bang! Gang gang! Gang gang!
Murder murder!” Murder they mind state
I just made me a mil’ and still militant
This ain’t conscious rap, this shit ignorant, nigga, hair trigger
Ain’t no fun when the rabbit got the gun
When I cock back, police better run

Vic Mensa’s chorus is a rousing refrain of “1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11, Fuck 12”. The song does not shy away from expressing a desire for revenge and violence against violent police. The pain is palpable and justified. What I love about this song and this particular subset of lyrics is that they embody a feeling I’ve had for a while. That anger manifests in a way that makes you want revenge and justice. “Hair-trigger ain’t no fun when the rabbit got the gun” positions the hunted as the hunter, leveling the playing field. The way Laquan died was not level or justified, he was shot in the back more than a dozen times, his body desecrated and his life taken. If you’re not angry at this, you’re not listening. The song ends with a detailed event of what happened provided by the lawyer for Laquan McDonald’s family. It’s a heartbreaking account of the events that brings the song to a place that makes me want to rally for justice.

I chose these songs because some bring a voice to my rage while others let me revel in the glory of being black. Music has been used to rally and heal in many revolutions in our past and should be a part of our present moment as well. Even now, many artists have already released pro-black, anti-police brutality anthems since the deaths of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Riah Milton, and Dominique Fells. Just as we need action and uprising, we need a space to come back, recuperate and heal. Some songs on this list serve as that space, others prepare us for battle. What songs would you put on this list, let me know in the comments!

Dani Janae is a poet and writer based out of Pittsburgh, PA. When she's not writing love poems for unavailable women, she's watching horror movies, hanging with her tarantula, and eating figs. Follow Dani Janae on Twitter and on Instagram.

Dani has written 23 articles for us.

11 Comments

  1. Thank you for this! For a while I had The Coat hangers F The NRA on repeat cause it’s angry & fun to sing.

    Currently I have Rage Against the Machine – Snake Charmer stuck in my head.

    “Have no illusions, boy
    Vomit all ideals and serve
    Sleep and wake and serve and
    Don’t just think, just wake and serve”

  2. So both of these songs are by white people but are anti police bangers that I love and have been listening to a lot

    Get Your Riot Gear by Five Iron Frenzy (Ska/Punk)

    And Daloy Politsey, which means “down with police” in Yiddish, is a traditional anti-police song out of Russia, and has been rewritten by American Jews with English verses and a rousing chorus of “fuck the police”.

  3. “Politics Swings” is a poem I wrote, altering Roger Miller’s “England Swings” (1965). Keep to the beat of the original song, available on YouTube.

    “Politics swings like a pendulum do, cops in cruisers two by two,
    You may be in power, but we’re coming after you.

    Take a tip before you flip, protest online or in the street,
    Be sure to wear your mask, don’t share germs with folks you meet.

    Keep up the pressure, keep playing offense,
    Save the future for our children, that’s what makes sense.

    Black Lives Matter, stop allowing war,
    Don’t let capital steal from the poor.

    One for all, and all for one,
    Never stop until the battle’s won.

    Peace and justice is what we’re fighting for,
    Turn your swords to plowshares; study war no more.

    Patrick McCann, Veterans For Peace

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!