Black protest hit a political and musical turning point with George Floyd's murder on May 25, 2020
“I Can’t Breathe”
  • “I Can’t Breathe”
  • PLAYLIST on YouTube and Spotify
    (Note: the two playlists are slightly different. Spotify doesn’t have a few of the songs found on YouTube)

Black History Month

The past year has been momentous in the struggle for Black rights. February is Black History month and, once again, Kurated is focusing on Black issues and artists.

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Kris Sig Plastic V3

06 February 2021

Dave Gannon/AFP photo


These words marked a turning point in political and musical protest

George Floyd’s murder on May 25, 2020 under the knee of a Minnesota police officer triggered riots across North America and in major centres worldwide. It also unleashed a tsunami of angry, heartfelt and hopeful musical protest not heard since the Vietnam war era.

The convergence of the 2020 pandemic spring lockdown, a hostile US political climate and one episode too many of police racial violence erupted into demonstrations by millions of people in the Black Lives Matter movement and their allies.

The incident galvanized an already vital resistance and brought increased focus on systemic racism and white privilege. Discussions about those terms became part of our daily vocabulary. The mainstream was engaging in an open and widespread conversation about racism in a way it hadn’t since 60s-era civil unrest.

The resistance has a soundtrack

In the days, weeks and months following Floyd’s death, musicians from all genres – hip hop to classical, rock to MOR ballads, spoken word to rap and pop – offered their response on this flashpoint moment.

Today’s 17-song playlist is a small sampling of the hundreds of songs available on numerous platforms and discussed in online publications. Each one of these songs was released following Floyd’s murder. Some are about the event while others address Black struggle.

What about rap?

On the continuum of hip hop to rap I’m only familiar with the hip hop side of the scale. I appreciate that rap is one of the dominant musical forms in contemporary music. Since I’m unfamiliar with it, I haven’t included any examples. However, its composers and performers have come out with full force musical commentary on the Floyd death and as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. Those of you who are fans will have no trouble finding what you like. I strongly recommend the powerful spoken word piece LL Cool J Raps About George Floyd and Black Lives Matter. Other raps of interest might include FTP by YG (Fuck the Police), Black Lives Matter by Dax and Black Lives Matter by Dae Dae.

Playlist: 17 Songs

This is the YouTube playlist. A few of these songs aren’t available on Spotify.

  1. My People…Hold OnAmber Mark
    Hip hop, R&B, soul, and bossa nova singer Amber Mark presents a beautiful cover of My People…Hold On by Temptations’ co-founder Eddie Kendricks. Kendricks recorded the song in 1972 after he went solo. Marks released the song a few weeks after George Floyd’s death. She says: “It’s a crazy world we’re living in and my people have been suffering the most, leaving me with tears in my eyes & so many questions that have been keeping me up at night for weeks. 100% of profits made from My people’ will go to an organization that develops black agricultural land ownership.”

  2. I Can’t BreatheH.E.R.
    Award-winning 23-year-old H.E.R. (aka Gabriella Sarmiento Wilson) offers this stirring self-written piece.
  3. 2020 Riots: How Many TimesTrey Songz
  4. Get AlongKidNation
  5. They Don’tNasty C & T.I.

“They don’t want me to win, they don’t want me to eat
They don’t want to see a young black man succeed
They don’t want to see me take my brothers out of the streets
They don’t want me
They don’t want me to sleep, they don’t want me to dream
They don’t want to see my people livin’ good and at ease
They wanna lock ’em all up and then get rid of the keys
We ain’t never free”

6. Perfect Way To DieAlicia Keys
In her notes to the video Alicia Keys writes: “I have felt called by music like I never have before.⁣⁣ I have been following its lead.⁣⁣ It has led me to the song A Perfect Way to Die.⁣⁣ The song title is so powerful and heartbreaking because WE are heartbroken by so many who have died unjustly.⁣⁣ 

“Of course, there is NO perfect way to die. That phrase doesn’t even make sense. ⁣⁣ ⁣Just like it doesn’t make sense that there are so many innocent lives that should not have been taken from us due to the destructive culture of police violence. ⁣⁣ 

“Sometimes I don’t have the words and music is the only thing that can speak.⁣⁣ I hope this speaks to you.⁣⁣ I hope one day this song won’t be so relevant.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Let’s NEVER stop fighting for justice.”

7. Take Two Knees / America the Beautiful – Anthony McGill
McGill is the New York Philharmonic’s Principal Clarinet and started the #TakeTwoKnees initiative five days after Floyd’s murder. He invited fellow musicians to join him in a prayer for “justice and decency.

“No guidelines. Your message, your voice, your mission, your focus. Just #TakeTwoKnees for what you believe in.”

8. MatterBritanny Campbell
“Deep within, there’s a poisoning
In our spirit, in our country
In our neighbours, when they see us
Are we here? Do we matter?
I ask this on the daily
I ask this for my baby,
Still out there in the maybe
We want to breathe again”

9. Lament for Emmett TillALA.NI
From Wikipedia: “Emmett Louis Till (July 25, 1941 – August 28, 1955) was a 14-year-old African American who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955, after being accused of offending a white woman in her family’s grocery store. The brutality of his murder and the fact that his killers were acquitted drew attention to the long history of violent persecution of African Americans in the United States. Till posthumously became an icon of the civil rights movement.”

10. I Just Wanna Live (I Can’t Breathe)Keedon Bryant (feat. WILL.I.AM)
With lyrics written by his mother, 12-year-old Keedon Bryant’s 57-second acapella lament went viral and spun off into a variety of videos and collaborations. This is one of the first and best featuring a virtual joint effort with hip hop artist WILL.I.AM

11. WildfiresSault
“Thief in the night
Tell the truth
White lives
Spreading lies
You should be ashamed
The bloodshed on your hands
Another man
Take off your badge
We all know it was murder”

Sault is a UK band that’s released four excellent albums in the past two years. The Guardian says this: “Like new shoots coming through stubble burned off a field, the mysterious UK neo-soul group consider the transformative effect of fire as they face the pain of police brutality with a determination to survive and indeed thrive.”

12. Body CastDua Saleh
Sudanese-American Dua Saleh recorded this song in 2019 about the death of Jamar Clark and Philando Castile, two Black men shot by police in 2015 and 2016. The song was intended to be kept for a future project but events after May 25 suggested an earlier release with sales and proceeds being donated to Women for Political Change.

13. Movin’ DifferntWale (feat. McClenney)
“Left to right, side to side, you do
Lovin’ the way you move it, baby
Let’s take our time all the way
Nine in the streets, niggas ridin’ in the streets
Try to police then we sob and repeat
I done seen this like a hundred million times
Seen a white riot get a black nigga shot”

14. South Gotta ChangeAdia Victoria
Nashville-based Adia Victoria enlisted T Bone Burnett to produce this languid single released in August. She writes: “In 2020 I have watched as the world became irreversibly altered. The upheaval Covid-19 caused has allowed for a sacred pause in our daily life. During this lapse we lost Congressman John Lewis…‘South Gotta Change’ is a prayer, an affirmation, and a battle cry all at once. It is a promise to engage in the kind of ‘good trouble’ John Lewis understood necessary to form a more perfect union.”

15. Captured On A iPhoneDRE
The George Floyd killing reported via poignant and understated commentary about social media communication. DRE’s articulate spoken word sits over a subtle drum beat and flute riff with a cool solo vocal harmony.

16. Make A DifferenceSteve Arrington

17. Fight!Wyatt Waddell
Waddell explains his hopeful and upbeat response: “This song is me looking at what’s happening and what I’d tell the people protesting. I had to look outside of myself at what’s going on and how people are being affected. Hearing people’s fears, anxieties, and watching everything happening on TV really helped me write the song. I hope that it can be an anthem for my people as they’re fighting for a better America.”


These are passionate songs; angry songs. They are innocent, plaintive and urgent calls for change and understanding.