Artists Use Their Music to Take a Stand Against President Trump
by Henry Claudy on Friday, February 10th, 2017
On November 15th, 2016, Portland rapper Aminé appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. The rapper performed his hit “Caroline” with the backing of a string ensemble, á la Kanye West’s Late Orchestration. Aminé’s performance of the track went as planned, with some added embellishments to make the most out of his string section. Around the three minute mark, however, the yellow lights that glowed on the band faded into a red, white, and blue display, and the tone of the performance shifted heavily. “9/11, a day that we’re never forgetting / 11/9, a day that we’re all regretting,” Aminé raps. All of the playfulness that surrounded the first part of his song is gone, replaced by the sincerity of a man with a message.
“Caroline” is in no way considered a serious song about serious issues, but Aminé used his fame to talk about a topic that means something to him. In his own words: “If my president is Trump then it’s relevant enough / To talk ’bout it on TV and not give a …” Aminé’s verse isn’t anything totally outrageous, but he’s still sending a message by using his television performance to touch on a sensitive topic. The added verse that debuted on The Tonight Show falls in line with the many issues discussed in music throughout the 2016 election cycle.
It would be silly to say that the idea of a protest song is a byproduct of the 2016 election. The protest song has been present in America since before the Civil War and has taken issue with topics such as slavery, sexism, McCarthyism, the Vietnam War, and climate change. Some are as ubiquitous as Woodie Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” and some as frank as the Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks F*ck Off.” Protest music can effectively capture the public opinion around government policies, political movements or human issues.
This past election cycle spawned a variety of protest music across all genres. The spirit of the Dead Kennedy’s single was carried on by Compton rapper YG’s track “FDT.” The track, which also features LA rapper Nipsey Hustle, was released in March of 2016 and has come to act as an anthem for the adamantly anti-Trump. The original recording of the song opened with a recording of Valdosta State University student Tahjila Davis speaking about being kicked out of a Trump rally at her school and then kicks straight into gear with a chorus proclaiming “F*ck Donald Trump.” The rapper’s attacks against Trump’s policies and personality are somewhat predictable, with his song primarily criticizing the President’s racism towards Mexicans with the construction of the wall.
YG’s song was a high point in his sophomore album Still Brazy, even with some censoring. YG said in an interview with Vulture that the Secret Service threatened to remove copies of the album from store shelves if he did not censor lyrics on the track. YG complied, but further protested the President by releasing a “FDT PT.2” with guest features by G-Eazy and Macklemore, and naming his summer tour the F*ck Donald Trump Tour.
Another effort protesting the campaign/presidency of Trump is the 30 Days, 30 Songs project by Dave Eggers. The initial goal for the project was to release a song everyday from October 10, 2016 until election day, but the project shifted to 40 and then 50 songs. Since election day, the project has grown to be 1000 Days, 1000 Songs. According to its website, the project now promises to create an 1000-song playlist of songs “that will inspire and amuse and channel the outrage of a nation.”
The project’s songs are all aimed against Trump’s policies, with genres ranging from hip-hop to indie rock. Artists such as Death Cab for Cutie, Moby, Franz Ferdinand, R.E.M., and Jimmy Eat World all contributed songs to the project. Daveed Diggs of Hamilton fame drops a great verse on “Fat Fingers,” paying tribute to a variety of rap classics with an anti-Trump spin. Tim Heidecker’s “Trump’s Pilot” details the artist’s plan to sabotage Trump’s private plane. JPEGMAFIA and Tricky’s collaboration “I Might Vote 4 Donald Trump” is an experiment in legality, with Tricky saying, “It ain’t a anti-Trump song it’s a anti-democracy song.”
These tracks are nowhere near a full summary of the protest music from the 2016 election cycle but are a nice sampler. Artists such as Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, and Bruce Springsteen have also either spoken against the man or released tracks against him. The United States is a country of self-expression, and these compositions are a testament to this value. Even if “FDT” or “Fat Fingers” does not become as ubiquitous as “This Land is your Land,” it is important for artists to reflect on the changing political and social tides that ebb and flow in America.
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