Today I, like many people around the country, am still processing what happened last night and the repercussions it will have in the days to come. But as I sit here in this state of shock and denial, I think back to other times of crises in our country and how we dealt with them. History has proven time and time again, that art is the greatest mechanism for social acceptance and change. From The Beatles entry into the political counterculture of the 1960s, to the post-9/11 cross-genre solidarity that spanned rap, country, etc., music has been a voice in the darkest of times.
So as we are forced to open our eyes to this new, potentially dangerous reality, here are a few of the greatest politically-charged albums of all time. So sit back, grab some lyrical propaganda, and try to forget for a bit (and maybe dream of revolution).
American Idiot by Green Day
Any list about politically-influenced music isn’t complete or accurate unless American Idiot is situated rightly at the top. Green Day’s response to the Bush Administration’s invasion of the Middle East, this record is about as high-octane and driven as a collection of songs can get. A concept album that follows the protagonist through the tumultuous battle of “rage vs. love,” the songs are a commentary on the disillusionment of the American generation that has grown up through tragic events, namely the Iraq war. American Idiot also addresses the immense power of corporate greed, and the possibility that the War on Terror was actually used as a mechanism to advance big-money oil interests, a belief held widely by the punk counterculture that supported this album enough that it went on to chart in 27 countries, receive the Grammy for Best Rock Album in 2005, and become a Broadway musical.
To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar
Kendrick Lamar is debatably the most talented rap artist of the past 15 years, with his music proven to be socially, politically, and culturally relevant and complex. In 2015, the surprise release of To Pimp a Butterfly is a direct commentary on the civic corruption in the city of Compton, where Lamar spent his childhood. Many songs form this record, namely “Alright,” have become anthems in social change protests, especially Black Lives Matter events around the country, a true testament to just how powerful and influential this record is.
Rage Against the Machine by Rage Against the Machine
Just the name “Rage Against the Machine” is seething with discontentment and
anarchy, and with this sensational debut record, RATM solidified its place in rock history as a pioneer of using music as a weapon to dismantle the system. A genre-bending record full of gang vocals and trash can percussion, Rage Against the Machine is a heavy listen, but it is full of attitude and spark. Mad by a band composed of talented musicians and social activists, RATM can be viewed as a commentary on the overlooking of human rights by industry figureheads, and the valuing of profit over human lives.
Arular by M.I.A.
Every single album released by M.I.A. is not only a pop masterpiece, but a tangible representation of the lifestyle and consequences of modern day conflict. As a child, M.I.A. was a displaced refugee forced to flee to Sri Lanka, where her father became a crimelord whose political codename was Arular, the name of this album. Inspired by her childhood experiences, the songs on this record tell the harrowing tales of guerrilla warfare, persecution, and asylum seeking, among other unthinkable experiences. A record chronicling the unimaginable violence in the east, that went on to find immense popularity in the west, Arular is the ultimate political statement.
Transgender Dysphoria Blues by Against Me!
An incredible punk album that I have written about before, Transgender Dysphoria Blues tells the tale of what it is like to be trans in America, an increasingly political topic despite its inherent privacy. A sincere exposé of the underbelly of what it means to be trans, this album is a big “f-you” to conservative America, and yet is refreshingly vulnerable. An open letter to an unaccepting and intolerant society, this record bares its teeth at the systematic hate that plagues America, and does so beautifully and unapologetically.