1. RUN THE JEWELS - RTJ4
On June 1, US armed forces violently dispersed peaceful crowds protesting against the police killing of African American George Floyd, whose final words were: "I can't breathe." They did so to clear the way for President Donald Trump to walk from the White House to a church for a photo opportunity, where he held up a Bible after threatening to unleash troops on Black Lives Matter demonstrators nationwide. Two days later, US rappers Run The Jewels rush-released their new album, which included the final words uttered by Floyd in the lines: "Every day on the evening news, they feed you fear for free. And you so numb, you watch the cops choke out a man like me, until my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, 'I can't breathe.'" The album was hailed as timely, yet the group were actually referencing the final words of Eric Garner, another African American killed by police in 2014, showing just how little had changed. LISTEN >>>
2. DAVID ROVICS - NOTES FROM A FAILED STATE
The next day, ever-timely US singer-songwriter David Rovics released his new album, which includes a song about the protests in Floyd's city of Minneapolis. On "As I Watch Minneapolis Burn", he sings: "Are people still lynched in America – and what happens when they die? When he begged for his mother to save him, was he resisting arrest when he cried? And how does the lynch mob roam free, when we already know who they are? The men who murdered George Floyd, and then drove off in their police cars... Did you see him pinned down for eight minutes, did you see the knee on his neck? Did you see the police station on fire, did you smell the smouldering wreck? As the National Guard marches in, watch the wheels of history churn. In the land of Philando Castille, as we watch Minneapolis burn." Days later, police in Atalanta killed another unarmed African American, Rayshard Brooks, sparking more riots. LISTEN >>>
3. VARIOUS ARTISTS - TALK - ACTION = ZERO
On June 2, the music industry ceased operations out of a mark of respect for Black artists, as many musicians blacked out their social media accounts for #BlackoutTuesday. Taking concrete, monetary action was music platform Bandcamp, which repeatedly waived its fees in June for musicians, many of whom donated their proceeds to Black Lives Matter. Among the many compilations released for the cause was the epic, 115-track Talk - Action = Zero. It includes songs referencing Floyd's death as well as a 26-second ditty by Courtney Jaye, "Fuck This Fucking President", imploring people to register to vote. That's not an easy task, given that Trump has said Republicans would "never" be elected again if voting was made easier. Shortly afterwards, country stars the Dixie Chicks announced that they were dropping the controversial "Dixie" from their name to become just The Chicks, after fellow country rockers Lady Antebellum shortened their contentious name to Lady A. LISTEN >>>
4. ZIGGY RAMO - BLACK THOUGHTS
On June 5, as Black Lives Matter protests erupted worldwide, police in Australia tried to stop a rally going ahead in Sydney, saying protesters "don’t think like you and I, they’re not normal". The next day, about 200,000 people rallied nationwide, showing just how mainstream the anger was. At 4.32pm, protesters stopped marching and knelt to mark the 432 Aboriginal people killed in police custody since a Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody ended in 1991. Not a single person has been prosecuted for the deaths. Among the protesters was Aboriginal rapper Ziggy Ramo, who released a surprise album on the morning of the protests. It closes with a chat between the articulate rapper and radio broadcaster Daniel Browning, in which Ramo describes how the importation of slaves into Australia, known as "blackbirding", directly affected his family. Days later, Prime Minister Scott Morrison had to apologise for claiming slavery hadn't happened in Australia. MORE >>>
5. CAITI BAKER - MARY OF THE NORTH
While apologising for his denial of slavery, Morrison also conceded that the appalling rates of Indigenous incarceration in Australia were "heartbreaking". His comment came days after a Yamatji prisoner at the Bandyup Women’s Prison was slammed to the ground by prison guards and taken to a Perth hospital in a critical condition. Days later, amid calls to abolish the police and prisons, Northern Territory musician Caiti Baker released her new album, whose single "Worth It" is a collaboration with women prisoners in Darwin Correctional Centre. “I spent time in the Correctional Centre working with the women, teaching them the song, listening to their stories and performing for them," she said. “I recorded them singing in the library and in a toilet because the acoustics were amazing.” Baker pledged to donate some of the proceeds raised by the song’s revenue to the Women Of Worth program being run by the Darwin YWCA. LISTEN >>>
6. BAD COP/BAD COP - THE RIDE
7. STEPH SIMON - BORN ON BLACK WALL STREET
Trump had planned to hold a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 19. However, he switched the date to June 20 following outrage that he was holding it on "Juneteenth", a holiday to mark the emancipation of US slaves, in a city where the Ku Klux Klan had set fire to a suburb of wealthy Black people 99 years earlier. The suburb, known as Black Wall Street, is celebrated by Tulsa rapper Steph Simon, who raps about "rising from the ashes" on his latest album, Born On Black Wall Street. When he went to shoot photos for the album outside a mansion formerly owned by a Ku Klux Klan leader, he found it was now owned by a childhood friend who'd become a professional footballer. Simon convinced him to turn part of the mansion into a hip-hop studio, where more than 50 rappers are now working on an album to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. Trump's Tulsa rally, meanwhile, flopped, after thousands of K-pop fans reserved tickets with no intention to go. MORE >>>
8. VARIOUS ARTISTS - HEAVY PANDEMIC
The 6000 Trump fans who did attend his rally refused to wear face masks, despite six of Trump's entourage testing positive for the coronavirus just before the event. Four days later it was reported that the US was "leading the planet" with 121,000 dead from the pandemic and 2.3 million infected - more than the next six countries combined - and that about one-quarter of all deaths and infections worldwide were American. On June 26, it was reported that in the country of Trump's soul mate, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, far more people had died during the pandemic than were killed in the Blitz. On a per-capita basis, more people had died in Britain than nearly anywhere else in the world. Supporting the country's National Health Service workers on the frontline was fundraising album Heavy Pandemic, featuring "some of the most promising underground metal and extreme acts" in Britain and Ireland. LISTEN >>>
As the coronavirus pandemic reached Bangladesh, a worker-owned factory there that makes "No Sweat" anti-sweatshop T-shirts switched production to medical masks and aprons to support local hospitals. On June 5, activist collective Punks Against Sweatshops, which urges bands to source their T-shirts from No Sweat, released their new fundraising compilation album, Give Sweatshops The Boot Vol. 1. "T-shirts have become an important part of the punk scene," says the campaign. "But punks don’t make T-shirts, garment workers do! And garment workers around the world are often forced to work in some of the worst conditions... When you buy or sell a T-shirt made in a sweatshop, by someone paid pennies for their work in hellish conditions, you spit in the face of punk." The album, which features big underground names such as Jello Biafra, Crass and Propaghandi, came as a second wave of the virus devastated impoverished workers in neighbouring India. LISTEN >>>
10. MICHAEL FRANTI & SPEARHEAD - WORK HARD & BE NICE
One artist no one would expect to use sweatshops, Michael Franti, revealed as he released his new album on June 19 that he'd also been infected with the coronavirus. “It was really scary and rough,” said the former leader of radical rap group Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. “Yet through it all there’s so much beauty that’s coming out of it; to see the heroism and workers; to see how families are coming together... I’ve gotten in touch with friends that I haven’t called in years, so there’s positivity in all of it.” Anyone looking for a more positive take on the world's negativity should turn to Franti's album, which addresses themes such as the divisions over politics, gender, sexuality, religion and ethnicity with simple, uplifting messages like those found in single “I’m on Your Side”. “The reason I got into music in the first place is it’s my medicine,” said Franti. “It’s the thing that helps me to get through the greatest challenges in my life." MORE >>>
Video: Ziggy Ramo: Black Thoughts ft. Stan Grant (Official Video). Ziggy Ramo.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mat Ward has been writing for Green Left since 2009. He also wrote the book Real Talk: Aboriginal Rappers Talk About Their Music And Country and makes political music. This year, he released a concept album about the media hailed as "edgy, daring and new". You can download the deluxe version free for a limited time here.
Stream our new "Protest albums of 2020" playlist on Spotify here. This replaces the previous "Political albums" playlist, that was getting too big at more than 500 albums.
Read about more political albums here.
Stream Green Left TV's political music playlist here.
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