Armchair politics


Active Listening: Songs for politics

Wash away the taste of that Eminem freestyle with these actually good political tracks.

Of the many unfortunate side effects of Trump’s presidency, the fact that he’s imbued politics into every corner of our lives is most constant. The 45th president has turned our phones into the equivalent of a CNN chyron, constantly buzzing with fresh calamities to be discussed, dissected, and interpreted. As such, it has become an imperative in every public space to make some sort of declaration about the president. NFL players kneeling for the national anthem, an act which started in response to police violence, has consumed national discourse. NBA star LeBron James called Trump a bum. The rapper Eminem, who is 44 and now sports extremely unsettling facial hair, released a freestyle addressed to Trump yesterday in which he sent a message to his fans.

“And any fan of mine / who’s a supporter of his / I’m drawing in the sand a line / you’re either for or against,” he raps.

Of course, it isn’t uncommon for music to get political, but Eminem’s spoken word poem to the president is probably one of the least impressive examples. This week, some political songs not performed by Eminem, and thus eminently better by default.

Empress Of, “Woman is a Word”

Lorely Rodriguez, who releases ethereal tracks under the name Empress Of, spins narratives that linger with you over time. Her track, “Woman is a Word,” a one-off single released after her excellent debut album Me in 2016, takes an existential view of gender politics. “I'm only a struggle if I get in your way / You made the road / Made the road one-way,” she sings.

Nas feat. Lauryn Hill, “If I Ruled the World”

A bona-fide classic released in 1996, Nas and Lauryn Hill’s “If I Ruled the World” imagines a utopia where America isn’t a repressive white supremacist state. It's wishful thinking, of course, but in proclaiming what they'd like to see in the world ("Imagine smoking weed in the streets without cops harassin'"), the pair manage to speak volumes to the travesties of the present. Nas and Lauryn Hill's dream has yet to be fulfilled.

Dave, “Question Time”

Dave, a 19-year-old British MC who has gained the attention of the globe-trotting A&R Drake, is Eminem if Eminem were British and still good at rapping. Ironically, the rapper released “Question Time,” a blistering repudiation of British politicians, just hours before Eminem’s Trump bashing slam poem dropped on BET. Unlike Eminem, Dave provides more than regurgitated Twitter talking points. He takes British Prime Minister Theresa May to task for her abysmal response to the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, he criticizes the U.S. for arming Saudis while ignoring Palestinians, he challenges Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to make more than promises. The track is a reminder of the potential of political music to, above all else, inspire.

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Armchair politics