9 of the best anti-Trump songs, from Janelle Monae to Kendrick Lamar

From Janelle Monae’s 'I Got the Juice' to A Tribe Called Quest on 'We the People' – Roisin O'Connor looks at how music is still being used as a powerful form of protest

Tuesday 30 October 2018 13:40
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Donald Trump was a subject in music long before he became president. As a promoter, he managed to aggravate bands such as the Rolling Stones, and Frank Sinatra. When he began campaigning, artists – from Adele to Neil Young to Aerosmith to REM – were quick to tell him to stop using their music at his rallies.

His inauguration was the subject of widespread derision when it became clear he would never be able to book artists of the calibre seen at Obama’s ceremony. Nicki Minaj, Jack White, Roger Waters, the Dixie Chicks, Logic, U2 and Busta Rhymes were just a few of the musicians to call Trump out onstage.

Then came the songs themselves.

There have been hundreds, if not thousands of mentions of Trump in songs released since 2016, from emerging artists to some of the biggest in the industry. Often the most powerful have been the ones that refuse to mention him by name, like Janelle Monae’s “I Got the Juice”, from her 2018 album Dirty Computer, and A Tribe Called Quest on “We the People”.

Here are some of the best anti-Trump songs to be released over the past two years.

Bruce Springsteen – "That's What Makes Us Great"

The Boss himself took aim at Trump and branded him a “con man” in his song “That’s What Makes Us Great”, released in April 2017, with longtime collaborator Joe Grushecky.

“Don’t tell me a lie / And sell it as a fact / I’ve been down that road before / And I ain’t going back,” Springsteen sings.

The legendary singer-songwriter was a visible supporter of Trump’s opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, and also supported Barack Obama during his presidency. In a 2016 interview with Rolling Stone, he said of Trump: “The republic is under siege by a moron.”

The 1975 – “Love It If We Made It”

The best song (so far) from The 1975’s forthcoming album A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships is a protest song for this generation – on a par with Springsteen’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire” or Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”. Frontman Matt Healey sings in an agonised, gasping cry; lyrics that turn Trump’s own words against him: “I moved on her like a bitch/Excited to be indicted/Unrequited house with seven pools/’Thank you Kanye very cool."

Janelle Monae – "I Got the Juice" and "Americans"

Monae has been a prominent voice for women not just in her music, but also at protests and campaigns such as the Time’s Up movement. On her phenomenal album Dirty Computer there are at least two songs that tackle issues such as female power, racism and bigotry.

“I Got the Juice" sees her chant: “If you try to grab my pussy cat, this pussy grab you back (hey),” while on the emotional, uplifting “Americans” she sings: “Until Latinos and Latinas don't have to run from walls / This is not my America / But I tell you today that the devil is a liar / Because it's gon' be my America before it's all over.”

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A Tribe Called Quest – "We the People"

“All you Black folks, you must go/ All you Mexicans, you must go/ And all you poor folks, you must go/ Muslims and gays, boy, we hate your ways/ So all you bad folks, you must go.”

Tribe’s blistering, sinister track about intolerance was matter-of-fact rather than preachy, with Q-Tip’s chorus coming across as a sad observation rather than an angry political statement.

Using a beat from Black Sabbath’s “Behind the Wall of Sleep” felt as though the group were trying to say, “we’ve been sleep-walking this whole time, and now look where it’s got us… wake up”. Tribe performed a powerful live rendition of the track at the 2017 Grammys where they were joined by Anderson Paak, Consequence, and Busta Rhymes.

Busta directly saluted Trump as “President Agent Orange” before “congratulating” him on his unsuccessful Muslim ban (a highly personal subject for Tribe members Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, who are both Muslim).

Childish Gambino – "This is America"

It’s virtually impossible to take your eyes off Donald Glover, going under the name Childish Gambino, in his incendiary, viral video for “This is America”, but if you do direct your attention elsewhere, you’ll see anything from a white horse with a hooded rider, police, mobs running around in chaos, cars on fire and children obsessed with their mobile phones.

The track itself doesn’t address Trump directly but, as Stephen Kearse noted in Pitchfork, it “powerfully invokes America’s testy relationship with blackness” and asks: “Are we your blessing or your bane?”

Beyonce + Jay Z – "Salud!"

One of Trump’s biggest sources of frustration during his presidency been his frosty relationship with the entertainment industry – more specifically the fact that its biggest stars want nothing to do with him. Beyonce and Jay Z, two of the most powerful people in the music industry, have, for the most part, refused to acknowledge him – something that has caused many a Trump tantrum.

During one particularly nonsensical rant at a rally in Nashville he claimed Hillary Clinton only drew crowds because of Jay Z’s support, then proceeded to criticise the hip hop mogul for his “filthy” language.

Their joint album, Everything is Love, was mostly about the healing of their relationship, but the power couple did reserve a few brief words for the US president. On “Salud!” Beyonce offers a derisive: “Your president is tweeting ‘bout Hov like he know us” before Jay Z spits: "I give a f*** what that man find vulgar / Just look in my eyes when you toast us."

Beyonce and Jay Z in the music video for 'Apeshit' - a track from their joint album Everything Is Love

YG and Nipsey Hustle – "FDT"

“I like white folks, but I don't like you/ All the niggas in the hood wanna fight you/ Surprised El Chapo ain't tried to snipe you/ Surprised the Nation of Islam ain't tried to find you.”

Anderson .Paak ft. TI – "Come Down" (remix)

“I fantasize shooting Trump down/ A shot for every black man who got gunned down/ By the police with no convictions so they run 'round/ When we protest they tell us pipe down, for Trayvon and Mike Brown.” (TI)

Kendrick Lamar – "The Heart Part 4"

Kendrick’s track “Alright” became one of the most powerful protest songs of the decade after being adopted by the Black Lives Matter movement, but he tends to shy away from being pigeonholed as a “political” artist.

Serving as a sequel to his phenomenal, universally acclaimed album DAMN., Kendrick’s track “The Heart Part 4” – released in March last year – was a rare example where he deigned to acknowledge Trump by name.

“Donald Trump is a chump/ Know how we feel, punk?” he spits. “Tell 'em that God comin'/ And Russia need a replay button, y'all up to somethin'/ Electorial votes look like memorial votes/ But America's truth ain't ignorin' the votes.”

In an interview published a few months later, Kendrick explained why he prefers to talk about wider issues rather than focus on Trump as an individual.

“It’s like beating a dead horse,” he told Rolling Stone. “We already know what it is. Are we gonna keep talking about it or are we gonna take action? You just get to a point where you’re tired of talking about it.

“It weighs you down and it drains your energy when you’re speaking about something or someone that’s completely ridiculous. So, on and off the album, I took it upon myself to take action in my own community. On the record, I made an action not to speak about what’s going on in the world or the places they put us in. Speakin on self; reflection of self first. That’s where the initial change will start from."

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