Political Music During and After The Civil Rights Movement

With the recent release of Childish Gambino’s new single This Is America, and last years album DAMN. by Kendrick Lamar, specifically the song XXX. I started thinking about how different political music about advocating for civil rights has changed. My first experience with music with a similiar message to these two songs would be Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday which was released in 1939. The songs lyrics are:

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop
In comparison with the Childish Gambino and Kendrick Lamar songs, this song is completely blatant about it’s intention through the lyrics. The other two songs use different means of communication of the message as a direct link because the lyrics are more innuendo based for the majority of the songs. I believe Billie Holiday’s lyrics were compensating for the lack of visuals she could convey with such a song at the time it was released. There weren’t music videos or widely publicized performances (as in remotely accessible) at this time and so she had to be clearer with her message. Childish Gambino used his main expression of the song through a music video that he referenced in a televised live performance on SNL as well. His song has lyrics such as:
This is America (skrrt, skrrt, woo)
Don’tcatch you slippin’up (ayy)
Look at how I’m livin’ now
Police be trippin’ now (woo)
Yeah, this is America (woo, ayy)
Guns in my area (word, my area)
I got the strap (ayy, ayy)
I gotta carry ’em
In his music video he has scenes depicting him shooting people as well as background scenes depicting racial violence while he stays as the focus to imply the constant racial injustice in America.
However, Kendrick Lamar’s song, XXX. is a mix of the two because the lyrics are more along the style of Childish Gambino’s since they are both modern rap songs, but he uses the sound of police sirens in his song and during a Coachella performance of XXX. he featured lights that replicated a police cars lights. So he was able to communicate a message with more reliance on the material than the visuals accompanying the material as Billie Holiday did.
Overall, I think all of these songs are amazing and communicate important messages, I just found the execution of each interesting compared to one another.

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