Black History Month Playlist

February is Black History Month the celebration of African American culture and history. It is celebrated in a variety of ways, from festivals and parades to art shows. This playlist showcases just a handful of songs that encompass what it’s like to be black in America.

  1. Alright // Kendrick Lamar

“We gon be alright!” These words exemplify the positive outlook African Americans have always kept during times of struggle. Kendrick Lamar has continued to be one of the main voices in modern political rap, expressing his concerns and rage on the treatment of blacks in America. This track is number one on the list because it addresses all of the issues black Americans faces today: racial inequality, bigotry, and systematic incarceration; while trying to hold onto hope.

2. I Can // Nas

This song is pure poetic encouragement – nothing but positivity. Rapping the warning words of a sad success story, Nas paints a picture of what success can and cannot be. Being black in America already comes with its challenges and he doesn’t neglect that fact, but instead reminds us of our royal African heritage: how we can do anything we put our minds to. Nas spits pure positivity to fight against his people’s dark reality.

3. F.U.B.U. // Solange

In her latest album “A Seat at the Table” Solange surprised everyone with blunt lyrics, harmonious beats and aesthetic visuals. F.U.B.U., describes what being black is like in today’s society which is riddled with microaggression and stereotypes. F.U.B.U. stands for “For Us, By Us” and is an urban and hip-hop apparel company founded by Daymond John in the early 90s. With artists like Will Smith and LL Cool J repping the label, F.U.B.U. became the clothing of hundreds of thousands of black youth. It was one of the first apparel companies made by a black person specifically for black people.

4. Black Gold // Esperanza Spalding

Black Gold is what jazz artist Esperanza Spalding calls black youth, reminding them of their worth. She says that even with persecution coming against them they must stay strong and rise above. That their ancestors were royalty, and more recent than that, built the country they live in today. Spalding sings, “Hold your head as high as you can, high enough to see who you are…you are Black Gold.”

5. I Am Not My Hair // India Arie ft. Akon

In African American culture, one’s hair is very important. Between curls, braids, permed, dreads, or afro, black hair is very versatile and is not always accepted. In the professional workplace, many natural black hairstyles are considered unprofessional and many are turned away because of their hair. Adding chemicals to make your hair straight was a common practice in the 90’s and early 2000’s, but now it is taboo. Today more and more black women are embracing their natural curls. India Arie and Akon talk about their struggles with hair versus society’s standards and how in the end embracing it was best.

6. Everything is Everything // Lauryn Hill

Miss Lauryn Hill, the queen of 90s conscious alternative R&B, writes songs to encourage and educate the public. In this classic track, she explains how everything in life is connected to everything: how the way you live affects others, and how what will be, will be. Don’t lose hope, keep your head up and go with the flow of life. Calling for love and peace, Miss Hill encourages everyone to live life with love and unity. This unifying track is a classic feel good song that my parents always played on Saturday mornings.

7. To Be Young, Gifted, and Black // Nina Simone

When this song was released in 1969, it was a perfect anthem for the new wave of African American students struggling to continue their education and fight for social justice. Simone reminds them that to be young, gifted and black is a precious thing to be and must be protected. She traveled to universities and performed this song for students as a part of one of her Civil Rights tours. Today, this song reminds students of their potential and worth, encouraging them to push through and rise above.

8. They Don’t Care About Us // Michael Jackson

Few times did the late Michael Jackson directly address political issues, but in this angry and blunt track he addresses it head on. He questions why the government system attacks blacks so aggressively, planting crack in the ghettos, mass incarceration of black men, and police brutality. As someone who was alive during the Civil Rights Movement, Michael Jackson called to Dr. King Jr. saying that if he were still alive he would say the same, “All I wanna say is that they don’t really care about us.”

9. Keep Ya Head Up // 2Pac

Speaking to the kids in the ghetto, the late Tupac Shakur speaks words of encouragement to them telling them to “keep their heads up.” Talking to young girls, mothers and friends, he addresses their current situation and tells them that everything will be alright. Then, speaking directly to black men, he urges them to treat their women, mothers and daughters like the queens they are. This song is a classic example of a black artist who was socially and politically conscious and used his influence to speak words of truth and hope.

10. Lovely Day // Bill Withers

Ending with a Golden Oldie that can lift anyone’s spirits, “Lovely Day” describes a simply perfect day. With the sun shining and his love by his side he sings, “Then I look at you and the world’s all right with me,” knowing he can conquer the impossible with his love and hope. In relation to the hardships and discrimination that African Americans face, it is important to remember who is by your side, we’re all in this together and even the rain goes away and becomes a lovely day.