10 Songs That Tell Stories Of The Black Experience

June 9, 2020
George Floyd Protest June 5 Brothers of BrassGeorge Floyd Protest June 5 Brothers of BrassHart Van Denburg/CPR News
Urged on by the music of Denver-based Brothers of Brass, Friday evenings march and protest racism and police brutality felt more like a celebration and demonstration rolled into one. The noise but peaceful procession began at the Capitol, traveled up 14 Street through Capitol Hill, to Cheeseman Park on Friday, June 5, 2020.

It has been a long week and a half. Black Lives Matter protesters have taken to the streets not only in Denver but all over the world after the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police.

While people use their voices to speak up, others seek to understand this moment and the long history that has led up to it. Whether you want to read about the black experience or listen to people of all colors and creeds share their perspectives, now is the time to expand your horizon and educate yourself.

We have compiled a playlist of modern black musicians whose music powerfully tells their story and their experiences. These songs, which range from R&B to Dance to Rap, are black stories of joy, love, police brutality and hope.

These 10 songs are just the beginning. When you're ready for the next level, you can explore this 50-song Spotify playlist.


Blood Orange, "Charcoal Baby"

"Show up as you are, without judgment, without ridicule, without fear or violence or policing or containment," a faceless Janet Mock tells us at the beginning of the video. Speaking to the souls of black listeners from every spectrum, Blood Orange's "Negro Swan" album is a beautiful compilation of stories.

Blood Orange, AKA Dev Hynes, described the album as "an exploration into my own and many types of black depression, an honest look at the corners of black existence, and the ongoing anxieties of queer/people of color."

Kelela, "Rewind"

2015's "Hallucinogen" EP was packed with underground club bangers. Ethiopian-American singer Kelela created bass-heavy dance music with sad girl lyrics, deftly proving that black women don't just create R&B, they are versatile and span across music genres.

Jorja Smith, "Blue Lights"

"I wanted to capture men/boys of Walsall and Birmingham from all different walks of life doing everyday activities to show that the stereotypes we are bombarded with are misleading and, ultimately, harmful," British singer Jorja Smith told VIBE in a 2018 interview about the visuals for her haunting political single "Blue Lights."

Chance the Rapper, "No Problem" (feat. Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz)

Chicago-born Chance the Rapper became the epitome of black boy joy when 2016's mixtape "Coloring Book" became the first album to top Billboard charts solely from digital streams. Not only has he been an activist for education reform in Chicago, but he also purchased local publication Chicagoist saying he wanted to give Chicagoans "an independent media outlet focused on amplifying diverse voices and content."

Kendrick Lamar, "DNA."

Rapper Kendrick Lamar, a 13-time Grammy award winner and winner of the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for music, is destined for the throne. His Pulitzer was the first time the coveted award had gone to a musical work outside the genres of classical music and jazz. Lamar hasn't shied away from topics such as police brutality, drugs and gang relations in his music. According to Billboard, his protest music has seen a huge bump in streams recently due to the Black Lives Matter protests.

OutKast, "Rosa Parks"

Despite having a suit filed against them by the Civil Rights activist, OutKast's single "Rosa Parks" lives to be an iconic song of black people overcoming obstacles. The dynamic duo of Big Boi and Andre 3000 have continued to be a radical voice within the rap community.

Orion Sun, "Lightning"

We recently interviewed songstress Orion Sun for our Sessions: At Home about her breakout album, "Hold Space for Me." Weeks later, she documented a run-in with police during a George Floyd protest. She has continued to be vocal about equity and racial justice on her social channels.

FKA Twigs, "Home With You"

Experimental pop artist FKA Twigs has been known for telling stories of love and sexuality. She is unabashed in her music and has a hand in every creative aspect that involves her brand. The visuals in the videos from her Grammy-nominated album "Magdalene" are wildly conceptual and stunning.

GoldLink, "Crew" (feat. Brent Faiyaz & Shy Glizzy)

GoldLink's "Crew" became a breakout anthem for cookouts and house parties in 2017. Washington D.C.'s rap newcomer made waves in the music scene with prominent collaborations with Tyler, the Creator, Kaytranada and Brent Faiyaz.

A Tribe Called Quest, "We the People..."

After nearly 20 years of no new releases, iconic rap group A Tribe Called Quest released "We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service." Just months later, they lost founding member Phife Dawg to diabetes. "He's actually the one who was the most spirited about us getting back together and was probably the most ardent about it for many years. When it finally happened, he was just so filled with joy. You saw the joy every day," Q-Tip said in an interview with NPR.

Don't forget, there's still more to learn and more to explore in this 50-song Spotify playlist.

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