When you spend your days resisting structural oppression, you need moments—and music—that helps you unwind and heal. Sometimes you need to hear a song with a catchy hook and body-moving beat. Other times, you need a confrontational and blatantly emotional track, one that compels your catharsis. And then you have the songs that sit somewhere between those two poles. They make you move and sing along while speaking to the issues, energies and empowerment so necessary for marginalized peoples. Whether they deliver the message with church-like ecstasy or shrewd satire, they affirm your humanity.
While you could play “What’s Going On” and “Everything is Everything” on repeat, the first half of this year has offered so many gems to the party-songs-with-a-message canon. Here’s our list of the best liberation jams of 2016 so far. Before you leave for your next barbecue/party/car ride with friends, make sure to add these tracks to your playlist.
Beyoncé feat. Kendrick Lamar—“Freedom”
While you need Tidal or Apple Music to listen to this “Lemonade” stand-out (hence the mind-blowing BET Awards performance above), this song’s bombastic beat and core message of triumph over adversity makes it the liberation jam of 2016.
Kendrick Lamar—“untitled 03”
Speaking of Kendrick, this year’s genre-bending “untitled unmastered” features the above track, which he first premiered on “The Colbert Report” in 2014. K-Dot raps over a sultry piano-heavy instrumental about the desires people project upon their parts of the world—and where those desires intersect with the history of intraracial conflict.
Xenia Rubinos—“Mexican Chef”
When we spoke to this Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter for our “Breaking” column last month, she described the super-funky “Mexican Chef” as “a commentary about our invisible workforce in this country that we don’t always see or acknowledge.” Put this rising star on repeat.
Kanye West (feat. Chance the Rapper)—“Ultralight Beam”
So “The Life Of Pablo’s” opening track might not be what we in the business call a “banger.” It’s pretty cerebral. But like you need to (or at least should) drink water between beers or cocktails, you could use a neo-gospel break to collect yourself between speaker-blowing cuts. When that church choir comes in…excuse me a moment.
Chance The Rapper (feat. Jamila Woods and Byron Cage)—“Blessings”
Another song in the “Ultralight Beam” vein, a gospel track for nonbelievers with Chance reflecting on the burdens of materialism over The Social Experiment’s exuberant horns.
Jamila Woods—“Blk Girl Soldier”
This song, an ode to Black women’s resilience and greatness, features a rundown of freedom fighters in its last verse. What more could you ask for?
What 2016 songs would you put on your liberation jams playlist? Let us know in the comments.