Monday Notes: 10 Songs that Depict Black American Culture

I wanted to write this two years ago when I first started blogging.

Initially, the idea was to post in honor of Black History Month. February came and went. Twice. To be honest, I wasn’t sure about how “black” I wanted to be on my blog. Two years ago, I was tired of being the “black hire,” the “black prof,” or the “black colleague,” and my blog felt like a place where I could just be, no matter my racial identity.

Somewhere between Freddie Gray and Sandra Bland, I decided that if I was going to have a platform, then my black experience would be an integral topic every now and then. February 2017 would be the time when I would finally post specific songs that I listen to because they represent voices of understanding.

There were only two challenges. The first is I wanted to share a few lines from each song, but then that made everything too long. The second is I couldn’t think of a good title. The songs don’t really inspire me as much as they illustrate through great lyrics what some of us have observed or experienced being so-called Black Americans.

So without further ado, here are the ten songs I’ve chosen, with the artist, the title and a few lines. Of course, if you want the full effect, you’ll have to click the links.

Janelle Monáe Tightrope
“When you get elevated,
 They love it or they hate it
 You dance up on them haters
 Keep getting funky on the scene”

Kanye West Spaceship
“I’ve been workin’ this graveshift and I ain’t made shit
I wish I could buy me a spaceship and fly past the sky”

Solange’s F.U.B.U.
“When you know you gotta pay the cost
Play the game just to play the boss
So you thinking, what you gained you lost
But you know your shit is taking off, oh
When you’re driving in your tinted car
And you’re criminal just who you are
But you know you’re gonna make it far, oh"
Talib Kweli Get By
“We sell crack to our own out the back of our homes
We smell the musk of the dusk in the crack of the dawn
We go through episodes too, like Attack of the Clones
Work ‘til we break our back and you hear the crack of the bone”
Mos Def (Yasiin Bey) Umi Says
“My Umi said shine your light on the world
Shine your light for the world to see
My Abi said shine your light on the world
Shine your light for the world to see”
Angie Stone Brotha
“You got your wall street brotha
 Your blue collar brotha
 Your down-for-whatever-chillin'-on-the-corner brotha
 Your talented brotha, and to everyone of ya'll behind bars”
Erykah Badu Other Side of the Game
“See me and baby got this situation
 See brother got this comlex ocupation
 And it ain't that he don't have education
 Cause I was right there at his graduation
 Now I ain't sayin that this life don't work
 But it's me and baby that he hurts
 Because I tell him right he thinks I'm wrong
 But I love him strong”
Janelle Monáe (featuring Erykah Badu) Q.U.E.E.N.
“Hey sister am I good enough for your heaven?
Say will your God accept me in my black and white?
Will he approve the way I’m made?
Or should I reprogram, deprogram and get down?”
Common Misunderstood
“She thought back to when she was at Howard and
Dreams of doing scenes with Terrence Howard and
Broadway plays and dancin with Alv and them
The ones that make it ain’t always the talented”
Kendrick Lamar Mortal Man
“Do you believe in me? Are you deceiving me?
Could I let you down easily, is your heart where it need to be?
Is your smile on permanent? Is your vow on lifetime?
Would you know what the sermon is if I died in this next line?”

That’s my list. What or who would you add?

70 thoughts on “Monday Notes: 10 Songs that Depict Black American Culture

  1. Wow! This could go on, forever, you know?! This post is mainly about the tunes but I have to give a nod to your comments regarding the need “to just be” – without ALWAYS ONLY being your racial identity. Okay, I would like to add “The Space Program” by A Tribe Called Quest, anything by Donny Hathaway, and “Tryin’ Times” as song by Roberta Flack. (sorry to be late🙂)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you didn’t let that part slip by you AND that you get it. Being black sometimes feels like you have to always be “on.” Those are good additions! You’re right. Maybe I could’ve done them by decade. You’re always right on time Leslie!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Scrolling, Scrolling, Scrolling again girl… many comments 🙂 I love this post! I have four of these sings on my spotify list. Fantastic choices and so meaningful. Excellent read and listen!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great list Dr. Garland! I had never heard the Janelle Monae track!

    If I had to add one, the only song that seems to come to mind is “Keep Ya Head Up” by 2pac. That is an anthem with so many layers to it about blackness, sex/gender, poverty, and finding a way in spite of this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! AAAAHHH! yes. Why didn’t I think to add Tupac to this list, especially that one. Also, Brenda’s Got a Baby, which happens to be my fav Tupac song.

      You hadn’t heard the Tightrope one or Queen?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes! Brenda’s Got a Baby is a favorite of mine too, and Changes, as well.
        I’d never heard Queen before. I came across Tightrope before. Janelle is the truth. She is on my list of artists I need to get more into. I am just now getting around to J Cole and Bruno Mars smh lol

        Liked by 1 person

      1. LOL!! I feel you on that my friend.
        Your list is FIRE but I guess if we were talking about songs from all time we’d have to add “Ain’t no stoppin’ us now” by McFadden and Whitehead or, as much as I hate it, “A change is gonna come” by Sam Cooke.
        And of course, my ‘new’ favorite, “Alright” by Kendrick Lamar.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Kathy, I believe that there is a time for everything. Two years ago was perhaps not the right time for you to post this. Maybe you between then and now, your thoughts would differ slightly.
    For me, ‘Search’ (for the hero inside yourself) by M People makes me feel much stronger. It’s not a list, but I’m rebellious like that! LOL

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree that there is a time for everything. Most certainly, when I began this blog, it was not the time because I was bitter about a lot of things and frustrated with the race is constructed in this country. Anywho, glad you understand what I was saying here and I’ll have to listen to this song soon 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. There you are! What did I say? lol
        I think that song will resonate with you if you have never heard it before. I’m a little bit surprised about that Kathy. Maybe it was not as big in the USA as the UK. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I feel sad, that people even have to doubt about being them-selves…You are a black woman, but not only that. You are also smart, have a beautiful soul, are a great writer, I am sure a fantastic professor and have a great taste in music. Looking forward to discover more about you, about a neighbor on this globe.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It happens, you know? I think I feel as if I can ignore it sometimes because, unlike other non-tangible things, being a black woman is so socially constructed that it’s sometimes not really my SELF. It’s what someone else in society has said I am. Hopefully what I’m saying makes sense.

      Thanks for your kind words though! So glad we’re connected through this blog 😉

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Yes, it does and I really get it may sounds naive for me to say, be yourself, embrace your being black. With all that hatred in the world still so alive anno 2017, it feels we need hero’s again to make a difference. I watched The Help ( ) last Sunday, and I thought about you, dear Katherin. I also thought about this woman, Chimamanda ( ) and the importance of telling the true stories. I think we need more persons to tell the true stories. So, me for one, are proud you finally shared a ‘black detail’ about you….Aaaarch, the English language…I hope that I make sense too and my point gets across the right way…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. lol you always make sense to me Patty, but remember, I’m used to reading all types of writing, including second language learners as yourself. You’re doing great and I always know what you mean.

        What did you think of The Help? I watched the movie and then read the book. I liked both. I’ll check out the TedTalk you shared too! And thanks! I think I’m becoming more and more comfortable just being whoever I am in the moment.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I love that thought “becoming more and more comfortable just being whoever I am in the moment”…I am getting there too 🙂
        You know, Katherin, each time I watch movies/series or read books about this subjects I go through so many emotions. Touched by the fantastic way this story is told. Sad and frustrated at the same time, since slavery still happens today! What the h.. is wrong with many of my neighbors, that they still think it is ok to treat other people so cruel, think ‘they’ are still superior. Even in The Help it was so clear, that mostly ‘those people’ are insecure themselves, but that is NOT an excuse. So, I know it is wrong, but I would bake that pie too 😉
        Fortunately, today we still have brave people who stand up, resist and we need (unfortunately) more of these stories to be told. Let people know, it is still happening and it is NOT ok.
        Everything happens for a reason and I am too so grateful we met and connect, Katherin.

        Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes. I say the Unsung. It was good. A great eye opener to her personal life from her music career. My favorite ( so far) is More Than A Woman. I’m channeling the little girl in me….I WANT TO BE HER/ THAT WOMAN WHEN I GROW UP. Lolol

        Liked by 1 person

  6. “I wasn’t sure about how “black” I wanted to be on my blog” literally the thing I think about most in regard to my blog. If I write something super black, the others might not even understand. But then, I hear Dead Mike from CB4 rapping “I’m Black y’all, I’m Black y’all…” and I don’t feel so conflicted anymore lol.

    Great list though, that Talib track will forever be one of my favorites. Not sure that I could come up w/ 10 tracks off the top, but I’d put J Cole – Neighbors on mine for sure. I live in a mostly white community & I’m pretty sure the neighbors think I’m selling dope.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. lmao at this entire comment, especially the neighbors lol Thanks and I’m glad you get it. Those are good additions. I don’t know why I didn’t think to add J.Cole. He does a good job as a storyteller.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I think being black and your black experince is part of who you are, so regardless of your topic, it is an integral part of you and your blog just as being an academic, a mother etc has shaped your world view. Growing up, what stung more than racism to me was other black kids telling me I act white- wtf? I’m me and that is a sad and narrow definition of black that they were using as their reference. Although I’m not black American, the music I grew up with played a huge part in making me comfortable and proud of the skin I’m in. I’d add Arrested Development ‘everyday people’ to your list. Interestingly, at the heart of a lot of those lyrics is the struggle of poverty. That is how racist societies and institutions oppress- by keeping the ‘other’ poor. Surely there are enough dates of significant black milestones, anniversaries and achievements to celebrate across 12 months of the year? Afterall, white history gets a platform every single day.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. *people everyday.

      Your list made me think of one of my favourite songs- Yasiin’s ‘Quiet Dog’ such an incredible track! Reading another comment that Common doesn’t write his own lyrics?? He has dropped a notch in dream man stakes now, but I’ll check out that ghost writer…

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I agree Mek. I think sometimes I just get tired of it all. I just want to be…a person, sometimes, and then society reminds you otherwise.

      Yes. I’ve had the exact same experience. I grew up in the ghetto but attended magnet schools across town, instead of the neighborhood school. You “act white” if you speak “standard” English or know how to do other things than what is traditional for some black people.

      Arrested Development’s Everyday People is a good one!

      You’re so right. Poverty, oppression and race go hand-in-hand and choosing to celebrate one race’s accomplishments for 1/12th of the year also exemplifies that oppression.

      Liked by 3 people

  8. Goodie Mob- thought process

    This song captures the frustration of being a young black man.

    J. Cole- High for hours

    Rick Ross ft. Andre 3000- Sixteen (Andre 3000 verse)

    Kendrick Lamar- Ronald Reagan Era
    (Section 80)
    He kills every verse, describing black violence.

    Marvin Gaye- What’s going on

    James Brown- I’m black and I’m proud!

    Rhymefest- Bullet ft citizen cope and mark Ronson

    Rhymefest is common and kanyes ghostwriter. Really dope artist who never blew up because he didn’t have the look, but incredible song.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Lmfao all those songs are in my library and I’m Hella petty because I was just about to post something like that. Arrrrgggghhh Dr. Garland beats us again. In my Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget voice “I’ll get you next time Dr. Garland, Next time!” Hahahahahahha. Naw great list and very inspiring post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Carl! I agree. I firmly believe music is usually an imitation of life, so it’s kind of sad that some of us are still singing the same tune, literally and figuratively.


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