Music has always reflected the needs of an era and Black music, from the blues to hip-hop, spoke to the wants and desires of the community. To that end, several songs mention reparations for Black Americans.
Hip-hop, in particular, is an integral part of the fight for reparations, according to an NPR interview with Kamilah Moore, chairwoman of the California Reparations Task Force.
“To the extent that more Black American artists began to talk about reparations in their music, the more the conversation will hit the mainstream and then will lead to the material reality of reparations actually being enacted,” Moore said.
Moore said she has used songs like “Dedication” by the late Nipsey Hussle at task force meetings.
The song, which features Kendrick Lamar, goes, “How long should I stay dedicated?/How long ’til opportunity meets preparation?/I need some real nigga reparations.”
“I played the song kind of as a reminder of the long history of reparations advocacy in this country, starting with enslavement,” Moore said.
There have been many shout-outs to reparations before Hussle.
The Staple Singers were a Gospel, soul, and R&B singing group launched by Roebuck “Pops” Staples and featured his children. The group, known for social commentary via song, was active from 1914 to 2000.
In 1970 they released a song called “When Will We Be Paid.” It questions when reparations will be paid to the ancestors of slaves, who were forced to provide free labor in America.
The lyrics ask, “When will we be paid for the work we’ve done? When will we be paid for the work we’ve done?”
Gilbert Scott-Heron was a jazz poet, singer, musician, and author. He made a name for himself with spoken-word performances in the 1970s and 1980s. His poem “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” became one of his most famous.
He released a number of albums. In 1970 he released the pro-reparations single, “Who’ll Pay Reparations On My Soul?”
The lyrics of the song read: “Many fine speeches (oh yeah)/ From the White House desk (uh huh)/ Written on the cue cards/ That were never really there./ Yes, But the heat and the summer were there
And the freezing winter’s cold./ Tell me,/ Who’ll pay reparations on my soul?/ Who’ll pay reparations,/’Cause I don’t dig segregation, but I/ Can’t get integration/ I got to take it to the United Nations,/Someone to help me away from this nation./ Tell me,/ Who’ll pay reparations on my soul?”
Hip-hop artists such as Hussle adopted the reparations call. Before Hussle, there was the late Tupac Shakur song “White Man’s World” from 1996. It is from his final album before his death, “The Don Killuminati: The 7 Day Theory” (commonly shortened to “The 7 Day Theory” or “Makaveli”).
In the song he rhymes: “Help me raise my Black nation. Reparations are due. It’s true, caught up in this world, I took advantage of you.”
As Hussle proved, even today’s hip-hop artists are part of the reparations movement. In 2013, Pusha T dropped “40 Acres,” referring the the yet-to-be-delivered 40 acres promised by the U.S. government to newly freed slaves.
The song goes: “I’d rather die than go home. And I ain’t leaving without my 40 acres.”
J. Cole is considered one of the more philological hip-hop artists of our day. In 2014, he released his rack “Be Free” on which he rhymes, “We were so elated, we celebrated like Obama waited until his last day in office to tell the nation, brothers are getting their reparations/Hey a man can dream, can’t he?”
And the list of hip-hop artists dropping knowledge of reparations in their verses goes on. As reported by XXL, there’s also:
- Lil Wayne’s “Carter II” with the lyrics “We at war/And you still in preparation/I’m riding for them repairs/No patience.”
- Lloyd Banks on “Open Arms” on which he says, “Congratulations to the kid that did it up big/Reparations for my niggas comin’ off bids.”
- Talib Kweli rhymes “One foot in and one foot out the grave, niggas want they reparations, how you calculate the amount to be paid?” on Kanye West’s “We Can Make It Better.”
Nipsey Hussle poses for a portrait at DJ Khaled studio on June 9, 2009 in Miami. (mpi04/MediaPunch /IPX)