A Timeline of Politically-Charged Albums (and their never-ending relevance)

If you’re in practically any neighborhood of the United States right now, chances are sidewalks and front lawns are masqueraded with political signs. Your neighbor Kevin is imploring you to vote “YES” on Prop 34. Dennis spends most of his day admiring his all-holy Make America Great Again flag. Iris is ensuring her Biden 2020 tapestry is in plain view from Dennis’ balcony. An election is an ironically fitting way to end this year; it’s one of paranoia, deceit, and misinformation.
Has it always been this way? Is 2020 truly the ultimatum of unfortunate years? Or is it just another load of laundry in the relentless spin-cycle of the US political system? At .WAV, we look to music for the answer. Here are some politically-charged albums to give us a timeline from complaints and concerns of our musical predecessors. 

Animals – Pink Floyd (1977)

As many records involving political statements tend to focus on heinous events or issues of a platform, Floyd weaves a story that targets the very nature of politics and, naturally, politicians. Three crafty species of animals duke it out for power on an imaginary farm, an Orwell-inspired allegory meant to portray the different kinds of sneaky politicians. It’s a harrowingly applicable narrative to the muddied climate of diplomacy.

Dogs are the wily, sneaky warm prowlers with a mindset of “survival of the fittest”; they are decietful politicians who wield the tools of false loyalty. Pigs perpetuate greed and manipulate those below them. Sheep are those who follow blindly but are still dangerous in numbers.

(Spoiler Alert: the sheep revolt and kill the dogs at the end of the album)

You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to,

So when they turn their backs on you

You’ll get the chance to put the knife in.

Dogs, Pink Floyd

2020 Relevancy Check: Dogs are rampant in the Senate, the White House is packed with Sheep, and our president is a Pig.

Entertainment! – Gang of Four (1979)

Named after the regime that controlled China during the Cultural Revolution, Gang of Four crafts clever jabs and sly remarks at governments around the globe. Entertainment! is rife with references to injustice in the prison system, critiques to the Great Man Theory, and the use of torture by the British army in the early ‘70s. Each track works to paint a grotesque portrait of what entertainment has become to a society bent on political power and narcissism. “5.45” tells the story of an American watching The Red Army Faction perform political assassinations on TV during dinner; it poses the argument that European Marxist terrorists weren’t starting any movements with their violence, rather serving capitalist industries by providing propaganda.

2020 Relevancy Check: News coverage this year was flooded with videos of blatant police brutality. Will it all serve as Entertainment! for an angry society or will the leaders in charge do right by their people and make the reforms necessary to prevent it from happening again?

Frankenchrist – Dead Kennedys (1985)

Biafra and crew rarely mince words in their critiques of politics, and Frankenchrist is perhaps their most straightforward project. There isn’t a track on this album devoid of government-bashing slam poetry; the last six minutes of the project are devoted to slamming American hypocrisy, titled, “The Stars And Stripes of Corruption”. 

It nearly reads as a list of complaints. Some major critiques:

  • Blaming other countries for America’s problems.
  • Police brutality.
  • Violation of civil rights.
  • Food insecurity.

Hellnation’s when the president asks for four more fucking years,

Hellnation’s when he gets it by conning poor people and peers.

Hellnation, Dead Kennedys

2020 Relevancy Check: Passing the blame to foreign countries? Check. Police brutality? Absolutely. Violation of civil rights? Big time. Food insecurity? Still happening, 40 years later. 

Fear of a Black Planet – Public Enemy (1990) 

A sequel to the unapologetically abrasive It Takes A Million of Us To Hold Us Back, Public Enemy refines their anger to a deeper, more focused project that hones on the experience of being a black man in America. In a morbidly playful fashion, Flavor Flav tackles the subpar response of 911 hotlines to poor, Black communities. Scenarios are painted in which white people fear integration with other races in communities. Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing features the album’s closer, “Fight The Power”,  repeatedly played from Radio Raheem’s jukebox. Raheem is later killed by police in an unjustified, unpunished murder. 

2020 Relevancy Check: Poorer socioeconomic communities still fail to receive adequate medical attention in emergencies and police are often left unpunished for their crimes. It’s all still accurate nearly 30 years later.

Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine (1992)

One of the most abrasive, visceral groups of all time successfully united metalheads and hip-hop aficionados with their debut self-titled album. Zach de La Rocha and Tom Morello used their anger to expose the American government’s secret use of propaganda, abuse of police power, and intentional diplomatic deception. 1992 was the year of the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles; Rage spares no expense in calling out the violent police force multiple times throughout the album.

Those who died are justified

By wearing the badge

They’re the chosen whites.

Killing In The Name, RATM

2020 Relevancy Check: Just a few years ago, the law prohibiting the United States government from distributing propaganda to its own people was dissolved, and nobody talked about it. Basically, the United States can feed us propaganda without any repercussions. Read about it here. Similarly, here are some ways the FBI has blatantly lied to the American public. 

To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Llamar (2015) 

Largely referred to as the greatest album of the 2010’s, Kendrick Lamar illustrates the narrative of an institutionalized rapper who struggles to make the right choices with his friends, family, and career; he is a product of his upbringing who has miraculously made it big in the world of music. To Pimp A Butterfly focuses on the ingrained mindset of those raised in poor socio-economic areas and showcases an inability to escape the poverty cycle. It masterfully touches on every aspect of what it’s like to grow up in Compton; an eye-opening story that often fails to influence political decision-making, only furthering economic disparity and misfortune. 

2020 Relevancy Check: Irresponsible, neglectful distribution of funds still perpetuate the economic hardships felt by poorer socio-economic areas like Compton. Our government often has the opportunity to help, but directs funding to help themselves, instead. 

Thank You 4 Your Service… We Got It From Here – A Tribe Called Quest (2016)

Considered to be merely a rumor for almost 18 years, A Tribe Called Quest surprised hip-hop fanatics with their 6th and final studio album. “The Space Program” tells the story of a space exploration program that declines to take any black passengers; Q-Tip, raised in Harlem, reveals that the entire scenario is an allegory for the gentrification of poor neighborhoods. “We The People…” satirizes the threats of deportation from America; “Conrad Tokyo” criticizes the public acceptance of nefarious, crooked politicians.

No matter the skin tone, culture or time zone Think the ones who got it; Would even think to throw you a bone?

Moved you out your neighbourhood, did they find you a home? Nah cypher, probably no place to go.

The Space Program, ATCQ

2020 Relevancy Check: According to the NCRC’s decade-long research report, gentrification and unnecessary cultural displacement is still constantly perpetuated by real estate industries around the country. Similarly, we all know a certain president who loves the flashy threat of deportation.

Run The Jewels 4 – Run The Jewels (2020)

At the end of our timeline, we land on the fourth album from Run The Jewels, released earlier this year. MC Killer Mike and legendary producer El-P teamed up again to give us fresh rhymes on police brutality and addiction. Released only a week after the unjustified murder of George Floyd, most people assume Killer Mike dropping the quote, “I can’t breathe” was referring to the most recent incident. However, these songs were recorded last fall; this reference was actually made to the murder of Eric Garner by the NYPD. If that doesn’t scream relevance, then I don’t know what does. 

And you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me

And ’til my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, ‘I can’t breathe’

And you sit there in the house on couch and watch it on TV The most you give’s a Twitter rant and call it a tragedy

walking in the snow, RTJ

Unfortunately, these albums explain that the problems we face today were shockingly relevant almost fifty years ago. History books will likely inform us that these same issues were rampant much before then, too.

Maybe one day we’ll figure it out.

Robbie Baker is .WAV’s co-playlisting director, he wrote the article. Hailey Honeggar is a .WAV staff member, she created the graphic.