Akwugo Emejulu: A Sociological Playlist

Professor Akwugo Emejulu contributes the second “sociological playlist” in our July series. Introduced below, the playlist can be listened to in full here.

What I Hear When the Streets are Talking

 These songs are what I hear as I watch the protests for Black lives. I hear the sounds of Black joy, Black anger, Black solidarity and Black hope. I cannot disentangle the reverberations of these tracks from the rhythm of the protestors’ footsteps on concrete. I am, of course, projecting a range of emotions on the protests and this playlist attempts to capture the feelings of this present moment and put them in conversation with the past in order to sonically imagine the future. 

This is a deeply nostalgic playlist for me. It is littered with tracks from my formative years which neatly corresponds with the golden age of hip hop, a time spanning from roughly 1985 to 1999. This is a time of retrenchment and revanchist politics in the United States. This is a period when America unravels many of the fragile gains of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society Program. Under Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton, the already meagre social welfare state is dismantled, the War on Drugs and broken windows policing is at its height and Black social movement organisations are largely demobilised. This is why, in Nas’s track, The World is Yours, he says:

I’m out for presidents to represent to me

(Say what?)

I’m out for presidents to represent to me

(Say what?)

I’m out for dead presidents to represent me[1]

Although the 1980s and 1990s was not a period of large-scale protests, it was the heyday of hip hop as protest music. In this playlist, you’ll hear only a few of the tantalising tracks that shaped an entire generation’s sense of Black consciousness. Alongside these classic tracks, you’ll also hear those contemporary artists who have placed themselves firmly in the tradition of Black protest and uplift. If you listen to the protestors of today and the music of yesterday, you’ll hear the same thing: a call to stop killing us, to collectively organise and to get free.

And so we march on—with a vision of the future in our minds and a rhythm in our step.

The Streets are Talking

1. Jill Scott, “Golden

2. Queen Latifah, “Latifah’s Had It Up to Here

3. Lauryn Hill, “Everything is Everything

4. Dilated Peoples, “Worst Comes to Worst

5. Solange, “Weary

6. BUMS, “Elevation (Free My Mind)

7. Black Star x Common, “Respiration

8. Chance the Rapper x Jamila Woods, “Blessings

9. Joey Bada$$, “Land of the Free

10. Little Brother, “Lovin’ It

11. Brand Nubian, “Wake Up (Reprise in the Sunshine)

12. Janelle Monae, “Django Jane

13. Nas, “The World is Yours

The playlist can be listened to in full here.

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Akwugo Emejulu is Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick. She is the author of several books including Fugitive Feminism (Silver Press, 2021) and Minority Women and Austerity: Survival and Resistance in France and Britain (Policy Press, 2017). She is co-editor of To Exist is to Resist: Black Feminism in Europe (Pluto Press, 2019).

[1] To be clear, ‘dead presidents’ means money—there are dead presidents depicted on American currency.

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