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Turn it Up! Protest Music of the 21st Century.

Updated on December 18, 2014
A scanned copy of my album, Endgame, by Rise Against.
A scanned copy of my album, Endgame, by Rise Against.

History portrays the 1960s as the decade of rebellion. Literature, art, music, fashion, and popular culture molded the zeitgeist of those ten years: question and challenge authority. It was reflected in the catchy tunes of the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, the Rascals, and other artists of the time.

In my previous Hub on the Arab Spring movement, I mentioned the song of the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia. Titled "Rais Elbled" ("President of the Republic"), Tunisian rapper El Général used music to speak the truth about the plight of his people. Facing youth unemployment and mistreatment by the government, he boldly chants," 'But we youth had nothing to fear'."

Is music an important part of banding people together? Think of concerts, festivals, shows and all the positive energy involved in those experiences. It is powerful. When protesters in Egypt were being assaulted by police, their strength came from "Rais Elbled". And they continued non-violent protest.

How is mainstream music measuring up here in America? Is there a cry for change like generations past?

Courtesy of
Courtesy of

Modern Artists to Keep an Ear Out For:

After reading this article, if you disagree with my choices, please leave a comment. But I argue that these music artists are making songs WORTH listening to, which is SO RARE nowadays (*cough* Ke$ha).

Lupe Fiasco

With "Words I Never Said" off of his 2011 album Lasers, Lupe Fiasco ripped apart the foreign policy of the Obama Administration. He criticized America's role in the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, implying that terrorism is the response of our policies abroad:

"Gaza strip was getting bombed, Obama didn’t say shit
That's why I ain't vote for him, next one either
I’ma part of the problem, my problem is I’m peaceful
And I believe in the people".

Lupe has plenty to say on the home front. He attacks the banks and the federal government, who react to budget cuts by destroying the education system, "Crooked banks around the World/ Would gladly give a loan today/ So if you ever miss a payment/ They can take your home away"!

Most importantly, this song is meant to inspire you to speak your mind. "Words I Never Said" ended up being everything he should have said, he admits.

Words I Never Said by Lupe Fiasco ft. Skylar Gray

Rise Against

I saw Rise Against live at the Mid-Hudson Civic Center last year. And because I have awesome friends, I also met them backstage. Being caught in the wave of energy that this band generates is electrifying, yet thought provoking. The lyrics of "Architect" are clear and profound;

"Do you care to be the layer of the bricks that seal your fate?
Or would you rather be the architect of what we might create?"

As the song progresses, the message resounds as loudly as the raging guitars in the background;

"Will it be the cynics, the critics galore?
The cliché apathetic passed out on the floor
The trusting complicit who collectively ignore."

Check them out. The whole album, Endgame, is superb.

The Working Man
The Working Man | Source

Bruce Springsteen

Oh man! Bruce is the reason my boyfriend's family can't have a BBQ. When a hardworking, blue collar guy owns huge speakers and has a Springsteen album in his possession... there will be NO PEACE!

It's a good thing Bruce Springsteen gets better with age. His latest album is at the top of Rolling Stone's Best Albums of 2012. Wrecking Ball is a rock and roll veteran fired up on "man of the people" mojo, ready to stick it to the corporate world. I'll let the lyrics speak for themselves.

-"Shackled and Drawn"-

"I always love the feel of sweat on my shirt Stand back, son, and let a man work Let a man work, is that so wrong I woke up this morning shackled and drawn."

-"We Take Care of Our Own"-

"From Chicago to New Orleans
From the muscle to the bone
From the shotgun shack to the Super Dome
We yelled "help" but the cavalry stayed home."

Bruce Springsteen is like wine; with that being said, he's not for everyone. But I urge you to listen to a track or two off Wrecking Ball if you're feeling bullied by the Man!

Neil Young

I'll be honest, I don't know much about Neil Young. He's one of those artists you have heard of, but unless you have a close friend whose exposed you to their music, or you are sixty and became a fan when he first began his career, you probably don't have him on your iPod.

That's a shame.

Living with War, released in 2006, was supposedly inspired by a news article he read about American vets coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. The songs "Restless Consumer", "Living with War", and "Let's Impeach the President" are articulately written and beautifully sung. No wonder he has over thirty studio albums.

Serj Tankian

Genius. That's how I feel about this man. I won't argue my point, I'll just tell you why "The Unthinking Majority" is an incredibly political song.

If you have never heard this song before, the first time you hear it you will pause...and play it over. Between the eccentric but savory rhythm and the overwhelmingly creative video, you will want seconds. The scene begins with toy soldiers in what appears to be a sandbox in a mock war. As the plot advances, it becomes obviously symbolic of a war over oil in the Middle East.

Tankian is purposely incomprehensible for most of the song. The bits and pieces you can digest just makes the plot more dramatic in this twisted video.

The message, though, is clear; We can rationalize our ignorance of international issues, most of which our policies influence, for only so long. We will only see the truth when the tanks are pointed at us.

Have an open mind, and receive the wisdom ...


"Handlebars", a single released from Fight With Tools in 2008, was a breath of fresh air in a world of boring lyrics and played out melodies. This song isn't politically driven per say, but a few lines stand out,

"I can hand out a million vaccinations Or let em all die in exasperation
Have em all healed of their lacerations Have em all killed by assassination I can make anyone go to prison just because I don't like them."

This song is more about the potential for human innovation then about government corruption, but it's a good song to wrap up this article.

The point is that we always have a choice; we can devote our energy to creating a better future. Or we can piss it away by being silent.

How many words have you never said?


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    • profile image

      Joe 2 years ago

      Excellent, thank you.

    • spartucusjones profile image

      CJ Baker 3 years ago from Parts Unknown

      Awesome overview of modern day protest music! You provide solid evidence that socially conscious music is still alive and well. Also I noticed that you linked to one of my hubs! Thanks for the plug!