Rock Against Hate: A Brief History of Reactionary Musical Movements & Where The Next One Might Emerge

Welp, yesterday was a total clusterfucking catastrophe.

In what can only be described as a poor taste episode of Punk’d that lasted for several years and never got to the Ashton Kutcher reveal, Donald Trump, perhaps one of the most vile, classless, self-absorbed jackoffs on the planet is somehow the President Elect of the United States of America at this very moment.

Banner night for the poorly educated, the misogynistic and the racist everywhere, their living, orange-hued avatar is the leader of the free world. A man you may remember from such horrific utterances as “I have black guys counting my money. … I hate it. The only guys I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes all day.” and “I think that putting a wife to work is a very dangerous thing. Unfortunately, after they’re a star, the fun is over for me.” among enough to write an entire bookshelf of demonic tomes worth. A man who used open hatred of Latinos, black people, women, Muslims and just about anyone else who wasn’t white and wealthy as an actual political platform in the 21st century.

That man. Is President.

Via Giphy


Sure, the sky isn’t falling and it’s not going to be WWIII or a nuclear apocalypse as some of the more knee-jerk reactions on social media have suggested, but this is a man who is morally bankrupt, and has also been legally bankrupt time and again, now about to sit atop his throne of smugness as the leader of the most powerful nation on the planet. You can forgive people for feeling anywhere from mildly perturbed to despondent to full-blown panicked about this. When hatred is allowed to triumph like this it is depressing as fuck and there is nothing wrong with lamenting it.

As they can be counted upon in times like this, some of our favourite artists were vocal in reacting to the result.

My new home. @champagnepapi I need the hookup on some property. Nefew fuck this shit I’m going to the. 6ix

A photo posted by snoopdogg (@snoopdogg) on


Also, the gnarled and twisted chrysalis that was previously housing the gestating form of Peak Steven Seagal erupted in what now-blinded onlookers described as a dazzling display of redneck-ery:

Yes, Steven Seagal is chuffed and that can only mean that life is looking pretty grim at this point. What small solace we can find in this result (for those of us who aren’t trash people) is how those same artists, and maybe even new ones, are going to step up and revolutionise music. Because with every political nightmare like this, every unjust war, every instance of glaring inequality, every disaster made by the hand of man, music and art won’t be silenced and creative output in dark times has historically been good to game-changing.

Whole musical movements have exploded in the wake of social unrest. Some of the greatest music and its artists of the 60s was borne out of the folk protest against the Vietnam War. Artists like Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, John Lennon, Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix among a swathe of others provided some of the most iconic songs and moments of that era that have echoed through the ages. Hendrix utterly shredding Star Spangled Banner in front of 400 000 people at Woodstock in ’69. Baez’s face popping up at an inconceivable number of protests and marches. Dylan with the still honest Blowin’ In The Wind and the catalytic The Times They Are A-Changin. Lennon and wife Yoko Ono and their Sit-In For Peace.

These artists not only created some of the greatest music we’ve ever known, but they provided an anti-war movement with a voice and a direction it desperately needed. Peace and love in the face of unnecessary bloodshed.

Punk was another reactionary movement to social inequality and the abuse of power in the late 70s and early 80s, albeit far less gentle sonically as the folk movement that preceded it and often characterised by nihilism and rawness to go along with the antiestablishmentarianism propelling it. Punk as a movement became global in scale, with seminal bands sprouting up in hordes across the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia among other places.

MC5 were among the first punk bands in America. Inspired by the Black Panthers, they released protest songs in the 60s and lashed out in a loud way against the Vietnam War and the police brutality that marred protests against it. They paved the way for groups like the Ramones and Talking Heads to kick up a storm in New York City, while the second wave of punk in the US struck out at authority even further, with bands like Black Flag and particularly the Dead Kennedys rejecting the capitalistic culture of the 80s and adopting near anarchistic principles. It was the Dead Kennedys who famously twisted I Fought The Law so that the protagonist won and they have been consistently outspoken on issues like war, poverty and racism their entire career.

It was in the UK where the movement gained unprecedented traction though. With the gap between the working and upper classes near astronomical in the late 70s, bands like the Sex Pistols railed against this inequality with sludgy guitars, vitriolic lyrics and permanent sneers. God Save The Queen, a song trashing the monarchy in Britain, comparing it to a fascist regime and calling for anarchy. It caused a national outrage against the Pistols but their message was at the same time devoured voraciously by swarms of the have-nots, sick and tired of being ruled and governed by the haves. Elsewhere in Britain, The Clash were a little less uncouth and a lot more socially progressive in their political views, focusing on eradicating racism in particular. With Britain plagued by extreme right wing groups at the time, The Clash helped to host the first ever Rock Against Racism event in London in 1978. They too attacked the inequality of the classes in Britain, their edges not nearly as sharp in delivering the message.

So hard was the chord with the working class and the youth struck by punk music that, while its direction wasn’t quite as unified as the folk movement, it became a tool. Punk’s rawness and grittiness and an emphasis on ethos over musicianship meant that you no longer had to be a virtuoso to be a successful musician. In other words, punk music became infinitely more accessible and utilised by the same disenfranchised citizens it had first burst onto the scene to empower.

The entire punk movement was so successful that it was adopted by other social movements as a means of expression. Riot Grrrl and Queercore spawned from the initial male-dominated movement, giving women and LGBTQI+ artists an unprecedented platform in a time when the social acceptability of their respective messages wasn’t nearly as prevalent as it is today.

Socially conscious hip-hop rose to prominence in the late 80s and especially in the early 90s after the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles. N.W.A.’s Fuck Tha Police from that era might be the most hostile protest song ever to be released, a direct middle finger to the institutions of law and order that had been dragging African American people down for decades. With the emergence of hip-hop in this time, African American youths, with so much disadvantage staring them down from birth, not only had a voice but an absolutely roaring one. Public Enemy rallied against racial inequality from the get-go, albums like Fear Of A Black Planet and It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back absolutely blazing with defiance and disgust at the disadvantages thrust upon the black community by a white majority.

Artists like 2Pac, The Notorious B.I.G. Nas and Ice Cube in hip-hop’s golden age in the 90s often used their songs to promote their gangsta image, but they also adopted a socially conscious approach often, focusing on racism and police brutality as well as championing their rise from the streets, and a set of circumstances that statistically bore no future for them, to societal elite in a turbulent sociopolitical climate. Their stories must have been nothing short of inspiring.

And it should be towards hip-hop that we look in this current time. In a world where racism, misogyny, intolerance, homophobia, xenophobia, bigotry and hate have insidiously remained entrenched in the mindsets and actions of a significant chunk of people and the majority of America have just elected the mascot of all of those things as their leader, it will be hip-hop whose voice is heard the loudest when things undoubtedly get awful. Not everyone who voted for Trump is themselves a racist or a misogynist or a xenophobe or any of the things that he is, but rest assured that many are, and it’s those people, who have statistically been at the top of the societal food chain as far as advantage and privilege go for centuries, who feel empowered today. Not the desperate and downtrodden minorities who truly needed a victory here. It’s up to hip-hop to provide the voice and power those people need.

We’ve seen it already with #BlackLivesMatter and the scale to which hip-hop has risen up and the impact the voices of its stars has had on the movement, taking it from the grassroots to the world stage, only fighting harder as more innocent bodies fall around them.

There’s no telling what a Trump presidency is going to bring, but if things start to go as badly as forecast you can bet the voices in hip-hop will continue to make themselves heard. Run The Jewels have already begun, today releasing a brand new single 2100 in response to Trump’s victory. It’s difficult to imagine luminaries and socially conscious artists like Kendrick Lamar  or Chance The Rapper remaining silent on this issue either. You know Prophets Of Rage, a group containing members of the aforementioned Public Enemy as well as Rage Against The Machine and Cypress Hill are going to be chomping at the bit to make themselves heard.

It would be no surprise if some of hip-hop’s prominent female artists like Nikki Minaj, Missy Elliot, Dej Loaf and others joined their male contemporaries in this regard. Not only that, expect an entire crop of new artists to join the established, their creativity and drive to succeed only motivated by the result of this election.

And if you think Kanye West won’t have anything to say about the man who could potentially be an obstacle to his 2020 bid then you’re kidding yourself. Laugh all you want at the prospect of Yeezy running for President, it won’t be any harder than everyone was laughing back when Donald Trump first announced his intention to run. Even if his ‘bid’ amounts to nothing more than a few soundbites, when Kanye West wants to address Donald Trump, the world will be listening intently.

Hip-hop has been one of the driving musical forces behind social change and one of the biggest critics of inequality since the turn of the decade and the social media explosion. While the election yesterday was a heartbreaking L for many of them, it should hopefully be addressed as another chance for them to give voice to the minorities who feel uneasy or even unsafe in their own country right now. A voice to those of us who are fighting against hate seeping into the fabric of our society all the way up to major party politics.

Look to hip-hop to be a reactionary, and hopefully incendiary, force for change.

Image: Priceonomics