America has just celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day to celebrate the birth of one of America’s greatest heroes and the most recognisable champion for nonviolent activism in the Civil Rights Movement. King’s official birthday is January 15, but the holiday is observed on the third Monday of January.
While some, including those in the hip-hop world like Tupac, have been critical of the nonviolent methods favoured by King, there is no denying his influence in the fight for civil rights, and the follow-on effects his efforts had on hip-hop and rap culture. Adam Bradley, co-editor of Anthology of Rap (Yale University Press), said that “the philosophy of nonviolent protest or redemptive suffering runs counter to the confrontational tone of so much hip-hop.”
Supporting this argument are the abundance of Malcolm X references in hip-hop spanning generations, his much more confrontational methods more in line with hip-hop’s tough exterior image.
Nonetheless, King is still viewed as one of the most influential figures of the civil rights movement and continues today to be venerated in hip-hop. In honour of the day and the man, we decided to take a look at ten of the best MLK references from hip-hop history.
Public Enemy – By The Time I Get To Arizona (1991)
This is Sister Souljah.
Public Enemy, Security of the First World, and all allied forces are traveling west to head off a white supremacy scheming to destroy the national celebration of Martin Luther King’s birthday. Public Enemy believes that the powers that be in the states of New Hampshire and Arizona have found psychological discomfort in paying tribute to a black man who tried to teach white people the meaning of civilization.
Good luck brothers, show ’em what you got
Gonna find a way
Make the state pay
I’m lookin’ for the day
Hard as it seems
This ain’t no damn dream
2Pac – Words Of Wisdom (1991)
No Malcolm X in my history text, why’s that?
’Cause he tried to educate and liberate all blacks
Why is Martin Luther King in my book each week?
He told blacks, if they get smacked, turn the other cheek
Ludacris – Do Your Time feat. Beanie Sigel, C-Murder, & Pimp C (2006)
Give my eyes to Stevie Wonder just to see what he’s seen
But then I’d take ’em right back to see Martin Luther’s dream
I dream that I could tell Martin Luther we made it
But half of my black brothers are still incarcerated
Method Man and Ol’ Dirty Bastard – Dirty Mef (2006)
Ya’ mean, I’m taking one for the team
Like Martin Luther King, taking one for a dream
I’m dope, to many fiends, live by many means
If you don’t stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything
Common – A Dream (2007)
The song also contains samples of MLK’s speeches.
It’s a cold war, I’m a colder soldier
Hold the same fight that made Martin Luther the King
I ain’t using it for the right thing
In between lean and the fiends, hustling and schemes
I put together pieces of a dream, I still have one
Jay Z – My President Is Black Remix (2008)
Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther could walk
Martin Luther walked so Barack Obama could run
Barack Obama ran so all the children could fly
So I’mma spread my wings, you can meet me in the sky
The Roots – Doin’ It Again feat. John Legend (2010)
Doing it again just like Poitier and Cosby
I’m like Martin Luther King, you like Rodney
The difference is I give it everything inside me
Lupe Fiasco – B.M.F. (Building Minds Faster) (2010)
I think I’m Malcolm X, Martin Luther
Add a King, add a Junior
Some Bible verses, couple Sunnahs
an AK-47—that’s a revolution
Kendrick Lamar – HiiiPower (2011)
Visions of Martin Luther staring at me
Malcolm X put a hex on my future, someone catch me
Visions of Martin Luther staring at me
If I see it how he seen it, that would make my parents happy
Mick Jenkins – Vibe (2014)
Our Bill of Rights from the past will never make it to the future
Even with a Martin Luther
Rest In Peace and Happy Birthday to Martin Luther King Jr.