People seem to be fixated on the idea that there isn’t any protest music out there anymore. As if it all ended with Dylan and Baez. This type of nostalgic journalism is not only tiresome but also quite wrong. It can even be argued that this type of journalism is insulting to all the minorities, animals and nature that have been continously oppressed. If the sheep journalists would scratch underneath the comfortable surface they are so accustomed to they would see that there is a plethora of artists using their voices for change – and it has always been like that.
This is because politics have not really changed much and humans certainly have not changed. No matter their different charms, presidents are often all the same; bending over backwards for arms dealers, bankers and other oiled up plagues to this planet.
Although many positive changes have happened in 2018, the world is still just as bad now, for many people, animals and nature, same as it was in times of Woody Guthrie and artists have been writing protest songs the whole time. But musicians sing and play not only in protest – but in hope. Music is not only a tool of the resistance for it can also be a healing power of positivity.
2018 saw some incredible releases and some fierce voices breaking through the noise of patriarchy and capitalism. Protest music has always been intertwined with direct activism and this year shows that at least some things remain the same. War On Women released one of the albums of the year, in our opinion, with Grab The Flag. Lead singer, Shawna, is an active campaigner for women’s rights and she regularly hosts workshops during music festivals and in other spaces where she educates attendees about sexual and general safety at those public events
The brilliance of the high speed and connectivity of the Internet also allows artists to use their art to directly collect funds for different activist campaigns or organizations and this year saw no shortage of artists giving the income of their music to gun reform campaigns and fire relief victims.
Below are our top picks for 2018, in no particular order.
This is music from the rooftops.
Everything’s Fine by Jean Grae and Quelle Chris (Mello Music Group)
Only once in a while, an album comes along, that uses dramaturgy in such a brilliant way that one can get lost in the world proposed. A continuous flow of stories, intertwined, in a themed web that has a specific purpose. Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly had this element and now Jean Grae and Quelle Chris give us their example of such an album that already has popped up on the nr. 1 spot on many of 2018’s AOTY lists.
In recent years there has been a steady flow of hip-hop gems coming out of house Mello Music Group and ‘Everything’s Fine’ is a perfect example of the unique, fresh sounds that the label has been releasing. Jean Grae and Quelle Chris take on the failed state of the world with humorous irony and lyrical wizardry as the pair point out the hypocrisy overflowing our society. But they also stress that we must remain positive, because if we loose that, well, we loose the point of it all.
And while listening to their bomb of an album, if only for a moment, everything really is fine.
Alcazar by Woxow (Little Beat More)
As Woxow explained in an interview with Shouts last summer he wanted to produce an album that projects good values. For that he got some serious cannons to collaborate with him on the album, such as Ken Boothe, Akil from Jurassic 5 and BluRum13. The result is a most hypnotizing release, a truly uniquely sounding piece of work. This is genuinely fresh hip hop.
Grab The Flag by War On Women (Bridge Nine Records)
“The force of the drive is the force that’s required of me
I never wanted to be, never thought I could be
I’ll never never be a quiet woman”.
Shawna, the lead screamer from War On Women, is anything but a quiet woman and she goes above and beyond like a regular superhero when it comes to using her voice for activism. She regularly teaches venues and managers how to make safer spaces and how to battle harassment in public spaces. And now that War On Women are starting to catch people’s attention, and about to tour with titans like Converge, her and her band’s voice will only become stronger.
2042 by Racetraitor (Good Fight Music)
“What we love about punk and hardcore is that it can be a community that supports each other to be more active in the cities/countries where we live. That’s what we are interested in. Fuck cynicism.”
This is what bass player of Racetraitor, Brent Decker, said in a Shouts interview and it clearly shows their passion and how they use their voice. The band decided to step back onto the stage because of the state of things in their home country. Their agenda is clear. Blending death, black and hardcore with radical politics gives us one of the most brutal releases of 2018.
Room 25 by Noname (self released)
Noname’s debut album was the most intriguing and interesting banger of an album in 2016. Self released, yet somehow extremely mature sounding, it placed a spotlight on this young Chicago Southside native. Two years later and we are all graced with a sophomore effort for the books. Still self released (which on its own is incredible) and still genius. Noname has a flow to her rap that makes her sound like no one else. Be sure to follow this name for she is bound for greater things. But try to keep up – her music is already echoing through speakers worldwide making for example her TV debut on Stephen Colbert’s show.
Thin Blue Border Vol. 2 by Ryan Harvey, Kareem Samara & Shireen Lilith (Firebrand Records)
Ryan Harvey has been using his voice and guitar to fight fascists, like a proper, cultural descendant of Woody Guthrie, for quite some time now. After having volunteered and lent a helping hand in Lesvos, Greece, he joined forces with Kareem Samara and Shireen Lilith to write the songs that make up the Thin Blue Border EP’s. These songs honor the Arab Spring and the ordinary people that stood up to the corrupt and violent powers that reigned over them.
Overload by Georgia Anne Muldrow (Brainfeeeder)
The most soulful protest album of 2018 came from established producer and musician Georgia Anne Muldrow. “How much we got to broke before we learn to defend ourselves/how much we gotta know that we can’t depend on no one else” Georgia sings on Blam, a song about inequality, racism and self defense. Georgia visioned a sound, that by now she has created, and we for one can’t wait for it to develop and only get better.
Songs for Rojava by Lee Brickley (self released)
There are protest musicians and there are protest musicians. Lee Brickley is a protest musician. Album themes don’t get more specific than this and with a guitar in his lap Lee strums through songs about refugees, the PKK, Ocalan, freedom fighters, volunteers and the Rojava revolution.
Queer As Folk by Grace Petrie (self released)
With her witty lyrics and rain of empathy in her songs Grace Petrie has for many years been singing songs for the voiceless. Her latest album is a beautiful and mature piece of work with which she shines a light on the struggles that shroud the LGBT community. As on her previous albums her music shines like a beacon of hope when the darkness sometimes seems to be taking over.