Listen Up

Poignant protest songs, poetic reflections, '70s psychedelia, and more new music

Noname: Song 33

With references to George Floyd and Toyin Salau, “Song 33” by rapper, poet, producer and activist Noname is presumably a response to J Cole’s recent, widely lambasted release, on which he criticizes and tone-polices her. Over the mellow Madlib-produced beat, Noname (aka Fatimah Warner) meditates, “Wow, look at him go / He really ’bout to write about me while the world is in smokes? / When his people in trees, when George was begging for his mother, saying he couldn’t breathe / you thought to write about me?” While the song sounds laidback, Noname’s lyrics are powerful, resulting in a perfectly succinct one-minute response.

Black Grapefruit: Waist

Formerly known as SOS, Black Grapefruit (aka Randa Smith and Brian Dekker) creates soulful, R&B-tinged experimental pop music. Their song “Waist” appeared on an EP last year, but they decided to resurface it with a video, saying, “Current events have reminded us how precious life is, and how fortunate we are to still have it. Regardless of how dark things get, our human and planetary existence is a miracle, which is why we must continue to fight for a world where it’s recognized as such. This video means more than we could have ever anticipated when we started gathering the footage. It’s a reminder that we can share energy regardless of distance, and that we are all more connected than we sometimes realize.” The lo-fi visual treatment features spliced together clips of people dancing all over the world; an ideal accompaniment to the catchy, joyful but mellow tune.

Ric Wilson: Fight Like Ida B and Marsha P

Named for two fearless activists who fought for equality during different eras, Chicago-based Ric Wilson’s “Fight Like Ida B and Marsha P” is a multi-faceted work: a protest song; a party anthem; an ode to freedom fighters, Black women, and Black queer and trans individuals; and a call to action. Produced by Norbert Bueno, the song combines a funky, bouncy bass line, a little Detroit house influence and handclaps with powerful subject matter. Wilson says, in a statement, “When I think about next-level courage to ball your fist up and look bigotry, racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia right in the eye and fight against it, I feel like Black women like Ida B Wells and non-binary folks like Marsha P Johnson are of the bravest of us all… The liberation of Black women and Black trans-women leads to the liberation of all Black people.”

Dua Saleh: body cast

Sudanese-American recording artist Dua Saleh says “body cast” was “intended for a project in the future, but I can’t wait that long with what is happening in my city of Minneapolis.” The Minnesota-based artist recorded her emotional, oftentimes haunting single in response to police brutality and violence and will donate 100% of the proceeds from the track to the Black Visions Collective. The accompanying video and cover art—which address iPhone-recorded violence against Black individuals and those who we’ve lost thus far—further her messaging. The pictured cover design lists the names of “unarmed Black people killed by police in recent years,” Saleh says.

Jorja Smith: Rose Rouge

Jorja Smith’s mesmerizing version of St Germain’s “Rose Rouge” will appear on Blue Note Re:imagined, an upcoming compilation album from Blue Note Records of reimagined, signature Blue Note tracks. “Rose Rouge” originally appeared on St Germain’s Tourist from 20 years ago, and relied on a sample of Marlena Shaw’s “Woman of the Ghetto.” Shaw’s contribution remains, and so does St Germain’s, but Smith’s cover emphasizes the instrumental work, all while melding multiple genres and melting listeners with her vocal ability.

Los Retros: New Humanity

Oxnard, California-based artist Los Retros (aka Mauri Tapia) melds genres, crafting music that exists somewhere between hazy soft rock, jazz fusion, and ’70s psychedelia. “New Humanity”—from his new EP, Everlasting—is no exception. Ethereal, high-pitched vocals offset a deep bass line and gentle percussion, while drifting synths and sirens lend their own allure. Not only a vocalist and instrumentalist, Tapia also produced this track.

Anderson .Paak: Lockdown

Beginning with sirens and chanting, Anderson .Paak’s “Lockdown” is unmistakably a protest song—despite his inimitable, gentle lilt. “Cause they throw away Black lives like paper towels / Plus unemployment rate what? 40 million now / Killed a man in broad day, might never see a trial / We just wanna break chains like slaves in the south / Started in the north end but we ended downtown,” he raps. Jay Rock also appears (though unofficially, only in the video version) to offer a powerful verse of his own. With plenty of cameos—including Syd, Andra Day, Dominic Fike, SiR, Dumbfoundead—the visual treatment doubles as a statement of solidarity.

Listen Up is published every Sunday and rounds up the new music we found throughout the week. Hear the year so far on our Spotify channel.