Music’s responsibility to culture: “Land of the Free” by Joey Bada$$

You could make whole playlists curated around the music industry’s response to President Donald J. Trump so smooth you would think the tracks were part of a deliberate collection, meant to be played that way. The common link between these songs stems from collective awareness of individual responsibility to speak out about the social injustices that our current President represents, whether it be gender or race or religion related.

A standout track on this nationally collaborative playlist is Joey Bada$$’s “Land of the Free,” which was released not long after the Presidential Inauguration Ceremony.

The track directly calls out how President Trump is unfit for the role, and how it is foolish to call America post-racial just because Barack Obama was his predecessor.

Joey Badas$$, as a hip hop artist, has an especially significant voice in this musical activism landscape. The racially charged, and false, associations between rap music, people of color and violence add a further layer of impact to Joey Badas$$’s already deliberate word choice. His music when seen as an act of peaceful protest in synthesis with his clever lyrics create the ultimate pointed response to Trump-ism and its related social symptoms.

His peaceful stance is juxtaposed by the violence of hegemonic groups in the real world. The second verse begins with, “Trickery in the system, put my niggas in prison / All our history hidden, ain’t no liberty given,” a line that evokes many recent news stories about all cases of systemic racism. Whether it be the plethora of cases involving unarmed black male teenagers being murdered by police officers, people of color getting longer sentences for drug use in court than their white counterparts, or how public education systems in the U.S. still cannot universally teach a historically accurate curriculum regarding slavery — sometimes, “Three K’s, Two A’s, in AmeriKKKa” is right.

Directly responding to these serious issues, Joey Badas$$ approaches the song cleverly with double meanings throughout, starting with the title. “Land of the Free” is clearly a reference to the national anthem, a musical symbol of patriotism. In the song it is also woven into chorus with a message-changing following line: “…the land of the free/  is for the free loaders.”

Joey Badas$$ goes on to call out how systemic issues has “disorganized his people,” presumably people of color, which is followed by a dig at how commonplace historic racist institutions are in our everyday society with the line, still referring to people of color: “Still got the last names of our slave owners.”

“Land of the Free,” however, does have a possible silver-lining, which is especially highlighted by the music video. Joey Badas$$ raps, “I’m just a black spade spawn out the nebula / And everything I do or say today that’s worthwhile / Will for sure inspire action in your first child.” He is conscious of the fact that making this song, and music that is aware of social issues, has the ability to positively impact others, particularly the next generation of voters.

He established a shared feeling of helplessness about wondering how to get your voice heard. Joey Badas$$ shares the feelings for a need to risk the status quo for the sake of positive change similar to generations prior, “It’s like (my ancestors) want me to shoot my chance and change society,” and the struggles associated with organizing and actually doing so, “But how do I go about it? Tell me where I start?”

The question is now: Will this be enough to encourage a movement of people to “start” as well, and can the movement’s legacy out live that of Trump.


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