happy malcolm x day! we got 5 songs to celebrate his legacy. #soundcheck

May 20, 2013

Yesterday, May 19th was Malcolm X’s birthday. Had he not been gunned down at age 39, Malcolm would have been 88 this weekend. Despite being often mentioned in the same breath as Dr. King, it doesn’t seem likely we’ll see a nationally recognized Malcolm X Day in the US any time soon. The firebrand Civil Rights leader’s legacy is still being dissected even among his admirers, and probably will be for a long time. So in honor of his immeasurable impact on Civil Rights, Black Nationalism, and American radicalism in general, here are 5 songs that celebrate the spirit and legacy of Malcolm X.


– The Beatnigs – Malcolm X

Spearhead’s Michael Franti sums it up as well as it can be in this track from his early industrial project. Often characterized by his anger, Franti points out that Malcolm X’s anger was born of love. Love for the Black community and humanity in general, and a frustration that the more just world he wanted to create often seemed painfully out of reach.

“For those of you never knew Malcolm X

You may consider him a militant, a radical, a terrorist

But for those of you who ever once read anything that he wrote

Or ever heard him speak

Or ever held his hand

You would know him for what he truly was:

A prince;

Our own shining prince who gave his life because he loved us so”

– Sister Souljah – The Hate That Hate Produced

These days she’s probably best known as the namesake for the so-called “Sister Souljah moment” aka when a politician repudiates a statement made by a member of their base in order to reach out to the center. But before she became a target for Bill Clinton’s criticism, Sister Souljah was a frequent collaborator with Public Enemy. She released her lone solo record in 1992, 360 Degrees of Power. The track “The Hate That Hate Produced” takes it’s name from a 1959 documentary about the Nation of Islam, and holy shit is she on fire.

– Rage Against the Machine – Wake Up

One of the best tracks from Rage’s debut, “Wake Up” is a fierce evisceration of COINTEL-PRO. Zach De La Rocha points out the US governments long racist history of infiltrating and destroying Black Nationalist movements.

“Networks at work, keepin people calm

Ya know they murdered X

And tried to blame it on Islam

He turned the power to the have-nots

And then came the shot

What was the price on his head?”

– Dennis Brown – Malcolm X

He never had much mainstream American success, but Dennis Brown held the position of everyone’s favorite reggae singer’s favorite reggae singer. Like Rage, Dennis Brown implicates the US government in Malcolm’s murder.

“But now he is down

Down in the ground

Where can the killers be found?

I wanna know how long will it be

Till all my brothers see

The hidden brutality”

– Public Enemy – Bring the Noise

Though the version featuring Anthrax is more well known (and deservedly, it’s epic), the original opens with a sample from “Speech to the Grass Roots.” It may not be specifically about Malcolm X (though Farrakhan gets a shout), but Chuck D has always been something of a spiritual heir to Malcolm. Rappers love to sample Malcolm X speeches for that extra boost of badassery, but Chuck D actually earns it.

OK fine. Here’s the Anthrax version.

So will Malcolm X get his due? Do you think we’ll ever see a Malcolm X day?

– Words by Nathan Leigh