If the times have not been indicative enough, it is clear that 2016 revolutionaries are different from their predecessors. They are more reliant on technology. They exist in a time when the need for rebellion is not as apparent. The stakes – to some – are not as high. But they are no less brave and equally deserving of acknowledgment. While the likes of DeRay McKesson, Shaun King, Jesse Williams and other voices are hitting the front lines, two other less likely heroes have brought protest to their art: Kendrick Lamar and Beyoncé.
Lest we forget, Beyoncé reminded us that Malcolm X once said, "The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the lack woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman." And though it escapes some, Beyoncé is indeed a Black woman. A Black woman worth almost $500 million. A Black woman who recently earned a No. 1 album for the sixth time straight. A Black woman who has found new ways to shake up the music industry for nearly 20 years. And when her fellow Black women arguably needed it the most, Beyoncé created the Blackest work of her career. The Lemonade visual album celebrated Black womanhood. "Formation" became an unapologetic anthem. "Freedom" demanded what we all deserve.
She didn't have to go there. But she did.
And if there were ever a need for depth in rap music, these times may be the driest drought ever — save for one of the last men standing. There are enough turn-ups to go around. Enough masterful beats and catchy hooks. What had been missing — that existed in the music of his West Coast pioneers — was a stance for the people. In times when young Black men are going viral for their deaths, the soundtrack to their days had no documentation of the movement. Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly hinged on the complexities of the Black experience. "King Kunta" was a bop with a proud message. "Alright" became the anthem of protests across the country.
He didn't have to go there. But he did.
What better stage for them to hit than the BET Awards? The revolution was televised.
(Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images for BET)