The 15 Best Protest Songs From One Year Under President Trump

trump protest songs

Credits: Rufus, Body Count, Stacee Sledge, Cara Robbins

As we prepare for our second year under President Trump, it’s important to remember that his first year in office began with protests. Americans took to the streets to stand against the immigration ban. The largest single-day protest in United States history occurred at the Women’s March in January 2017. And with a return to the streets came another crucial component of civil rights movements: the protest song. Artists took aim at a wide variety of targets in their lyrics, including the Republican House and Senate, the vile Martin Shkreli, and internet trolls.

But one target trumped them all. President Trump has simultaneously been every bit as repulsive as we imagined and diabolically worse than we could have ever dreamed. In another era, Sam Cooke, Bob Dylan, and Marvin Gaye saw change and horror and put a message to the melody. Phil Oches sang the front page news, the MC5 sang for motherfuckers to kick out the jams, and N.W.A. sang “Fuck the police.”

Did the protest songs of 2017 say what we were all thinking? In a year of relentless cruelty, some artists sure as hell tried. Here are 15 protest songs that said had something to say.

A Tribe Called Quest, ‘We the People’ (Live at the 2017 Grammy Awards)

A Tribe Called Quest released their final album, We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, just days after Trump was elected president on November 8th, 2016. The song ‘We The People’ features a lurking bass line and an accusatory chorus that might as well have been a Trump campaign slogan: “All you black folks you must go / All you Mexicans, you must go.” The song is cool about its anger – but it took on a much more aggressive tone when Tribe performed it live at the 2017 Grammy Awards with Busta Rhymes and Anderson .Paak.

Busta began the performance by directly addressing President Trump: “I just want to thank President Agent Orange for perpetuating all of the evil that you’ve been perpetuating throughout the United States. I want to thank President Agent Orange for the unsuccessful attempt at the Muslim ban. When we come together, We The People.”

United Nations ‘Stairway To Mar-A-Lago’

This scream-core ripper brims with blistering fury at a presidential administration driven by greed. United Nations spew caustic lyrics (“Dimwitted bigot … Policing cities in ruin”) over post-punk guitars and pouring volcanoes of drums.

Arcade Fire featuring Mavis Staples, ‘I Give You Power’

This one-off single from Arcade Fire features legendary vocalist and civil rights activist Mavis Staples. The song doesn’t name the person in power, but it does something stronger: it reminds the leader who gave them the power.

Logic featuring Black Thought and Chuck D, ‘America’

The breakbeat on this Logic track is the perfect river for a Black Thought flow. The MC – whose ten-minute marathon on Hot 97 on December 14 shook the world – has spit flamethrower bars since his Philadelphia origins. He didn’t drop a dime on Trump in the free-styled ten but Black Thought had him in mind in these lines:

“The world going mad over one drug / I’m filling up a bag at the gun club / In the shadow of a nation that it once was / All this false information I’m going to unplug / Young blood it is not love / Up at Trump Thugs dot gov / The man in the high castle in a hot tub / We locked in a pine casket it’s botched up / Like plastic surgery classic perjury / The way they can plead the Fifth top the Thirteenth / And stop to search me? controversy / Them boys in the klansmen hoods is thirsty”.

First Aid Kit, ‘You Are the Problem Here’

‘You Are the Problem’, from a benefit for International Women’s Day 2017, is a thumper with straggly guitar chords and harmonies that spells it simple with the lyric video: “No one made you do anything. And I hope you fucking suffer.”

Gwar, ‘El Presidente’

Leave it to Gwar to take it all the way and say they want to straight up fucking kill the guy. With the death of Gwar founder and frontman Dave Brockie three years ago, Gwar carries on and has the right battle in mind, even when it gets silly. “Teleport into his office all the way from outer space / He won’t know it’s happened ’til I’m tearing off his stupid face”

M.I.A., ‘P.O.W.A.’

M.I.A. tells you whom she isn’t (Madonna, Ariana) on ‘P.O.W.A’ but there’s no specific protest that she’s giving her middle fingers to here. That said, she sings, “Supa-kala fascist, racist, espi-ala-tazors” and that it gives the song a new gravity.

Eminem ‘BET Hip Hop Awards Freestyle Cypher’

Eminem ripped rhymes of rabid anger during this performance, which was beamed from a Detroit parking garage to the BET Cyphers. 42 million views later, this Trump onslaught still hits hard. Em’s brutally clever ‘Fantastic Four’ couplet is the moneyshot: “Racism’s the only thing he’s fantastic for / ‘Cause that’s how he gets his f**king rocks off and he’s orange.”

Juliana Hatfield, ‘I Want To Be Your Disease’

Juliana Hatfield’s ‘I Want To Be Your Disease’ is a caustic excoriation and revenge fantasy. The target of Hatfield’s vitriol is vague at first – but by the end of the song, there can be no doubt that her target is America’s dealmaker in chief: “Plenty of time for the truth to sink in / That this is one deal you can’t win.”

Aminé, ‘Caroline’ (The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon version)

Aminé added a verse to his January appearance on The Tonight Show that got right to the point: “You can never make America great again/ All you ever did was make this country hate again.”

Kendrick Lamar, ‘The Heart Part 4’

Over West Coast synth sounds that become New York Wu, Kendrick drops in: “Donald Trump is a chump / Know how we feel, punk? Tell ’em that God comin’ / And Russia need a replay button, y’all up to somethin’ / Electorial votes look like memorial votes / But America’s truth ain’t ignorin’ the votes”.

L7, ‘Dispatch From Mar-A-Lago’

This incredibly catchy bomp from L7 features lines like “S.O.S. from a golden throne / Mogul’s in deep shit, he’s all alone”.

Fiona Apple and Michael Whalen, ‘Tiny Hands’

This one-off track from Michael Whalen and Fiona Apple was released in honor of the Women’s March On Washington, and features a fantastic protest chant: “We don’t your tiny hands/ anywhere near our underpants”.

Body Count, ‘No Lives Matter’

Ice-T and Body Count don’t take on Trump directly here – but they do tackle issues related to his presidency. Body Count takes on the ignorance of the ‘All Lives Matter’ statement from the opening seconds and sings, “They can’t fuck with us” over stop-start metal heavy-ness.

Tim Heidecker, ‘Trump’s Private Pilot’

Tim Heidecker has put out the finest rebellion songs of the Trump era. In the style of the piano-playing singer-songwriter, from Warren Zevon to Randy Newman, Tim sings absurd songs about the despicable Trump presidency that lurk into raw and chilling moods. While his earlier records and shows delivered genuine truth with comedy, the songs from Too Dumb For Suicide: Tim Heidecker’s Trump Songs display a darker humor reminiscent of Zevon’s headless ‘Roland the Thompson Gunner’.

‘Trump’s Private Pilot’ hits this expertly. “I played this live a lot over the past year or so and it’s really remarkable the reaction the end gets,” Tim told Consequence of Sound. “People fuckin’ cheer.” The song was originally released as part of the 2016 ‘1,000 Days, 1,000 Songs’ project. ‘Trump’s Pilot’ is hysterical and grisly, and Tim’s take on it is very human. “It’s sad, I think because I really don’t want to feel this way about another person, ya know? It’s sad that it’s come to this.”

Listen to the best
podcast in music.

Subscribe to the Culture Creature podcast:
Apple Podcasts | Android | Stitcher | RSS