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by Dan Weiss

February 23, 2014

Songs Critiquing White Privilege

by Dan Weiss  |  February 23, 2014

Long be the habit of music to channel the voice of the oppressed into triumphant melodies and performances. From Leadbelly's defiant early "Bourgeois Blues" to Bob Dylan's epochal "Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," Gil Scott-Heron's perfectly distilled "Whitey on the Moon" and Eminem's twisted, self-lashing "White America," it's no coincidence that the intersection of race and class is a favorite subject of many of music's true geniuses. Kanye West himself might not crow about his own genius had he never written "We Don't Care," a hilarious guide to how his generation survived Reagan.

Some of these songs are the most audacious ever, like Public Enemy's "911 Is a Joke" and Phil Ochs' hippie double-dare "Love Me, I'm a Liberal," while some gain new context when new horrors are introduced to history, like how Warren Zevon's coddled killer in "Excitable Boy" is extra-chilling in the wake of George Zimmerman, who's being groomed as a reality TV celebrity. So much great rap helps define the abuse of power, too, like Jay Z's "99 Problems" and LL Cool J's "Illegal Search." Then there's recent Grammy winner Macklemore, who has long considered the topic -- just see the first song on his first full-length record: "White Privilege."

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