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I Shall be Released — Anti Establishment PT. II

Updated: Sep 24, 2020

by Baruchi Malewich

In the previous anti-Establishment playlist I had an opportunity to say pretty much all I wanted to say about anti-Establishment and the music associated with me. To remind you, I focused on early anti-Establishment music, using 1980 as the year that marks the transition between old and new. And while this point was picked almost arbitrarily, I still think one can see an actual difference in the sound and content material with which the songs are concerned. The later anti-Establishment songs start getting more specific, and more explicit, but perhaps more noticeably they become less optimistic, less utopian, and more harsh for the listener as far as lyrics are concerned but also as far as the use of noise. Try to keep this in mind while listening to this playlist, which I hope you will enjoy.

Few recent collaborations were as refreshing and energetic as this great tune from DJ Shadow featuring the duo Run the Jewels (Killer Mike and El-P). As all three musicians have a tendency to be very politically outspoken and to spare no criticism towards the establishment, this had to be a great one. In fact, DJ Shadow was so certain he needed the vocal abilities and general vibe of the duo, that he announced that this song would not have happened without them—meaning that had RtJ refused the collaboration, this song would never have seen the light of day. I guess it’s good news for us that they agreed after all. The video further drives home the general atmosphere of the song: it features a UN-type assembly that turns into an all-out brawl where the politicians and state representatives fight each other with whatever weapons the can find, thus portraying the establishment as these three talented musicians truly see it.

This is probably not the most outspoken song Rage Against the Machine has ever recorded. It’s probably not the most political, not the most subversive, outrageous, radical song this fine group of musicians has released. But it became such an anthem, that I couldn’t pick any other song for this list. When it came out, this song swept across nations and age groups, and became one of the best end-of-the-party tunes I have ever encountered in my years as a DJ. The fact that RAtM managed to get even the most spoiled, obedient, upper-class, goodie-two-shoes child to scream at the top of his lungs ‘F**k you I won’t do what you tell me’ is already uncanny. Add to that the fact that even today, 26 years after its release it still makes every man in the ages of 15 to 60 jump up and down and push people around likes possessed person, makes this, perhaps, the best anti-establishment song of all times.

Public Enemy remains, to this day, one of the most iconic groups in hip-hop history, one that truly shaped the genres in its dense sound, its utilization of samples and scratch music, and of course its uncompromising lyrics. In that, Fight the Power is not merely an anti-establishment anthem but a defining moment in pop culture—one that marks the beginning of incorporation of African-American protest music and iconography into the mainstream. The video for fight the power is full of references to African-American resistance to racism and persecution: the Black Panther-like dancers, the posters of Martin Luther King and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, and of course the lyrics.

Twenty-three years after Public Enemy, Kanye West released Yeezus. Now, personally, I wasn’t a big fan of the album as a whole—or at least I thought it was far inferior to what I to-this-day consider Kanye’s magnum opus: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. However, songs like New Slaves stand up and create the iconic moments of this album. This is an exceptionally perceptive piece, resisting racism and the establishment that moulds it, and ends in one of the most beautiful crescendo’s designed by the brilliant producer who is Kanye West (namely the way he samples Omega’s ‘The Gill with the Pearl’s Hair’).

If all the songs in this list go to show how the sound of anti-establishment music has changed throughout the year, this song should be an exception. Indeed, I always get confused with Tracy Chapman. There’s something almost idiosyncratic about her music—on the one hand it seems like it belongs in the late 60’s / early 70’s, and on the other hand it is almost entirely timeless. It is still mind-boggling to me that the lion share of her creation took place in the late 80’s to early 90’s—a period of hip-hop, synth-pop, thrash metal and grunge, sure, but not so much of singer-songwriters and troubadours. In what is without a doubt her most iconic song, Chapman presents a bleak image of hardworking people who know they are being mistreated, and yet they only talk about a revolution and even that is done in a whisper.

Additional songs

Baruchi Malewich is an Israeli expatriate currently residing in the UK. He completed his BA is Government and Diplomacy from the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliya and his MPhil in International Relations from the University of Cambridge. He was a DJ in the student radio of both schools, and is an avid music fan. He is currently working on PhD applications and on an online publication devoted to researching the role of theory in the

social sciences.


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