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Posted Aug 13th, 2015 (5:37 pm) by Jess Marsh

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8/10
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Out of tragedy and struggle, seeds of infuriated creative energy are planted. From those seeds grow the movements that are used to help change the world. "Hell You Talmbout" is a product of this sort of energy, making for one of the most poignant and powerful protest songs in ages.

Protest songs have a long and storied history in American social and political movements. As early as the 18th century, activists used songs as a way to spread their message, loud and clear. Janelle Monáe's "Hell You Talmbout" is the latest entry , aligning itself with the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

This is an anthem that will be remembered by activists and fans alike for years to come. There is a level of overall accessibility to the track, making it easy for people from all walks of life to get behind the message.

The percussion-heavy beat is as reminiscent of a cinematic soundtrack as it is a street protest. The repetition of “Hell You Talmbout” is simple, yet memorable, catered to be chanted by unified voices. Think Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright,” which is already being used as a protest song, but with a clearer intent and message. Things are not alright at the moment, and we need to keep that fresh in our minds. There’s a time and a place for optimism, but now is not that time.

Unlike “Alright,” this is not a song of optimism. The track, created by Janelle Monáe and Wondaland Records, is unlike anything we've heard from Monáe’s back catalog. This is not a fun, "get-together with your artist friends" jam session. This is not Janelle Monáe and Wondaland Records artists performing for your enjoyment. Only during the group singing the line “hell you talmbout” do you ever hear Janelle’s signature soulful voice. The artists are instead shouting each individual verse, with a blazing, angry sincerity.

This song is exclusively about black lives lost through acts of police brutality, demanding you to “say his name.” It is a protest and a movement, in and of itself. It is raw. It is angry. It is passionate. It perfectly embodies the unified anger of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. As the number of deaths rise each day, the further we stray away from identifying the victims by name. “Hell You Talmbout” is a song that refuses to let these unnecessary deaths become yet another statistic. By naming victims and chanting “say his name” to such a simple beat, the song gets stuck in your head and stays with you long after you walk away from it.


That’s right. Janelle Monáe and Wondaland Records used the power of good, catchy songwriting to get the message imprinted in our minds. In a statement, via her Instagram, Janelle said, “...Silence is our enemy. Sound is our weapon. They say a question lives forever until it gets the answer it deserves... Won't you say their names?”

While “Hell You Talmbout” is far from the first, and likely far from the last protest song to rise out of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, it is safe to say that this track will be the definitive one. It's not about what you or I think about the movement. It is not about the "hows" and the "whys" of the current sociopolitical climate of this country, when it comes to race and law enforcement. It is about Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tanisha Anderson, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, and Sandra Bland. It is about not adding more names to the list. It is about demanding answers. It is about keeping the victims human beings, rather than data. It is about keeping their spirits alive by not forgetting their names.

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