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Freeing Your Mind Through Music (The Woke Pretty Playlist)

The Woke PrettyComment


We sing our pain, joy, struggle and resistance. There is something universal about music, and yet, when heard through the black experience, incredibly illuminating. We are a people of resilience and perseverance and this rises up in our music with a kind of arresting beauty. Thinker, writer and professor Cornel West talks often about the complexity of these melodies – the blues, hip-hop, gospel. Creative offerings pushing through a world determined to erase us.

“I'm a bluesman moving through a blues-soaked America, a blues-soaked world, a planet where catastrophe and celebration- joy and pain sit side by side. The blues started off in some field, some plantation, in some mind, in some imagination, in some heart. The blues blew over to the next plantation, and then the next state.

The blues went south to north, got electrified and even sanctified. The blues got mixed up with jazz and gospel and rock and roll.”

During this era of “alternative facts” and the resurgence of bigotry, more than ever, we need the power of music. And since Black Music Month should be every month, and I am the woke pretty, how could I not bless y’all with a playlist dedicated to being the change we all wish to see in the world?


-Jamila Woods – Blk Girl Solider

I fell in love with singer, songwriter and poet  Jamila Woods’ poignant music last year; she crafts the kind of  pieces that stick with you long after the melodies stop. Blk Girl Soldier is no different; it is an ode to the resolve of black women to not only survive but thrive, despite the obstacles we encounter daily. Woods reminds us:

“Rosa was a freedom fighter

And she taught us how to fight

Ella was a freedom fighter

And she taught us how to fight

Audre was a freedom fighter

And she taught us how to fight

Angela was a freedom fighter

And she taught us how to fight

Sojourner was a freedom fighter

And she taught us how to fight

Assata was a freedom fighter

And she taught us how to fight...”



-John Legend – I Know Better

John Legend became famous for love songs, but as time has gone on we have come to learn more about his heart for social justice. “I Know Better” from his recent album, Darkness and Light, is about finding your voice outside of others expectations. What could be more liberating?


-Mad (Featuring Lil Wayne) – Solange

Folks are still unpacking the many layers of Solange’s latest offering, “A Seat at the Table.” One track in particular, Mad, looks at the pernicious and all too common practice of silencing black folks, and especially women, by shaming them for expressing anger. Solange’s vocal delivery is calm, yet the urgency of her message is no less passionate.  



-Backlash Blues - Nina Simone

Although Nina Simone recorded and performed  Backlash Blues decades ago, the message of a nation pushing against citizens of color is no less relevant today as we chant black lives matter, queer lives matter, native lives matter and on and on. It is a call to resisting the status quo.



Prince EA – Can We AutoCorrect Humanity

Technology is all around us. Are we in control or is it controlling us? Prince EA challenges this “generation of overstimulation,” urging disconnection, when needed he says, connect with people and the natural  environment around us. He drops so many philosophical gems and leaves us with a call to live more in the present moment.



-Alicia Keys  – Kill Your Mama

Alicia Keys is one of my favorite artists; she wrestles with issues others shy away from with rare intensity and poetic grace. Her latest album, Here, overflows with raw emotion and truth. Kill Your Mama, written with Emeli Sande about the state of the earth and society, is a call to awaken before it's too late:

“Is there any saving us?

We've become so dangerous.

Is there any change in us?

Even for the sake of love?

How you gonna kill your mama?

When only mama is gonna love you to the grave.”



Gil Scott-Heron, Work for Peace

Some folks refer to Gil Scott-Heron as the grandfather of rap; his poetic rhymes piercing through pulsating beats and melodic jazz. Like many other conscious artists, he warned us about the military industrial complex and its connection to capitalism and the continued  exploitation of marginalized communities. “Tomorrow can be better if we all work together”, he says. “We all have to work for peace.”


T.I. – Warzone

Recorded last year in the wake of the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of police, the pain, sadness and outrage of T.I. lingers long after the beat stops because it is our collective. “Can’t you see we living in a war zone?” he insists. Guess you don’t notice it when you live it. Like every weekend it’s a man down.” I thought of this song when Valerie Castile stood outside the court house and boldly told this country it’s in crisis:

"Where in this planet, do you tell the truth and you be honest and you still be murdered by the police?”



Interlude: Tina Taught Me (on Solange’s album, A Seat at the Table)

Lastly, this isn’t a song, but rather an interlude on Solange’s A Seat at the Table, with her Mama lifting up that pride in blackness doesn't exclude any other ethnicity, it’s simply a healthy dose of self love. And self love and care, I think, are at the heart of staying woke. We have to move from a space acceptance and celebrating who we are as a people.



I hope you all find radical love, righteous beauty and the optimism of a people determined to rise as you listen. Through the trauma, hurt and complexities of being a person of color, we continue to rise and reimagine a different kind of world. Never lose sight of the tremendous power of art to transform minds and realities.


The Woke Pretty aka Emelda De Coteau is a loving wife, mama, creative, and believer seeking God anew in each moment.  She is the founder of the inspirational and faith blog, Live In Color. Emelda is a columnist for Beautifully Said Magazine,  Founder of @WomenCreativesChat , and founding member of Black Womyn Rising, a radical organizing collective for Black womyn and girls.