For years, critics have complained about American pop music's indifference to politics. In the 1990s, apathy seemed pervasive: Grunge rockers turned protest music inward, lashing out at those domestic oppressors, Mom and Dad; hip-hop's erstwhile black nationalist firebrands started rapping about their jewelry. With a booming peacetime economy and a libertine in the White House, what was there to get angry about?
It was left to George W. Bush to revive pop's political conscience. America is now experiencing its biggest wave of protest music in decades. But is the new politicized pop any good? Are the best political songs prescriptive, or merely provocative? Do they stand on their own as music, or when the preaching begins, does the art suffer? Slate's survey of a handful of new songs looks at the pleasures and perils of engagé pop.
Jadakiss featuring Nas, Common, and Styles P
"Why? (Remix)," Ruff Ryders
"The FCC Song," available online Click
"Wake Up Everybody," Bungalo
Various Artists Lullabies From the Axis of Evil, Kirkelig Kulturverksted Click
Trans Am Liberation, Thrill Jockey Click
Tom Waits Real Gone, forthcoming from Anti Click
Steve Earle The Revolution Starts ... Now, Artemis Click