Martin Had A Dream: The Best MLK Samples And Shout-Outs In Music History

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day specifically set aside to honor the life and legacy of one of the single-most influential civil rights leaders in our country’s history. Since its earliest days, the music industry been at the cultural forefront when it comes to honoring political activists through song, and MLK Jr. is no exception. From hip hop to rock, from soul to EDM, here are the 10 most noteworthy samples and shout-outs about the fallen civil rights icon in music history.

1. “Pride (In The Name Of Love)”, U2

“Early morning, April 4 / Shots ring out in the Memphis sky / Free at last, they took your life / But they could not take your pride,” Bono sings in this standout track from 1984. Students looking to write papers on MLK should note that King’s 1968 assassination took place in the evening and not the “early morning,” but a minor historical miscue like that does not rob this tremendous song of its inspirational power.

2. “Made It In America,” Kanye West & Jay Z

“Sweet King Martin, sweet Queen Coretta / Sweet Brother Malcolm, sweet Queen Betty / Sweet Mother Mary, sweet Father Joseph, sweet Jesus / We made it in America,” Frank Ocean sweetly sings on the album closing track of Kanye West and Jay Z’s Watch The Throne, paying tribute to those whose actions charted the course for African-Americans to have the kind of success that Jay, Kanye and Frank all enjoy today.

3. “By The Time I Get To Arizona,” Public Enemy

The observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day was signed into national law by President Ronald Reagan in 1983, but it wasn’t until the year 2000 (!) that all fifty states actually acknowledged the day as a holiday. P.E.’s 1991 revolutionary track was specifically targeted at Arizona’s then-governor, Evan Mecham, who canceled MLK Day in his state. The controversial video that you see above, which concludes with Chuck D setting off a car bomb that assassinates the governor, aired only once on MTV. (See also: SPIN’s excellent article Public Enemy Look Back at 20 Years of ’By the Time I Get to Arizona’.)

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