Music & Social Change: Artists Who Used Their Pens For Protest

As we’ve said before, when times get tough, creators create. Silence is simply not an option when it comes to standing up for our rights – whether it’s fighting racism, poverty, politics or oppression. Music becomes a thunderous instrument that brings us joy whilst educating and uniting us. You have a voice and you have the power to change the world.


At Spinnup, we encourage you to channel your frustrations and passions in your music. Over the ages people have looked to musicians to take the frankly sh*t situations the world can sometimes throw at us and turn it into art. We want to honour those artists and their revolutionary tracks, explore  how they came to be, and give you some inspiration on how you can turn mayhem into music.


Hemi Moore – When?

Levert Kelvin Kachingwe, (otherwise known as Hemi Moore), moved to the UK from Zimbabwe at the age of 13, in search of a better life. During his teen years spent in Southend-on-Sea, he quickly fell in love with the piano and making music, with a vision to share his craft with others.


‘When?’ was written and recorded in just under two weeks, following the death of George Floyd. The track was created in Moore’s bedroom via a Zoom call with producers Dominic James and Brookfield. Distributed through Spinnup, all sales of the single are donated to anti-racism charities that support Black Lives Matter.


“When is it all going to end?”, cries Hemi Moore in his Rag’n’Bone Man-style powerful and punchy cry for justice. Born out of complete necessity – the track calls to question why racism is tangled into the very fabric of our society. “The fact that we are in 2020 and we are still protesting for the same thing that some of our grandparents were fighting for puzzles me,” Moore has said.


Hemi Moore wrote on his Instagram: “Not gonna lie to you writing this track has been one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. Never thought in my songwriting life I will be doing something like this. I poured my heart and soul into this. We can’t be silent.”


Check out the music video for ‘When?’.



John Lennon – Imagine


An iconic plea for peace first heard almost half a century ago, ‘Imagine’ is just as relevant now as it was back then.


One morning in early 1971, Lennon took to his iconic white spray-painted Steinway Piano in the comforts of his own bedroom in Ascot, UK, and almost completed ‘Imagine’ in just one session.


The anthem’s lyrics were heavily inspired by poems from Yoko Ono’s book Grapefruit and her conceptual artwork, titled ‘Cloud Piece’ that read: “Imagine the clouds dripping. Dig a hole in your garden to put them in”. Comedian Dick Gregory gave Lennon a book of positive prayer which also was used as inspiration for the song’s lyrics.


A cleverly sugar coated anti-establishment message is carried by peaceful C major piano so that it could be widely accepted in society. Lennon spoke, “Now I understand what you have to do. Put your political message across with a little honey.”


‘Imagine’ became one of the most successful tracks of Lennon’s solo career, as well as one of the most influential songs ever written. Covered and performed by artists all over the world, ‘Imagine’ has, and continues to be, an anthem for world peace.




Bob Marley – Redemption Song


Not only had Bob Marley experienced hardship in the world around him, but his personal life had been heavy going itself. From growing up in poverty to an assassination attempt and dealing with cancer, nothing stopped  him from continuing to speak out for the poor and oppressed.


His final recording ‘Redemption Song’ is considered one of his greatest songs, as well as being one of the greatest influential recordings in Jamaican Music history.


Bob had been diagnosed with cancer at the time he wrote the song and had been writing material that let him deal with his mortality. He was in pain. He was dying, yet he didn’t let that stop him from touring, writing and recording.


His anthem of all anthems, ‘Redemption Song’ invites us to free our minds from mental slavery. Some of its key lyrics were derived from a speech given by the Pan-Africanist orator Marcus Garvey: “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our minds.” The lyrics were also inspired by artists from the US and Jamaica such as the legendary James Brown, who wrote songs touching on similar concepts.


‘Redemption Song’ differs from Bob Marley’s other tracks; it’s a spiritual stripped-back folk song with just guitar and vocals as its sole ingredients. Chris Blackwell of Island Records reckoned that it did not need any kind of embellishment – its raw production gave it more impact. And its key of G major invites a hopeful and uplifting feel.


Kendrick Lamar – Alright


Rick Rubin named it “our generation’s protest song”. In 2019, Pitchfork named it the number one song of the 2010s. Kendrick’s catchy protest anthem ‘Alright’, absolutely deserves a spot on our list.


‘Alright’ was released in 2015 at a time where minorities in America experienced shootings and unjust death. Sound familiar?


After several protests were heard chanting its spoken-word chorus: “We gon’ be alright!”, ‘Alright’ became a soundtrack of Black Lives Matter movement. But it’s a soundtrack that almost didn’t turn out the way it did…


Pharrell Williams had come up with a jazzy beat. It wasn’t until six months later the song was finished. Lamar just couldn’t find the right lyrics to do it justice. He sat on it for weeks. After a bit of encouragement from Pharrell and A&R Executive Sam Taylor, and inspiration from Pharrell’s incredibly catchy hook, the words finally came flowing out. Kendrick used the symbolism of the word ‘alright’ to spur the rest of the song’s lyrics, asking himself “what does ‘alright’ represent?” According to the rapper, the song could have gone a thousand other ways.


Kendrick’s lyrics of ‘Alright’ embody the suffering that Black people have had across America for hundreds of years. In writing, he was influenced by a trip to South Africa, where he witnessed others’ problems, stating “their struggle was ten times harder.” He also channels his own struggles and suicidal thoughts he once had in a hotel room towards the end of the track.


‘Alright’ is an uplifting anthem that speaks out hope, amid Kendrick’s personal struggles and the struggles of his people. It’s a reminder for everyone, that whatever we’re going through, “we gon’ be alright.”



M.I.A – Paper Planes


The final song on our list is critically acclaimed ‘Paper Planes’ by refugee turned pop-star and activist Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam (a.k.a M.I.A.). From enduring the hardships of the Sri Lankan civil war and becoming a refugee, music was M.I.A’s medicine.


She wrote the irresistibly catchy ‘Paper Planes’ in response to the difficulties she had getting her US visa reinstated. Apparently, she fit a certain ‘profile’… Yet, all she wanted to do, like any other citizen was to work and survive. M.I.A. satirises the perception that some Americans have of immigrants from third world countries as she raps about evading border police, making fake visas and taking your money.


Producer of ‘Paper Planes’, Diplo, had the idea to build the track from a looped sample from The Clash’s ‘Straight to Hell’ which covers similar themes about the poor treatment of third world immigrants by Britain and the US.


This sample was combined with elements of world music, along with a banging pop hook. M.I.A. came up with and recorded the lyrics one morning, in a single take. Inspired by Wreckx-N-Effect’s ‘Rump Shaker’, the chorus was sung by Brixton street kids that M.I.A. invited into the studio. The rest of the track was recorded in her Brooklyn home of Bed-Stuy. She used sound effects of gunshots and a cash register, which she leaves up to the listener to interpret.


It’s a song that almost didn’t happen. A dispute between M.I.A. and Diplo resulted in the hard drive that contained the demo being thrown from the top floor. But it fatefully landed in the boot of a taxi that Diplo was about to get into. Talk about luck!


Released at a time of financial crisis and growing issues around immigration, ‘Paper Planes’ is still just as relevant 13 years later. Not only did it survive being thrown from the top of a building, but like all of these tracks, it survived the test of time.



We encourage you to never be silent when it comes to issues and causes you feel strongly about. Use your music as your output. Use your music as your voice. We know that times may get tough, but we’re here to make it as easy as possible for you to release the music you make through our ongoing support and our community.


Are there any other tracks out there you feel deserve a spot on this list? We’d love to know!