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Not Okay, Player: 5 Samples Of Martin Luther King, Jr. That Should Never Have Been Cleared

Not Okay, Player: 5 Samples Of Martin Luther King, Jr. That Should Never Have Been Cleared

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Here’s our list of 5 Martin Luther King, Jr. samples that should never have been cleared!

This March it will be 53 years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lead one of the largest political rallies for equal human rights in United States history with the March On Washington, DC. Students, artists, thinkers, activists, preachers and laymen from all walks of life came in the hundreds of thousands from points across the country to hear what the King had to say.

Since that March, ever more musicians, rappers and acts have attempted to harness the power of the immortal “I Have a Dream” speech for their own projects. Perhaps they were inspired by the Civil Rights activist’s rhythm, cadence and melody or wanted to claim their own stake as Children of The Dream…or maybe they are just hanging off the damn bandwagon, trying to catch a little reflection off Dr. King’s glory to shine on their own subpar talent.

This is a trend that seems to be increasing from both directions, so to speak. On the one hand, the hip-hop generation has always had a more problematic relationship to MLK and the Civil Rights movement than its parents did. Contrast, for instance, the number of Malcolm X clips, samples and photos that have graced rap albums and videos. Or better yet, contrast the role Stevie Wonder played in getting King recognized with a national holiday to OutKast’s ambivalent, devil-may-care attitude towards “Rosa Parks” (“A-ha, what’s that fuss? / Everybody move to the back of the bus.”). Fast-forward another decade and find rap’s offspring even more estranged from the martyrs of the Civil Rights era, with Li’l Wayne (and even, to a lesser extent, Kanye West) shocking their elders and offending by dropping the name of Emmett Till simply as a metaphor for “beat-up”–as applicable to rough sex or car accidents as to martyrdom in the cause of human dignity.

On the other, as Martin Luther King, Jr’s legacy has become more recognized by the mainstream–moving his symbolic role from rebel to national hero, from outsider speaking truth to power to centerpiece of Barack Obama‘s presidential campaign–it has become ever more malleable and meaningless. Especially since Obama stormed the 2008 election cycle with moving invocations of King’s themes, it has been seen as the thing to do–for everybody. And when we say everybody, we mean in the past few years King has been name-checked by everybody from from Glenn Beck to Ted Cruz, twisting his words in ever more contorted loops to try to make them support everything from the segregationist spirit of school choice to hateful opposition to marriage equality.

This absurd flattening of MLK’s words is reflected in the world of music as well. In some sense, he is an icon who belongs to everybody the same way Che Guevara, Bob Marley and JFK have become pop art graphics on t-shirts and hackey sacks. But maybe 2016 is a good time to draw the line and say MLK’s words should not be mouthed by everybody, regardless of intent. They should not be chopped, screwed or twisted into moral cover for every creepy thought that pops into your head. Being music-minded, we started with samples of MLK’s actual, recorded words in drawing our personal line in the sand. In other words: please stop jacking Dr. King’s words to add gravitas and righteousness to your questionable morality tales or as a grandiose metaphor for your fuckery!

Without further ado, here’s our list of 5 Martin Luther King, Jr. samples that should never have been cleared!  Check out our selection below and share your thoughts with us on Twitter.


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