From rappers to punks to rockers, Denver musicians have confronted police violence and white supremacy for years — some with anger, some with hate, some with grief and some with love. Just like the people taking over the streets demanding justice for the murder of George Floyd and an end to government violence, these artists represent a variety of identities and attitudes toward cops, from abolitionists to reformers.
Below is a small sampling of the many songs from local artists challenging police violence.
In a brutal world where people are murdered by cops, Lane-O offers a message of love and redemption. If you're feeling like racism and social inequity are turning your heart into a callus, "Beautiful" is the right song to put on. Yes, it acknowledges life's horrors, but its message is simple: Love yourself and love others.
BHM is a hip-hop compilation celebrating Black History Month in 2018. Put together by producer Chris "Wicjones" Jones, the album went largely under the radar. It's time to bring it back. Loaded with inspirational music from Denver rap luminaries Jay Triiiple, Chy Reco, Lo Pez, Taurean, Pries, Connor Ray and Toussaint Lorenz, this is a must-listen-to black-power record that takes on police violence. Spin it and be inspired.
The throwback punk band Barking Mad bites back at violent cops, taking a chunk out of the Blue Lives Matter movement that attempted to hijack Black Lives Matter. "Blue Lies" is a rage-filled street-punk record, the kind sure to prod you toward the streets.
"Fire in the Jailhouse"
Tin Horn Prayer
The now-defunct Denver rock band Tin Horn Prayer warns of a storm on the horizon in the song "Fire in the Jailhouse." The song honors street preacher Marvin Booker, who was killed by Denver sheriff's deputies in 2010. The song asks desperately: "Why did you become a cop?" To stop violence? Or start it?
With an angelic voice, Paul Junior mourns the pains born from racism and police violence. The song is more compassionate than most when it comes to the experience of violent cops, but it's squarely rooted in liberation and the faint hope that humanity might prevail in the end: "When this world fades away and we're seen for who we are, we'll all be asking how we fell this far."
Few songs tackle the anxiety of living as a black man in the United States and facing murderous cops and white supremacy as directly — and painfully — as "Freedom," by TheyCallHimAP.
"Hasta el Tope"
The members of Denver ska band Roka Hueka are sick of the hatred, racism, violence and oppression that shape so much of the United States. In the joyful anti-fascist song, "Hasta el Tope," they celebrate liberation from imperialism and police violence. While the song ends on an appropriately melancholy note, it's ultimately an anthem of resilience, struggle and joy.
"I Am a Man"
This pop-punk rager is a tribute to the "I Am a Man" slogan of the civil rights movement. The song wrestles with the question of whether people should confront injustice, even as police prepare to bruise them. The band's answer: a resounding "Yes."
Wheelchair Sports Camp (Produced by DJ Mu$a)
Activist, educator and MC Kalyn Heffernan, of Wheelchair Sports Camp, takes on mass incarceration and the racism of the prison industrial complex, the drug war and the police. This is theory-driven rap that names names and takes no prisoners.
"Black Is Beautiful"
Mawule sings about his experience internalizing oppression and racism in the United States and finds hope and inspiration in the phrase "Black is beautiful." With singing from Bianca Mikahn and rapping from Ill Se7en, this is an emotionally nuanced song that deals with the pain racism causes along with resilience and self-love.
Ross Swirling, of Denver anti-fascist hardcore band Allout Helter, blasted the police in "Maximum Helter." It's a screed against racist police: "People targeted and judged by the color of their skin/We should all be treated equally/I cannot believe the amount of grief inflicted by those who protect society/Take away their guns, hold them to higher standards/With real consequences, cops might learn some fucking manners."
Jay Triiiple, who is one of the city's greatest lyricists and performers, wrote this sprawling gut-wrencher about black pride and unity. It's a brutal attack on white supremacy and police violence — but it's just as much a celebration of unity, love, family and community power.
"¡Que Viva Revolución!"
Los Mocochetes have a lot to say in this simple song. Down with Trump. Down with capitalism. Down with the police. Down with ICE. May our grandmothers rise. May the people rise. Long live revolution. If you can't stand your revolution without dancing, this is the song for you.
"Toda Mi Gente"
In the face of killer cops and white supremacists, Lolita sings for the people to rise together, free themselves and dance. This is a beautiful anti-fascist pop song, and if you're looking for something that is as catchy as it is militant and optimistic, this should be your pick.
In "Richochet," underground artist Bianca Mikahn's voice pops off like ammo at the hatred the world directs at black people. Produced by Wheelchair Sports Camp's Kalyn Heffernan and textured with Joshua Trinidad's pained trumpet, Mikahn seethes, "We ain't no killers, but don't push us," in this anguished song about what happens when people are forced to the edge by political and social violence.
"X, feat. Taurean"
Jay Triiiple and Taurean's homage to Malcolm X is a lyrical protest against white supremacy, an expression of fear and anger in the face of racist murders. She honors the memory of Trayvon Martin and grieves over how a young man like him walking through the suburbs is murdered while a mass murderer like James Holmes survives.
What are your favorite songs about police violence from Denver musicians?
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.