I thought I’d try to do a Nat Turner special on Crime Time Radio. I remembered hearing his in some lyrics – I thought maybe Public Enemy, but I couldn’t remember which song. A quick Google brought up a whole list, and with a little more looking I found a few others. Here’s a transcript of the show:
This week the truecrimers read Nat Turner’s Confessions. Turner led a violent rebellion in Virginia in 1831. This was met with a brutal response, which had long term consequences. I knew he had been namechecked in a few rap songs, like this one by Public Enemy
“Prophets of Rage” by Public Enemy. Turner was only mentioned in passing, but the song also mentioned Denmark Vesey and Gabriel Prosser, both of whom were hung on suspicion of planning slave rebellions in 1822 and 1800 respectively, decades before the Turner incident.
“Nat Turner“, from Reef the Lost Cauze. This one doesn’t just use his name, it tells his story. It’s basically the same as his Confessions, but with a different filter for a different audience. Turner’s Confessions were published by Thomas Gray, who I think was trying to warn the citizens of the South that their slave population needed to be strictly controlled, at the same time as he reassured them that this was an isolated incident. Reef says Turner’s story isn’t properly taught in schools, and that it’s violence was warranted.
Wu-Tang Clan, with “The City.” And a bleak view of the city at that. They drop us right into a violent scene, and Turner is invoked as one who died but took many with him. The song also invokes Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City.”
“Living for the City.” Stevie didn’t bring Nat into that one; it just follows from from the Wu-Tang song. He’s saying life is tough but people are trying, which is a bit more positive than Wu-Tang’s City. Didn’t want to go out on a downer.
That was it for the show. There were a few others I thought of including. I liked X Clan back in the day, and I’m surprised I don’t have their CD anymore.
X Clan, with “Funkin’ Lesson.” I’m not sure what Brother J and Professor X are talking about there. They have Nat Turner right next to Martin Luther King and Malcolm X and Huey Newton, revolutionaries all, though of different sorts. At the same time they bring in a lot of Afro-Egyptian imagery. I like the sound, but couldn’t connect it lyrically to the others as easily, so I left it out.
I also found an old Philly soul band called the Nat Turner Rebellion. Apparently all their records are out-of-print collectors’ items, and even so, some of them are being deleted from Youtube. I would have liked to include their “Tribute to a Slave,” but couldn’t find a full version. But at least one of them is out there: