Here Are 20 Musicians Who Gave It All To Change The World

Though some artists tend to follow whichever trend is currently dominating the music charts, others prefer to take risks in their creative decisions. We’re all aware of how a musician can provoke great change through activism or by addressing urgent issues in the lyrics, but look no further: here’s the ultimate list of musicians who tried to change the world! BTW, if you’re a hip-hop fan, don’t miss #7 and #4.

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#20. Bono

Bono, the leader of one of rock’s greatest bands, U2, has faced some backlash during recent years. Love him or hate him, however, no one can deny that the man has always been a fearless songwriter, delving into political issues numerous times. This has been a constant for the Dubliner singer since the band’s first days, when they released Sunday Bloody Sunday as a single for their striking third album, War.

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This song served as an attempt to shed some light on an infamous tragedy that took place in Northern Ireland in the early 70s when 13 innocent protesters were murdered by troops. Moreover, Bono was also an outspoken anti-apartheid activist in the 80s. When Steven Van Zandt decided to record an album called Artists United Against Apartheid, Bono wrote the song Silver and Gold for the record which was made as an attempt to raise awareness against South Africa’s government racial segregation policies.

#19. Willie Nelson

Willie Nelson is another legendary musician who boasts a career full of activism for diverse causes. For instance, the beloved country veteran launched the company Willie Nelson Biodiesel, which produces biofuel. His main motivation is both to put an end to America’s reliance on oil from other countries and to create job opportunities for farmers.

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That’s right, Willie Nelson has always been concerned with farmers’ rights, and that’s why the singer of Blue Eyes Crying in The Rain created Farm Aid in 1985. This annual benefit concert sees many stars like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Willie himself, play together in order to raise money for farmers and their families.

#18. Common

While Willie Nelson is an essential figure in country music, the same can be said about Common’s place in hip hop history. The Chicago rapper has not only released some of the genre’s timeless classic albums such as Like Water For Chocolate but has also engaged in political activism for the Black Liberation Movement.

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But Common not only uses his lyrics to discuss racial issues, but he’s also founded a non-profit organization called Common Ground Foundation, which tries to help impoverished youth. We highly recommend the acclaimed documentary #Bars4Justice, a film in which several activists and rappers appear in, including Common.

#17. Kesha

Though Kesha isn’t known for being an artist with lyrics that address social issues, she became heavily involved and committed with the Me Too movement recently. The pop icon decided to put a stop to her career to go through a legal battle against her abusive producer.

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Kesha made a stellar return with her emotive single Praying and moved everyone to tears when she gave a moving performance of the single at the Grammy Awards of last year. Since then, the song has been adopted by abuse victims as an empowering anthem.

#16. Beyoncé

Queen Bey is one of those artists that everyone knows. Seriously, ask a 2 or 3-year-old relative if he or she knows who Beyoncé is, and the answer will probably be something like “of course, I follow her on Insta and Drunk In Love is my jam!” But jokes aside, Mrs. Knowles-Carter has a huge platform, and she’s recently used it to deliver important messages to her audience.

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After Beyoncé put out her most impressive album, Lemonade (which featured empowering songs like Freedom and Formation), the NFL invited her to perform at the Super Bowl halftime show in 2017. The singer seized the opportunity and manifested her support for Black Lives Matter, disregarding the conservative backlash.

#15. John Lennon

And since we’re talking about legends with an enormous audience, it’s a must to mention John Lennon, especially on a list of this type, right? Although Yoko Ono’s husband had generally avoided political themes throughout the Beatles’ discography (save for Revolution and one or two additional exceptions), the approach he took in his solo career was radically different.

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Indeed, songs like Working Class Hero or Merry Xmas (War Is Over) saw Lennon at his most revolutionary. In fact, rumor has it that the Beatle began to put extra effort into his writing process after being mesmerized by some of Bob Dylan’s lyrics. If you wanna learn more about Dylan, slide next!

#14. Bob Dylan

That’s right, Bob was quickly deemed as “the voice of a generation” in the 60s, after the folk and rock icon rocketed to fame with some of history’s most powerful protest songs. Singles like Masters of War, Times They Are A-Changin, or later in his career Hurricane, saw Bob fearlessly addressing controversial social issues.

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Dylan’s constant drive for trying to change the world with his poetry has served as an inspiration for many emblematic musicians to come. Believe it or not, even a current pop-trap star as Post Malone has credited Bob as an artistic role model.

#13. J Cole

J Cole is usually listed as one of the “Big Three” rappers of this generation, along with Drake and Kendrick Lamar. His music shares more similarities with the latter since both K-Dot and Cole World tend to tackle social issues in their lyrics.

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J Cole can undoubtedly put out some summer bangers, but when his verses focus on trying to shed some light on any of the youth’s or his community’s problems (like institutional racism)… that’s when the rapper is at his best IMO. Be sure to check out 4 Your Eyez Only or Once an Addict (Interlude) if you’re not familiar with his work!

#12. Joan Baez

Yes, Dylan was indeed the one with the honor of being called “the voice of a generation” in the 60s, but Joan Baez made more than enough to deserve it as well. One of folk’s greatest, Baez inspired many women with her political activism.

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Many artists remember the day Joan Baez was arrested in 1967 for participating in an anti-Vietnam protest in front of a military center. Since those days, almost every renowned female musician has been outspoken about their admiration towards Joan’s fierce commitment towards many important causes.

#11. Patti Smith

Amongst those who were influenced by Joan’s example is Patti Smith, one of rock and roll’s greatest poets. Patti’s stunning debut album, Horses, wasn’t only one of the most trailblazing releases in the genre, but also a powerful statement.

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The cover (a Robert Mapplethorpe photo) speaks for itself: an androgynous Patti looks self-assured, you know she means business here! Just listen to the first lines of Horses’ iconic opener, Gloria (In Excelsis Deo): Patti Smith delivers a thought-provoking statement about Christian guilt and personal freedom.

#10. Stevie Wonder

Moving on with our list of artists that gave it all to change the world, we now have Stevie Wonder. Did you know that the singer of Superstition played a crucial role in the law that established a national holiday as a tribute to Martin Luther King? Yes, apparently, some were opposed to the idea of commemorating the Civil Rights leader’s birthday, therefore Stevie released the song Happy Birthday to support the cause.

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But Stevie did a lot more than that: the pianist and singer also participated in the organization of a protest in D.C. to increase pressure on President Reagan. However, though one can identify many cases in which an artist fought for a noble cause, it’s definitely harder to find someone who has stuck to activism throughout decades.

#9. Tom Morello

The Clash and Rage Against The Machine are the first unapologetically, left-leaning political groups that come to mind, and Tom Morello, the latter’s guitarist, is an extremely influential musician that has tried to change the lives of struggling workers who suffer from poor rights and unfair wages.

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In fact, many critics have noted the singer for its “fiercely polemical music, which brewed sloganeering leftist rants against corporate America, cultural imperialism, and government oppression into a Molotov cocktail of punk, hip-hop, and thrash“.

#8. Bob Marley

Despite his early death, Bob Marley is still hailed as one of the greatest musicians of all time. His work with The Wailers gave us countless classic albums like Exodus or Catch a Fire, which are still considered amongst the best reggae releases in history.

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But Bob’s most notorious achievement consisted of delivering thoughtful lyrics which called for several changes in society, presented with smooth, catchy melodies. With hits like Get Up, Stand Up, or I Shot The Sheriff, the reggae legend tried to wake up the citizens against economic injustice and authoritarian policemen, respectively.

#7. 2Pac

Always controversial, always considered one of the greatest rappers of all time. 2Pac revolutionized the game forever in the 90s with his lyrics which could go from crazy threats towards his East Coast foes to poetic reflections about urgent topics like racism, chauvinism, and gang violence in the hoods.

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Having said that, current “conscious” rappers like J Cole, Kendrick Lamar or Joey Bada$$ have clearly followed the footprints left by Pac’s most stirring political and personal songs, like Keep Ya Head Up, Brenda’s Got a Baby and Dear Mama. 2Pac’s ties with the Black Panthers (both his mom and dad were active members) and his early death probably contributed to the myth that surrounds his figure, but one thing’s for sure: the rapper has become a symbol for resistance.

#6. Public Enemy

Pac’s outstanding discography didn’t come out of the blue, though. Public Enemy, for instance, was one of his most influential predecessors, since they dropped one of the most revolutionary albums of all time in 1988, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.

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In that seminal record, you’ll find Fight The Power, perhaps one of the most controversial hits to break into the mainstream. In that song, Public Enemy dissed white icons to highlight the message of black pride, while simultaneously encouraging the listeners to fight against authority.

#5. Sex Pistols

And talking about noisy and unabashedly confrontative groups, the Sex Pistols definitely caused a stir in the U.K. with their first (and final) album, Nevermind The Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, which came out in 1977.

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With their trailblazing punk record, the Sex Pistols tried to shake things up a bit. They were certainly on the right track with controversial songs like God Save the Queen, which encouraged the then-estranged youth to rebel against the monarchy.

#4. Lauryn Hill

Like the Sex Pistols, Lauryn Hill has only released one studio album. The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill mixed neo-soul and hip-hop with stunning ease, and the final result earned her 5 Grammies. The album’s lead single, Doo Wop (That Thing) sees the ex-member of The Fugees warn women to stay away from toxic relationships.

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But Lauryn Hill didn’t only promote egalitarianism, she also disappeared from the public eye and stopped releasing music for a long while, since she was extremely unhappy with the music industry’s norms and pressures.

#3. Kathleen Hanna

Kathleen Hanna is credited with the honor of being one of the pioneering figures of the riot grrrl movement in the 90s. She became one of the most influential women that managed to blend feminism and punk with her band Bikini Kill, first, and with Le Tigre, later.

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With radical singles like Rebel Girl, Hanna and her bandmates of Bikini Kill carved themselves a decisive place in rock history, since all-female bands had never been given the place they deserved in the genre.

#2. Kendrick Lamar

Going back to a current-day star, Kendrick Lamar has probably put out the most important album of this decade. That’s right, To Pimp a Butterfly is also unique for its dazzling combination of funk, jazz, and rap, but the album’s thematic concepts are what will get you to listen very closely.

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Throughout its connected tracks, the Compton rapper analyzes police brutality, racial tensions, and his own place as a powerful figure in the African-American community.

#1. Marvin Gaye

Most people tend to think that Marvin Gaye mostly put out smooth, sensual R&B tracks to which anybody can dance to. But they tend to forget that one of his most successful hits, What’s Going On, represented the moment in which the legend began to distance himself from the Motown sound.

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Indeed, Marvin Gaye was a bit unhappy with his function in the hit-making record label, and he decided to release this political song, which called for peace amidst incessant police brutality. The executives at Motown didn’t approve of What’s Going On‘s release, but Marvin got to smile last since the single climbed to #2 at the Billboard Hot 100!

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