Aja Brown is the youngest mayor to lead the city of Compton, California. And after more than seven years of service, she announced last month that she will not run for reelection.
“I recognize that you can push from the bottom up, or you can push from the top down for change,” she said in a 2020 chat with Fox 11.
As we mark the end of Black History Month and Brown’s last year in office, this week’s Playlist is a celebration of her efforts through revolutionary song. As she shared with ESSENCE via email, “The Black community will continue to lead, love, and teach through our resilience the essence of defiant humanity.
“Black people will lead justice. Black people will lead culture. Black people will lead in business and ingenuity. Black people will create new rooms and build new boardrooms and tables, not just for ourselves, but for everyone—as we always have.”
Brown’s early predictions for how the Black community will affect change start with the Compton Pledge guaranteed income initiative. At least 25 U.S. cities are also involved with basic-income programs, and with Mayor Brown’s leadership, she can set a model for what reinvesting in communities can really look like.
With music tied directly to the sound of revolution in this country, influences such as Marvin Gaye, Lauryn Hill, and Steely Dan have instilled a love of variety in the former urban planner’s life and helped add calm where chaos poses a threat. “I’m enjoying this piece of this moment and meditating on good things in my spirit,” she tells us.
In light of that vibe, press play on these transcendent tracks meant to create a common language.
1. Anderson .Paak — “Lockdown”
In a time where outright lies are flying around and people are paying the price, artists like Anderson .Paak and others are using melodies to speak truth to power. For Mayor Aja Brown’s first pick, “Lockdown,” she says, “This song speaks to the ability for music to reflect struggle and liberation at the same time.” If you are compiling your own rabble-rousing playlist, be sure to include this one and play with the volume way past 10.
2. J.I.D — “Skegee”
Following the direction of the youngest mayor in Compton’s history, my first pick is “Skegee” by the homies, J.I.D and Christo. The Dreamville rapper touches on the horrifying Tuskegee Experiments that the American government conducted for 40 years. In the past, those Black men were told lies, but the Atlanta rap phenom ensures history is passed along with the truth in this track. The song hints at more to come from an artist who is extremely gifted at speaking to the past and present.
3. Kendrick Lamar — “Alright”
“Alright,” a genre-redefining song, not only placed the plight of oppressed people in America under the world’s view, it also became a rallying cry for those suffering similarly in their own homelands.
“While we each are unique as our fingerprints themselves, every other human being is dynamic and complex,” Mayor Brown writes, citing as an underlining note in Compton Kenny’s unifying soundtrack. It goes without saying that this song still speaks to the ill times Black America is fighting through, but is a must-play at any revolutionary party.
4. Pell — “N95” (ft. Kr3wcial & Dominic Scott)
If you turn on the news it sounds like it’s about T-minus 30 to Doomsday, right? For Pell, a New Orleans-bred rapper with a trip-pop flow, “N95” is but a small piece of a larger effort to capture the resiliency of his city and community. His new album, GLBL WRMNG, presents Pell as more than just a rhymer, as he also rolls out initiatives around recycling and gardening to give back to the block throughout the year. Show your love for a young G making green in a positive way by adding this song to your collection.
5. Arrested Development — “People Everyday”
Formed in Atlanta, Arrested Development spoke to a time where the Black community was in a special relationship with alternative hip-hop. What has happened since then is transformative with young MCs incorporating Black history into their beats, rhymes, and lives.
“Music transcends that complexity [of the struggle and revolution] to create a common language,” says Brow. “These songs remind me of that.” And much like great things in history, it is best when it has been shared and discovered by new minds. So, you know what to do with “People Everyday,” people.
6. Infinity Song — “When The Rain Starts”
The sibling band returns to The Playlist with another creative and imaginative track that offers a sense of true freedom. “When The Rain Starts,” a follow-up to “Everything Is Gonna Be Alright,” is a nurturing combination of soul and surreality that evokes a few emotions when seen through a Black lens. In addition to the song, Infinity Song is partnering with the United Negro College Fund for the annual “A Mind Is…” gala in New York City on March 4. You can give the gift of a college degree for Black History Month here.
7. Mansur Brown — “Mansur Brown”
If there is a chance for Mayor Brown to go from being a “friend in my head” to a fellow playlist friend and enthusiast, then this song would be our Step Brothers moment. “Back South,” a rebellious release by Mansur Brown (no relation), goes against the jazz fusion grain with a head nod-inducing vibe that would make Madlib smile with ease. “I’ve been drawn to lyric-less music lately,” Brown shares. “I’m enjoying the peace of this [current] moment and my ‘Aja’s Chillest Vibes 2021’ soundtrack [laughs].”
8. Adrian Younge — “Revolutionize”
Unapologetically Black, bold, and beautiful are just a few notes to share about Adrian Younge’s new song. “Revolutionize” is the latest from The American Negro, his Jazz Is Dead-distributed album out Feb. 26. Amplifying the sound of the struggle, Younge, a personal fave composer and one-half of The Midnight Hour, rebels for the cause while showcasing the harmonies within the Black spirit. Truly revolutionize how you see your life by playing this soulful song.
9. Vibe Tribe — “Blue Lab Beats” (ft. Theo Croker)
Mayor Aja Brown’s last pick for this week’s edition of The Playlist is in alignment with her “lyric-less” grooves and worth adding to your own rotation. “Blue Lab Beats,” a melting pot of a melody that screams future sounds, is courtesy of Vibe Tribe. “Revolutionary sounds reflect the heartbeat of our people and our struggle,” Mayor Brown shares. “The beauty, the pain, love, frustration, resilience, and the power are all there, wrapped up therein.” This Jazztronica duo from London is just the audio bridge you need to recharge after a day of fighting for change.
10. Heno. — “Parallel Times” (ft. Kuya)
Following Mayor Brown’s mention of how the revolution going on outside reflects our own heartbeat, young Heno. is right on the money with his new song, “Parallel Timelines.” Representing a generation tired of police-sanctioned violence, the Takoma Park, Maryland, original encourages us all to believe that having control over your emotions is a meditation that can force the enemy who brutalizes us to surrender.
Catch new editions of ESSENCE’s The Playlist on Fridays and follow us @ESSENCE and @KevitoClark on socials to stay in tune with us online.
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