On her new song “The Community of Hope,” PJ Harvey dared to critique poverty and social inequality in DC. And as they do whenever an outsider writes something about their city, Washingtonians did not take to this kindly, with reactions to the track ranging from formal complaints over facts to more incisive remarks about Harvey’s songwriting abilities. Though Harvey’s status as an outsider chronicling her fleeting observations obviously fueled some of the backlash, it seems DC has forgotten how time-honored of a tradition it is to create art about the city’s wealth-gap issues. As proof, here are six of the many songs about the District’s socioeconomic trends.
Wale: “DC or Nothing”
On this track from his second album, Ambition, Wale remembers when DC was blacker, likening the city’s growing white population to the cocaine that Rayful Edmond—one of DC’s biggest drug dealers in the late ’80s—brought into the same neighborhoods. “Kick him out of the city/ Force them whites who can pay up,” he sings. But Wale also vows to never let racial circumstances get between him and his beloved DC—”I can’t stay away/ Not never/ You’re my home.”
Political immorality and the evils of capitalism are two topics frequently featured in Fugazi’s music, but the band’s most explicit song about this topic may be this slow-burning cut from their 2001 record The Argument, which begins with the lyrics “On the morning of the first eviction/ They carried out the wishes of the landlord and his son.”
Jack on Fire: “Condos II: Douchebag Storage Locker”
This 40 second track from local synth punk outfit Jack on Fire (a band that features Washingtonian contributor Heather Rudow) is an epic takedown of the willfully ignorant gentrifier. The most searing line? “Say hi to the concierge as I go/ Only black person whose name I know.” Ouch.
Tarica June: “But Anyway”
On the recently-released “But Anyway” (no, not the Blues Traveler song), rising hip-hop artist and DC local Tarica June waxes poetic over a Spandau Ballet sample about what life was like before gentrification, when it was “all black on the Green Line.” But, despite her frustration, a hopeful mindset remains. “You’re getting money/While I’m getting peace of mind that you can’t take from me,” she raps.
Priests: “Right Wing”
While Priests’ vitriolic “Right Wing” isn’t as aggressive as Fugazi’s “Cashout,” it does decry the rise of the consumer culture that’s contributed to the city’s wealth gap. “Everything everything/ So right wing/ Purse searches, pep rallies/ Purse searches, SUVs,” Katie Alice Greer sings.
Beauty Pill: “When Cornered”
The message at the heart of “When Cornered”—a cut from Beauty Pill’s 2015 comeback record Beauty Pill Describes Things As They Are—is cloaked in Chad Clark’s obtuse lyrics. But if you look closely, you’ll see that he’s singing about how lusting after money and power also involves shrugging at the struggles of those who are less fortunate than you. “We like coronation with our famine,” he sings, presaging Harvey’s own line from “The Community of Hope”: “This is just drug town/ Just zombies/ But that’s just life.”