It’s one thing to write a song celebrating your community. It’s one thing to write a song that blasts the political and economic system that supresses your people; ignoring their problems and dismissing their voices. It’s an entirely different thing to do both at once. Yet, that’s what Raina Simone does – and does excellently – on her newest single; the rich and transcendent R&B-infused rap anthem ‘The System’; which is as much a manifesto (“And that’s just the plight of the system / When the hood raise the children”) as it is a celebration of community (the song ends with Simone listing various people – “Nae Nae”, “Ashy”, “Franky”… – and declaring “I’m riding for you”.
Like all of Simone’s music, ‘The System’ feels large; both in terms of it’s vision, but also in terms of who’s included in said vision. Much of the magic of Simone’s music is it’s infectious inclusivity; there’s an empathy and appreciation that shines through her song writing; even when condemning people’s actions (“I told my brother put down all that shit”), there’s a warmth, love and forgiving spirt that rises to the surface. When she declares “If you say that we riding, then damnit we riding” you feel and believe every word of it. In many ways, her music embodies the maxim of the late Michael Brooks: “Be ruthless with systems, be kind with people”
Disguised by the smooth R&B-hip-hop arrangements here, however, is darker political and socio-economic truths; particularly, the systematic, racialized oppression by “the system” (“I worked too hard in school / I can’t be on the news”, Simone says on one of the album’s most staggering moments). One of the best lines here, and one of the best lines of Simone’s career thus far, showcases the vital importance of representation: “I did it for the kids / Who just want to see a life they aspire to live / And in order to aspire, they need to see it exists”. Simone is never one to shy away from the political – on a freestyle that went viral on TikTok, Simone condemned “Ronald Reagan’s contraband” and added “Middle school jokes about Black kids being fatherless / Desensitizes us to the fact that they were taken by the government”; a moment that solidified Simone’s unparalleled ability to combine the political and the personal seamlessly.
In addition to being a rapper, Simone is an author, who penned ‘The Cost of Identity‘; an examination of the triple burden faced by Black, transgender women in American prisons. In Simone’s music, her deep political knowledge and understanding – that transcends the simplistic, surface-level observations so popular in the social media age – shines through and, in the process, makes her one of the most necessary rappers of this moment. On ‘The System’, Simone continues to deliver on her early promise and by the end of the songs 3 minutes and 8 seconds, she makes sure that, damnit, we’re riding with her too.