“Preach” (and its music video) covers so many topics and areas of suffering for people in the United States right now, but some of the major themes that “Preach” highlights is school shootings/violence, police brutality against Black lives, and the separation of immigrant families.

In my first post, I covered the basic melodies and themes of the song and what inspired Legend to sing it, but this second listening post will be mostly derived from my (deeper) viewing of the music video for “Preach.” There is even more to unpack in the music video, and I find that those highlighted themes help me better understand the lineage of “Preach” in relation to other songs. You can view the music video below for reference:


The first of the two lineages I would like to highlight is the theme of violence and police brutality against Black lives. The lineage I have created for this is below (both of the lineages in this post are in reverse chronological order):

“Preach” (John Legend) → “Alright” (Kendrick Lamar) → “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” (Marvin Gaye)

While “Alright” features much more spoken word than singing in the music video, the song speaks for itself in the lyrics that Lamar sings; Lamar gives the audience a second or two to be able to feel confident and (somewhat) unafraid to live freely despite the weight of the chains that being Black can frequently cause in America.  In “Alright”, Lamar’s lyrics outline demands for his community that are not over-the-top. In fact, the Black community just wishes to be treated and given the same respect as any other community.  People should not be outraged or have issues with the Black community standing up for themselves and demanding fair treatment. If they do, then they are part of the racist problems that plague American society.


Although there are many other themes sung about in “Alright”, I find that the connection between “Alright” and Preach” in terms of police brutality and violence against Black lives is enlightening and informing.  Although Lamar knows that the current struggles of the Black community are crippling and seem hopeless at times, “Alright” appreciates the individuals in Lamar’s life who empower him to keep moving forward in the fight for justice. 

Before the time of both John Legend and Kendrick Lamar, however, another influential Black artist was also creating protest songs that specifically talked about violence against Black lives as well.  Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” brings the plight of being a Black person living inner-city and feeling neglected to light.  The song was recorded in March of 1971 and released in September of the same year; this timing is significant as it fell during the fallout of the civil rights movement. Marvin Gaye was the type of artist that did not necessarily consider himself a visionary, yet, he was able to describe the injustices he witnessed around him in a way that made people stop and listen. In “Inner City Blues,” Gaye calls out the racial violence, inequality, and instability that ran his life (and so many others’ lives) as a member of the Black community.


It is essential to note, as well, that Gaye’s release of the song came shortly after the Kent State shooting/massacre, which also makes this song share a deep connection to “Preach” through the shared theme of school shootings/violence. Marvin Gaye’s title “Make Me Wanna Holler” is exactly how so many people felt in 1971 and continue to feel now in 2021. It has been forty years since Gaye released this song, yet so many of the sentiments continue to ring relevant and true. This adds greatly to my understanding of “Preach” specifically in terms of historical context. My generation has become so desensitized to the brutal news and violence in America; this is not how it has always been or how it should be. Specifically, revisiting the lyrics of Gaye’s and Lamar’s songs, respectively, reminded me how the struggle for racial justice and equality has roots that extend far beyond my current (white) understanding.

For the second lineage, I would like to talk about “Preach” in religious terms.  There is no denying that the “Preach” song and music video both have significant religious references in them; in fact, John Legend himself grew up in a “very Christian household” and going to Church is what inspired him to start singing. For this second lineage, I will consider the following songs as I describe the essential role the Black church and its music plays in social justice movements:

“Preach” (John Legend) → “No Weapon” (Fred Hammond) → “Which Side Are You On?” (Pete Seeger)

This lineage added so much more to my understanding of “Preach” within the genre of each protest, Black, and religious songs.  “No Weapon” is a soulful chorus song that encourages listeners to use their voice, not violence, to stand up for what is right. Hammond reminds listeners that God will stand by them and that “He will do what he says he will do.” While this song itself gives a sense of peace and hope, it does not directly attack the horrors of our world like “Preach” does. I feel as if “Preach” could almost be a response to songs such as “No Weapon” in the sense that “Preach” calls listeners to take action instead of relying on thoughts or prayers.  Hammond, on the other hand, seems content to leave it all to the Lord, in a sense. I am not saying either way is better than the other, but it has definitely caused me to think more about Legend’s attitude and intention behind “Preach.”


The juxtaposition of the attitude behind “Preach” and “No Weapon” causes me to think that there are almost two ways that one can approach the social and racial issues occurring in our world right now. We can stand by and passively agree with the injustices, or we can take direct action and be on the side of history that changes the narrative.  Pete Seeger’s “Which Side Are You On?” came to my mind immediately when I posed these thoughts to myself. Although Seeger is not necessarily singing about the same topics as Legend is in “Preach”, the message is still the same: which side will you be on as history happens around you? It is clear that Legend wants to be on the side that does something to prevent history from repeating itself.


I know my thoughts seem somewhat all over the place for this second lineage, but I think there is just so much to unpack in “Preach” that there are dozens of ways each lineage could go.  This all adds to my appreciation of “Preach” as a protest song but also as a song that will make history.