The death of John Lewis in July was cause to reflect on the parallels between the movement for racial justice he helped lead in the 1960s and the one going on right now. Lewis himself encouraged people to do so in a farewell essay published on the day of his funeral in the New York Times. In that spirit, one of hip-hop's young stars performing a faithful rendition of one of the iconic songs of the Civil Rights movement during the Black Lives Matter era is a way of bridging the activism of the 20th century to 2020.
"What's Going On," the title track of Marvin Gaye's 1971 opus, is lyrically as relevant now as it was at the height of the Vietnam War. Watching Olu, one half of EARTHGANG, break into his best Motown falsetto in 2020 to deliver lines like, "Brother, brother, brother / There's too many of us dying" and, "Don't punish me with brutality" is a reminder that this moment is part of long lineage of Black protest in America, one that stretches back well before Marvin Gaye. Olu's bedroom cover also captures the quieter side of a civil rights struggle constrained by a pandemic, in which the coronavirus has forced many to participate in the movement while stuck in their homes.