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Apple Music celebrates Juneteenth with 'Freedom Songs'

ADRIAN FLORIDO, HOST:

And finally today, because it is Juneteenth, the holiday that commemorates the ending of slavery in the U.S., we wanted to end the program with some Black musicians who've come together to mark the holidays.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THIS IS WHAT WE DO (JUNE 19TH)")

BUN B: (Rapping) Juneteenth, baby, and I don't see why we can't celebrate it like the Black 4th of July. Get with my people and jam some songs. Play me some Spades while I slam some bones (ph) 'cause if they turned like us, they wrong. Man, it's Juneteenth in Texas. We getting it on. Come on.

FLORIDO: That was hip-hop icon Bun B and Jack Freeman with "This Is What We Do." They are two of the artists collaborating for Apple Music's second annual Juneteenth playlist called Juneteenth Freedom Songs. It features both original songs and covers from prominent and upcoming artists. To guide us through some of it, we're joined by Ebro Darden. He's the head of hip-hop and R&B at Apple Music and the co-host of Hot 97's "Ebro In The Morning." Ebro Darden, welcome.

EBRO DARDEN: Hey. How are you today? Thanks for having me.

FLORIDO: Thanks for joining us. First, why a Juneteenth playlist? What did you want to accomplish here?

DARDEN: You know, we're a music service. And Apple Music, you know, obviously, music is what we do. We get it to the people. Black music has been the foundation of how Black people have communicated with one another, shared our stories, shared our traditions and, you know, having music annually to share stories of, you know, how you feel about Juneteenth today. We also want to, with this annual playlist, remind people that Black music is not just hip-hop and R&B. Black music is the founding sounds of what you know as popular music and what all people know as popular music today.

FLORIDO: Is there a song that you think captures that particularly well?

DARDEN: I would say Alex Isley's song. I really, really love that record.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE ARE ONE")

ALEX ISLEY: (Singing) We are one. Don't matter what we do, we are one. Our love will see us through. We are one.

FLORIDO: The song you're talking about is "We Are One."

DARDEN: Yes.

FLORIDO: It's a cover of Maze and Frankie Beverly's "We Are One."

ISLEY: That's right. You know, that song, I think, you know, talking about unity and talking about coming together, I think that is something that Black families all over the world - that's something that we always try to do, is find ways to bring our families together.

FLORIDO: I want to play a snippet of another song from the playlist called "UMI Says" by 6LACK. It's a cover of the Mos Def classic of the same name.

DARDEN: Yeah. He did a great job.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UMI SAYS")

6LACK: (Singing) My Umi said shine your light on the world. Shine your light for the world to see. I want black people to be free, to be free, to be free. I want black people to be free, to be free, to be free.

FLORIDO: Why did you think it was important to have newer artists interpreting some of these classic songs about Black freedom?

DARDEN: To - you know, being completely transparent, this was their idea. We reach out to artists and say, we would like you to be involved. And then what they try to do and what we leave open is what they want to express.

FLORIDO: You've got a lot of genres represented on the playlist - rap, R&B, gospel, reggae. There's also just instrumental tracks. I want to play a song from Puerto Rican rapper Eladio Carrion. It's called "El Sol Va A Salir."

DARDEN: I love that record - love this record.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL SOL VA A SALIR")

ELADIO CARRION: (Rapping in Spanish).

FLORIDO: A Spanish rap song honoring emancipation in the United States.

DARDEN: Absolutely. Eladio Carrion, I think, while being Puerto Rican culturally, you know, you can still be Black, whether that be Black Dominican, Black Puerto Rican, Black Panamanian. Black is not just an American cultural existence. It can be a part of many cultures, and it is.

FLORIDO: You know, I have to ask, you know, because you work for Apple, there are these holidays that have always been important for certain communities - right? - Dia de los Muertos for Latino Americans, Juneteenth for Black Americans - which, as they gain and prominence also start to gain the attention of big corporations like Disney, like Apple. And there's been some criticism that these companies sort of swoop in and start to co-opt these holidays, commercialize them. And I wonder if this is something that was on your mind as you put this playlist together - you know, how to do it in a way that was respectful and didn't risk doing that.

DARDEN: Yeah. I think music and celebrating artists who are Black and making music and putting that into the holiday, I think that will be received well. I think the corporatization of a holiday like Juneteenth, when companies decide they want to make Juneteenth ice creams and just monetize without actually exalting the creators and the business owners who are Black, I think that's when corporations missed the mark.

FLORIDO: How do you hope people might use this playlist on this Juneteenth holiday?

DARDEN: I hope they use it to just enjoy life. And I think - and I hope they use the music, past, present, new artists, the legends and icons - I just hope they use it to remember, despite everything that's happened to us as Black folks and all of the trauma and the intent to harm us and erase us, we're still here. And we're still progressing, and we still have love, and we still shine light, and we still show love.

FLORIDO: That was Ebro Darden. He is Apple Music's global editorial head of hip-hop and R&B. Ebro Darden, thank you.

DARDEN: Thank you for having me today.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE ARE ONE")

ISLEY: (Singing) We are one. From the very start, we are one. Deep down in your heart, we are one. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.