Hell You Talmbout

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"Hell You Talmbout"
Wondaland Records - Hell You Talmbout.png
Single by Janelle Monáe and various artists
ReleasedAugust 13, 2015 (2015-08-13)
LabelWondaland Records
Janelle Monáe singles chronology
"Hell You Talmbout"
"Pressure Off"
Jidenna singles chronology
"Hell You Talmbout"
"Long Live the Chief"
Roman GianArthur singles chronology
"Classic Man"
"Hell You Talmbout'"
Deep Cotton singles chronology
"We're Far Enough from Heaven Now We Can Freak Out"
"Hell You Talmbout'"
George Floyd protest, 30 May 2020

"Hell You Talmbout" is a 2015 protest song by Janelle Monáe and the members of her Wondaland artist collective, including Deep Cotton, George 2.0, Jidenna, Roman GianArthur, and St. Beauty. The word "talmbout" in the title is a contraction of "talking about"; thus, the title asks "what the hell are you talking about?" The song lists the names of various African-American people who died as a result of encounters with law enforcement and/or racial violence, and implores listeners to say the names of the dead. Wondaland and Monáe subsequently released the instrumental track of the song, so that listeners could make their own versions.[1][2][3][4]

Names invoked[edit]


The song received favourable reviews, and many spoke positively about the message of the song. Fast Company described it as "simple yet unquestionably powerful", stating that it will force listeners to remember those who have been murdered.[5] Stereogum called it "less a song and more of a chant, with some gospel overtones", and emphasized that it is both "simple" and "effective".[6] USA Today declared it the 'song of the week', praising the song's "simple but stark approach" of only listing names rather than describing circumstances, and attributing this to a desire to avoid "arguments that can quickly turn divisive and bitter",[7] while National Public Radio called it "visceral" and "blistering".[8]

Malcolm Gladwell's audiobook Talking to Strangers, a reflection on the psychology surrounding the arrest and death of Sandra Bland, uses "Hell You Talmbout" as a theme song: "I was almost finished with my book when I first heard [Hell You Talmbout], and I thought, 'I cannot publish Talking to Strangers without it.'"[9]

Other versions[edit]

Monáe released a shorter alternate version of the song as a Target exclusive bonus track to her second studio album The Electric Lady.

Transgender rights advocate Vita Elizabeth Cleveland recorded an answer song, "Hell Y'all Ain't Talmbout", which focuses on the names of murdered African-American trans women.[10]

David Byrne and his band performed "Hell You Talmbout" as the final encore each night on his American Utopia Tour.[11][12] Byrne said, "This is one of the most moving political songs that I'd ever heard" and chose it because it "...ends the show on the vibe of, "This is where we are at in 2018.""[13] A version of it appears on the "American Utopia on Broadway" album, as well as the Spike Lee-directed film of the concert, during which, several family members of the deceased mentioned hold up photographs of them. During the applause, additional tributes are shown to those who have lost their lives since the song came out, prominently Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, as well as additional tributes to those not mentioned in the song "and many more".

The song is also official theme song for the audiobook Talking to Strangers written by Malcolm Gladwell along with Travis Wilkerson film Did You Wonder Who Fired the Gun?


  1. ^ Torres, Eric (13 August 2015). "Janelle Monáe and Wondaland Records Share Protest Song "Hell You Talmbout"". Pitchfork. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  2. ^ Anderson, Trevor (20 August 2015). "Hailee Steinfeld Finds 'Love' on Billboard + Twitter Top Tracks". Billboard. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  3. ^ Nordlinger, Jay (11 June 2014). "This is CNN, &c". National Review. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  4. ^ Leight, Elias (28 August 2015). "Janelle Monae Asks Listeners To Record Personal Versions Of "Hell You Talmbout"". The Fader. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  5. ^ Ifeanyi, KC (20 August 2015). "Janelle Monáe's Protest Song Is A Heart-Rending Roll Call Of Injustices". Fast Company. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  6. ^ Breihan, Tom (13 August 2015). "Janelle Monáe, Jidenna, St. Beauty, Deep Cotton & Roman GianArthur – "Hell You Talmbout"". Stereogum. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  7. ^ Mansfield, Brian (20 August 2015). "Song of the week: Monáe's 'Hell You Talmbout'". USA Today. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  8. ^ Presley, Katie (18 August 2015). "Janelle Monáe Releases Visceral Protest Song, 'Hell You Talmbout'". NPR. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  9. ^ Gladwell, Malcolm (2019). Talking to Strangers. New York: Little, Brown and Co. p. 3. ISBN 9780316478526.
  10. ^ Brydum, Sunnivie (25 August 2015). "WATCH: In Wake of Trans Murders, Janet Mock Teaches Us Why We Must #SayHerName". The Advocate. Retrieved 31 August 2015.
  11. ^ Sodomsky, Sam (2018-03-13). "David Byrne Shares New Video, Covers Janelle Monáe: Watch". Pitchfork. Chicago. Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  12. ^ Exposito, Suzy; Phull, Hardeep; Appleford, Syeve (2018-04-16). "Coachella 2018: The 18 Best Things We Saw at Weekend One". Rolling Stone. NYC. Retrieved 2018-10-08.
  13. ^ Schlanger, Talia (2018-08-29). "David Byrne Digs For Wonder". NPR World Cafe. Philadelphia. Retrieved 2018-10-08.

External links[edit]