10 Of The Best Songs About Washington DC: The District Playlist

Written by Dan Farrant
Last updated

Washington, D.C., is the United States’ capital. As such, it is a physical representation of its unity. Formerly known as the District of Columbia, Washington represents the country, including the good and the bad.

There is a lot of joy behind the two letters “DC,” but there is also a lot of pain. These emotions can best be expressed through songs.

This is why we have compiled a list of 10 of the best songs about Washington, D.C. Let’s take a look at them below.

1. “Washington D.C.” By Gil Scott-Heron

Let’s start our list with a song with Washington, D.C. in the title. One of Gil Scott-Heron‘s albums, Moving Target, includes the captivating and well-known song “Washington D.C.”

The 70s and the 80s were Heron’s time as an influential poet and musician. In fact, many looked at him as the forefather of rap.

Scott-Heron lived in Washington, D.C., in the 70s and witnessed poverty and politics side by side, along with crime and the community. He wrote his observations, and that became this song. He saw that the place is “a mass of irony for all the world to see/It’s the nation’s capital, it’s Washington D.C.”

2. “Chocolate City” By Parliament

American funk band Parliament, under the leadership of George Clinton, is one of the most renowned bands of all time. It influenced a wide range of musical genres, including hip-hop. Their song “Chocolate City” is a great example of their influence.

This term that they popularized refers to cities in the United States with a Black resident majority. The song mentions all the “chocolate cities” in the United States.

According to the lyrics, “There’s a lot of chocolate cities around.” They include Newark, Gary, L.A., and Atlanta. “But you’re the capital, CC.” CC refers to Washington, D.C.

3. “DC City” By Roy Ayers

This song by living legend Roy Ayers is a call for unity. Not just for people living in Washington, D.C., but all over the world. “DC City” was released in 1983 from his album Drive.

The song “DC City” is ideal for this list because it embodies the unity of this city. It talks about “living together in harmony” and truly reveling in the city’s joy. The singer says it’s been his vision for people to live and share together in unity.

Not only that. The song also calls for unity throughout the world. That “we gotta come together” because “we need each other.” “DC City” is mentioned throughout the song.

4. “DC Or Nothing” By Wale

A more recent addition to this list is Wale, and he has a slew of songs about the District of Columbia. He was born in Washington, D.C., and saw everything the city had to offer. His single, “DC or Nothing,” is a visceral look at the city from his perspective.

Compared to the previous entries, this one takes a more modern look at the city. This song addresses various issues, including starvation, murder, disease, gentrification, and more. Wales isn’t afraid to let people know about sensitive issues such as AIDS and the questionable activities of politicians.

But it is not all doom and gloom. The song also focuses on navigating through it all and finding your way, just as Wale did. Take it from someone who has lived in the area.

5. “Washington DC Hospital Center Blues” By Skip James

Going back to the 60s, there was a singer named Skip James who was well-known for his dark, minor-key guitar playing. He was a great Mississippi bluesman who showcased a unique sound. And that was evident in his song, “Washington DC Hospital Center Blues.”

This song with Washington, D.C., in the lyrics, is about a lonely, poor, but a good man. He finds himself “in the hospital, now/In Washington DC.” The doctors and nurses understand his financial circumstances, so the hospital continues to care for him. They give him “plenty to eat,” “good treatment,” and “a place to sleep.”

But the lady he once met was different. When she discovers he is poor, she leaves him. This demonstrates that people have different reactions to his conundrum.

6. “Rock Creek Park” By The Blackbyrds

The American rhythm and blues group, the Blackbyrds, formed in Washington, D.C., in the 1970s. “Rock Creek Park” would be the song that cemented their legacy even though it was meant to be just goofing around.

Keith Killgo, the drummer, started singing “In Rock Creek Park” at the spur of the moment. And his bandmates joined in. This song was inspired by the park, where they spent a lot of time fishing or just hanging out together.

Some lines in the song were repetitive, such as, “Doing it in the park/Doing it after dark, oh yeah/In Rock Creek Park.” When asked what they do in the park, Killgo says they’re just having fun.

7. “Still Doing It” By Oddisee

Speaking of sampling “Rock Creek Park,” rapper Oddisee is among those named to do so. His album, Rock Creek Park, was inspired by Washington, D.C., and The Blackbyrds. “Still Doing It” samples “Rock Creek Park” and adds a new take on the melody entirely.

Listen to the song and find out about the everyday lifestyle in Washington, D.C., specifically Rock Creek Park. This laid-back song is about riding a bike while listening to music and enjoying the cool summer breeze.

The reference to The Blackbyrds’ “Rock Creek Park” is in the line, “Oh yeah, we’re still doin’ it in Rock Creek Park.” Even if you did not grow up in Washington, this nostalgic song brings back memories.

8. “Embassy Row” By Pavement

This 1997 single from Pavement‘s album Brighten the Corners has a clear connection to DC. Embassy Row is a place in Washington where a lot of embassies and diplomatic residences can be found. “Embassy Row” focuses on politics and its placement in Washington, D.C.

This song starts with a somber, melancholy tone but quickly shifts to the typical rock sound. It discusses the political schemes, corruption, and diplomatic mess that existed at the time.

In the chorus, it says, “In a netherworld of foreign feeds.” This method of politics is even described as hell.

9. “The Bourgeois Blues” By Lead Belly

The folk and blues singer Lead Belly offers an older perspective of the city in “The Bourgeois Blues.” This powerful song that mentions Washington, D.C. in a bad light is about a time in the city when he faced racial discrimination.

Lead Belly uses the talking interludes spliced throughout the song as a way to address the black listeners. He complains that everywhere he and his wife go, they see proof of the place being a “bourgeois town.”

At the end of this song, Lead Belly urges black people never to look for a home in Washington, D.C., the city meant for the bourgeois.

10. “DC Is Tropical” By Lionize

Let’s end this list with a fan favorite from Lionize, an experimental rock band that transcends genres. Their song “DC is Tropical” from the album Destruction Manual focuses on the abysmal weather of the city.

The song opens with the line, “D.C. is tropical, because the rain’s nonstop.” And with the downpour of rain, the weather also consisted of sweltering heat.

This is similar to living in the tropics, where “the forecast is good (oh no) temporarily.” Then it is back to the heat that Lionize describes as “too hot to move.”

Summing Up Our List Of Washington, D.C. Songs

Through the songs above, you can see how this city has evolved from being a bourgeois town. It became a “chocolate city,” then relegated to just another gentrified town. D.C. has truly undergone numerous transformations over the years.

This is not a comprehensive list by far, as there are many more written about the capital. But we hope that you’ve found the songs that remind you of Washington, D.C.

That’s it for our list of songs today. We hope you enjoyed reading and discovered some new tunes!

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Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.