Martin Luther King Jr. Samples on Justin Bieber's New Album Spark Controversy

Justin Bieber released his latest album Justice on Friday, and fans are a little confused by his use of Martin Luther King Jr. samples at various points on the album.

King is featured twice on the album. His first appearance is right at the album opening "2 Much," in which Bieber includes a snippet of his "Letter From a Birmingham Jail," where King says, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Later in the album, the track "MLK Interlude" features audio of King's "But If Not" sermon delivered at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta in 1967, according to Democracy Now.

“Justice is indivisible. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” pic.twitter.com/amiSwthni4

— Be A King (@BerniceKing) May 19, 2020

Justice features a steady mix of features from both well-established and up-and-coming artists from across the music industry. For some of the more famous collaborators, Bieber tapped Khalid and Chance the Rapper to feature on the tracks "As I Am" and "Holy," respectively. As for fresh faces, the Grammy-winning singer also worked with The Kid LAROI, who made a big impact with his viral hit "WITHOUT YOU" on TikTok, on the song "Unstable." None of these collaborations are particularly surprising coming from Bieber, but the samples of the civil rights leader have made an impact.

Bieber spoke about his decision to include the parts of King's speeches with Vogue, explaining that, growing up Canadian, the civil rights icon wasn't "part of [his] culture," and that he wanted to help share his message.

"What I wanted to do with this was amplify [Dr] Martin Luther King Jr's voice to this generation," Bieber told Vogue, implying that Justice was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement. "[T]his speech was actually during the time when [he had] a feeling that he was going to die for the cause, and what he was standing up against was ultimately racism and division. I think his message was that a lot of people can be afraid to stand up for what is right, but if you're not standing up for justice—for what is right—what are you doing with your life? I'm sorry to get so deep, but these are the times we're living in. That's why I wanted to make this album because I think it's very timely and very necessary."

Despite appearing well-intentioned, the tracks that the samples preface are both seemingly love songs. "Two seconds without you's like two months/Don't wanna close my eyes, I'm scared I'll miss too much/Don't wanna fall asleep, I'd rather fall in love," Bieber sings on "2 Much." The song that follows the interlude, "Die for You," is a passionate anthem, where the pop star says that he would do exactly what the title says, "even if your kiss could kill me."

The samples drew mixed reactions on Twitter. Some fans praised Bieber for trying to be socially conscious and sharing King's messages. At least one user joked about it being a "collab" and another pointed out that King was the first civil rights leader to have a writing credit on a Bieber album.

Justin Bieber really had a Martin Luther King interlude on his Justice album, like wow! Such a powerful message, you gotta Stan! #JB6 #JusticeTheAlbum

— Gulbhar K (@AmazingGulbhar) March 19, 2021

don’t mind me, just listening to this Justin Bieber X Martin Luther King Jr. collab

— ryan (@ryanpascal_) March 19, 2021

fun fact: dr. martin luther king jr. now becomes the first civil rights leader in HISTORY to have a writer’s credit on a Justin Bieber album. think about that https://t.co/gGGGRNsqse

— hyperpop pelen 📀 (@pelensucks) March 19, 2021

Other people criticized the record, noting that despite being titled Justice, the album didn't really appear to have much to do with justice. Others simply felt that it was cringe-worthy. One person joked about using the speech in between love songs. "So Justin Bieber listened to speech by Martin Luther King about dying for the civil rights movement and a greater cause and said 'oh, so it's like how I feel about Hailey,'" the tweet said.

Justin Bieber released an album today called “Justice” that samples Martin Luther King Jr speeches and the album says nothing about social justice...

— 🎬 Jeremiah Warren 📷 He/Him (@jeremiahjw) March 19, 2021

there is not a single song on the album where any kind of Justice is discussed. let alone any talk of racism, something Justin Bieber has infamously perpetuated. there is ofc some black artists featured to give Justin the black sound he’s chasing again now that it’s marketable.

— Gabe (@gabeAlfassy) March 19, 2021

So Justin Bieber listened to speech by Martin Luther King about dying for the civil rights movement and a greater cause and said “oh, so it’s like how I feel about Hailey”

— Rey 🌻 Normani Is Coming (@incognegroux) March 19, 2021

couldn't work out why Bieber stuck a Martin Luther King Jr speech in the middle of even yet more love songs to his wifehttps://t.co/WPNeZzIZme

— David Smyth (@davidrsmyth) March 19, 2021

Ultimately though, the main reaction to the inclusion seemed to be confusion.

On this New Music Friday, I woke up to find that The Jacksons just released a Martin Luther King remix of “Can You Feel It” and Justin Bieber has an MLK interlude on his new album… pic.twitter.com/DQJ4QgXB7T

— Glenda Johnson (@yoGLENDA) March 19, 2021

Also an interlude with MLK talking about finding something to die for right before a terrible song about dying for his wife. Do I have a fever?

— Cream City Casey (@moderndaybc) March 19, 2021

Why is Justin Bieber sampling Martin Luther king???? pic.twitter.com/jgq8tqqxAO

— mariah’s holly jolly son (@Hajcarey) March 19, 2021

Newsweek reached out to the King Center for comment.

Justin Bieber
Justin Bieber performs onstage for the 2020 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on November 22, 2020 in Los Angeles. Bieber released "Justice" on Friday, and fans are a little confused by his use of Martin Luther King Jr. samples on the album. Kevin Winter/AMA2020/Getty Images