New Music | Artists Grab The Mic To Speak Up
Photo: Greetsia Tent (Getty Images)
Sometimes great art can come from great tragedy. America is weeping after a tumultuous week in US race relations that included a pair of police shootings of two African-American men in Louisiana and Minnesota followed by a sniper attack in Dallas that killed five police officers. Angling politicians, sports figures, and social activists have taken to the media airwaves and their own social media networks to voice their opinion on what we should, would and could do. Now musicians are speaking up about the tragic violence in the only way they know how — by making socially-charged music that aspires to be powerful in protest and unifying in aspirations.
Jay-Z – “Spiritual”
Speaking up about race relations can cost you in the wallet which is why most public figures stay away from hot-button issues, but late Thursday, Jay-Z, who once rapped on Kayne’s “Diamonds From Sierra Leone,” I’m not a businessman/I’m a business, man,” dropped the mic on us. The admitted career capitalist released a chilling new song, “Spiritual,” in the wake of the police killings of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Released exclusively on his own streaming service, Tidal (of course), “Spiritual” is Hov at his most raw, evoking powerful statements that call to mind his earlier incarnation many albums ago as a hustler just trying to survive on the streets. Instead of the self-preservation he rapped about on Hard Knock Life, the Mr. Shawn Carter of today rightfully takes the mic as the elder statesman of hip-hop, husband to Beyonce (who herself published a stirring “call to action” on her website) and perhaps most importantly, father to his daughter Blue Ivy, which is we why he sounds so vulnerable with bars like “I am not poison, no I am not poison/Just a boy from the hood that got my hands in the air in despair don’t shoot/I just wanna do good, ah.”
In a note that accompanied the release of “Spiritual,” Jay Z said he wrote the song a while ago before the killing of Mike Brown galvanized the Black Lives Matter movement. “I’m hurt that I knew his death wouldn’t be the last,” he wrote. “I’m saddened and disappointed in THIS America… we should be further along. WE ARE NOT.”
Miguel – “How Many”
R&B crooner Miguel took a more somber approach to his new protest song, “How Many,” which he was inspired to do during a sleepless night in a London Hotel room while grappling with the senseless police shootings. The heartfelt demo, which he wrote and recorded overnight and then posted on his Soundcloud page, starts off like an inner monologue that sounds fed up with the world and himself, “How can I sleep/How can I rest/How can I dream/how can I stay silent… I’m tired of human lives turned into hashtags and prayer hands.” As the beat picks up, he opens up the conversation by calling out his audience, ‘Brother and sisters it’s time to wake up and do something.” Miguel indicated that this “ruff 1” version is an evolving conversation starter that he will “update every week” until its completion.
Chris Brown – “My Friend”
Times are indeed tough if Chris Brown is the “voice of reason,” but the bad boy balladeer joined the protest song chorus with a soothing new ditty, “My Friend” on his personal Soundcloud page. To be fair, Brown has been vocal on social media in the wake of the police shootings so it’s not like he’s jumping on a bandwagon to sell singles, “This song I released for free for anybody dealing with injustice or struggle in their lives,” he wrote in an Instagram post.