Inspired by the recent slayings of two black men, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, Thursday night Jay Z released a new song entitled Spiritual. On July 5, 2016, 37-year-old Alton Sterling was brutally killed by police and as CNN described, he was “shot several times while being held on the ground by police outside a Louisiana convenience store.” Not even 48 hours had passed when 32-year-old Philando Castile was also fatally shot by a police officer. The Washington Post described the brutality that took place on that fateful day.
“Philando Castile was shot multiple times and killed during a traffic stop. His girlfriend streamed his death live on Facebook while her young daughter sat terrified in the back seat.”
— bengarvin (@bengarvin) July 8, 2016
The powerful Black Lives Matter movement is a response to ongoing crimes committed by the police force. Police brutality is nothing new, and it is unfortunately all-too-common throughout black communities across America. Songs about police brutality can be found throughout many genres of music, like Bruce Springsteen’s American Skin (41 shots), or Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name Of. Hip hop is a genre that often reveals the current state of affairs among black communities. Hip hop pioneer Grand Master Flash released The Message in 1982, and delivered a powerful statement that so many unfortunate people can still relate to.
“Don’t push me ’cause I’m close to the edge/I’m trying not to lose my head/It’s like a jungle sometimes/It makes me wonder how I keep from goin’ under.”
In 1988, Hip hop legends N.W.A. (Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, MC Ren, DJ Yella, and The D.O.C.) rapped about police brutality in their song, F*** tha Police. In a 2015 interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube talked about police brutality 27 years after the release of that song.
From the 1991 album 2Pacalypse Now, Tupac Shakur spoke of police brutality in his song Trapped; “If one more cop harasses me/I just might go psycho.” In 1998, KRS-One released Sound of da Police and the lyrics are haunting in light of current times. “The overseer had the right to get ill/And if you fought back/The overseer had the right to kill.”
— Leemy (@Arleeemy) July 8, 2016
For decades hip hop artists have spoken out about police brutality through their music and interviews. For over twenty years, Jay Z has offered his fans intelligent and poetic lyrics that reflect the state of the nation. Jay Z’s 2001 song Renegade, from his album The Blueprint, exquisitely described the influence for his music.
“Say that I’m foolish I only talk about jewels (bling bling)
Do you fools listen to music or do you just skim through it?
See I’m influenced by the ghetto you ruined
That same dude you gave nothing, I made something doing
What I do through and through and
I give you the news, with a twist it’s just his ghetto point-of-view”
Now Jay Z offers a new song, Spiritual, to reflect the ongoing problem of police brutality. In the song he repeats the refrain, “Just a boy from the hood that/Got my hands in the air/In despair, don’t shoot.”
Spiritual was released shortly after Jay Z’s spouse, Beyoncé, released a moving statement on her website entitled, Freedom.
“We are sick and tired of the killings of young men and women in our communities. It is up to us to take a stand and demand that they stop killing us. We don’t need sympathy. We need everyone to respect our lives…”
Like Beyoncé, and copious amounts of other hip hop artists, Jay Z has continuously donated his time and money to improve communities worldwide. As Look to the Stars reported, Jay Z has supported 11 charities and 15 causes including Global Poverty Project, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Red Cross, and Keep a Child Alive. The influence that Jay Z has had on millions of people, both through his music and his charitable works, is insurmountable.
With Jay Z’s Spiritual, certainly, people are listening. But listening doesn’t solve the problem. But listening and speaking out does help spread awareness, and awareness is the beginning of any movement.
Violence is not the answer.
But this begs the question, what is the answer? We most hold policy makers, police departments, and government officials accountable for holding corrupt police officers responsible, and they must get them off of our streets. The pathway to accomplish this may be long and hard, but together as one, we have to keep pursuing the right answers. As communities come together, hand-in-hand, we all must mourn the victims of police brutality. We all must mourn the loss of innocent police officers, like with the recent shootings in Dallas, Texas.
— TIDAL (@TIDALHiFi) July 8, 2016
As we search for solutions we should remember the wisdom of Martin Luther King, Jr.
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”
Jay Z’s song Spiritual is available exclusively on Tidal.
[Photo via Ian Gavan and Yana Paskova/Getty Images]