The single word is all my brother could muster after watching the murder of Terence Crutcher. I watched him as he watched his phone. I saw as his entire demeanor changed after the short clip ended―the feelings of rage, disappointment and fear could be read on his face as if the words were written on his cheekbones. Just moments before watching the viral video we were laughing about his crazy customers at Verizon, and afterwards we both sat and pondered racism, mortality, being black in America, and the unshakable terror that remains after viewing another black man gunned down by the very officers who swore to protect and serve.
Watching black bodies drop lifelessly due to police brutality week after week and month after month is hard to watch time and time again. The pain, the ache, the grief hasn’t gotten any easier to deal with. The videos may look like the movies, and it may resemble video games, but there are no actors and there’s no extra life. We are watching actual lives being taken.
One minute we’re laughing at the crying Jordan meme, the next we’re actually crying because we just watched Eric Garner strangled to death. Social media can give you the laughter and lightness of a comedy club, but the public display of police brutality and social injustice has a way of piercing the soul with sorrow. Social media is a powerful tool for staying aware of what’s happening in the world but doesn’t make it any easier to watch. You didn’t have to live in Ferguson to feel empathy for Mike Brown, his family, and all the protesters who marched for him. Sadly, there’s no quick fix or overnight solution that will change what’s been occurring with police officers in America. There’s a small part of me that wants to turn away, close my eyes, and not continue to watch these murders unfold.
If you use social media, or if you have Wi-Fi, it’s almost impossible to avoid seeing what’s occurring around the world. King Mez understands that it’s heavy to watch, but he doesn’t turn away. In his latest interview with Blavity, the North Carolina wordsmith spoke on race, police brutality, and using art as a form of protest. Mez admits that there are times he has to force himself to watch, but he wants to feel the emotions that are left behind; he wants to channel that feeling in a creative direction. His statement reminds me of J. Cole’s “Be Free,” and how the song was created due to the raw emotions he felt after the murder of Mike Brown. He took all the pent up pain and turmoil and let out an honest cry for them to stop killing us. It wasn’t J. Cole at his most lyrical—he didn’t come across as if he was preaching—the man simply wanted to scream out what was yelling deep in his soul. The feeling resonated beyond the surface level, honest music is the kind that can touch your heart.
“I’m going to be honest with you. It’s hard for me to watch all the time. I definitely don’t like to see, but I honestly, in some instances, force myself to watch it. I want to feel those emotions. [It] will directly affect my art, directly affect the way I carry myself and the decisions I choose to make. What a lot of people don’t even realize is at this point all the decisions you make as a black man you’re not just making for you. You’re making them for everyone. You’re making them for the culture. As an artist, it’s not just about you anymore. It’s about everyone.”
North Carolina has received much attention since the fatal shooting of Keith Lamont in Charlotte in September. With so much happening in his home state, it only makes sense that Mez feels a responsibility to use his voice for something more than bragging and boasting. After appearing on Dr. Dre’s Compton album, his stock has risen tremendously. (Anderson .Paak is the perfect example of what can happen when the right window of opportunity opens: the world can be conquered.) King Mez understands the power of hip-hop, and how speaking on social issues is much bigger than himself. There’s magic in the music that can be cleansing in times of turmoil. Seeing Kendrick’s “Alright” being sung during protests and marches is proof of how that song has become so much bigger than To Pimp A Butterfly, and so much bigger than Kendrick.
“Hip-hop is the most influential culture in the world. Even pop music sounds like hip-hop. Hip-hop culture influences the whole world. All we have to do to be together, but people’s minds are on so many other things,” says Mez. “It’s so much bigger than me. It’s so much bigger than my career. I’m so passionate about this.”
Hip-hop isn’t new to politics, and music isn’t new to activism. This current renaissance of rap artists, singers, and musicians being vocal about their political views and thoughts on social injustice is strongly reminiscent of the '60s. The message that was expressed back then was anti-establishment, anti-war, and for protest. Over time musicians got away from conveying those messages, but we're slowly hearing more artists speaking out against police brutality, systematic racism, and other issues that connect with our times. Hip-hop is especially vocal, and it's getting louder as new voices join in harmony.
Mez’s comments remind me of why it’s necessary to watch the videos, read the articles, and stay aware of what’s happening in the world. The emotions that we feel are heavy, but they can be focused and channeled into art that can help to heal the scars that we are left with. It’s no longer about asking why is this happening, but finding out what you can do in the midst of tragedy.
“As an artist, I feel like I’m excited to do the things I can do with this art to make things better. But I’m really disappointed in anybody who ain’t using everything they have to make this sh*t better,” he notes. “I’m disappointed in the artists who won’t use their voice.”
The artist has a role in the world; King Mez knows what he’s meant to do. I’m excited to see how his art will reflect the powerful words said in his interview.
By Yoh, aka King Yoh aka @Yoh31.
Photo Credit: Instagram