When figures from the music world, particularly hip-hop, started speaking up after police officer shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown this summer in Ferguson, Missouri, some of the biggest names were conspicuous by their silence. More recently, juries have decided not to indict the police officers involved in Brown’s death and the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, and music’s own One Percent is beginning to have its say. Now Kanye West has acknowledged the issue, tweeting overnight, “600,000 people rallied for justice on Dec. 13th #blacklivesmatter.”
600,000 people rallied for justice on Dec. 13th #blacklivesmatter
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) December 16, 2014
Clearly, that brief message doesn’t go very far, and the source of that 600,000 number isn’t clear. But West’s tweet comes after Jay Z took part in putting “I Can’t Breathe” T-shirts on players for the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, as The New York Times has reported. When J. Cole, whose Born Sinner actually outsold West’s Yeezus in 2013, appeared on Late Show with David Letterman last week, he performed not a song from his new album, 2014 Forest Hills Drive, but his post-Ferguson loosie “Be Free,” adding a powerful new verse.
Prior to West breaking his silence, singer/pianist John Legend emerged as a surprisingly political voice, joining with outspoken civil-rights champion Common on the new film Selma‘s heart-tugging “Glory” but commenting publicly on Brown’s death as long ago as August. Earlier this month, Wu-Tang Clan wove protest footage into their “A Better Tomorrow” video. And the Roots bandleader Questlove, who recently called for more protest songs, this weekend helped premiere D’Angelo‘s long-delayed Black Messiah, billed as a record “about people rising up in Ferguson and in Egypt and in Occupy Wall Street and in in every place where a community has had enough and decided to make change happen.”
Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def, shared some cryptic thoughts on the upheaval earlier in December. Others responding to the Ferguson situation, musically or in public comments, have included Stevie Wonder, Lauryn Hill, Tink and Timbaland, Solange and Adia Victoria, Cat Power, Tom Morello, the Game, 50 Cent, Talib Kweli, T.I., Frank Ocean, Wiz Khalifa and Jeezy, Big Boi, Cee Lo Green, Q-Tip, Jean Grae, Janelle Monáe and, of course, the Run the Jewels duo of Killer Mike and El-P.
Read Victor “Kool A.D.” Vazquez’s WS essay on police brutality in America, revisit Killer Mike’s moving speech in St. Louis after the decision not to indict in Brown’s case and look back on how Mike’s response to Brown’s death shows the way rap is still misunderstood.