A new track titled “How Many?” from the singer Miguel is just one of several instances of musicians who have weighed in on the recent killings of black men in America and the shooting of five policemen in Dallas.
Last week, Jay-Z released the song “Spiritual”; at her recent concert in Glasgow, Beyoncé projected on a massive screen the names of dozens of people of color who’ve been killed by U.S. police. But the singer also paid respect to the five police officers killed in Dallas on her Instagram account.
And last Friday, following the deaths in Dallas, the rappers Snoop Dogg and The Game led a march to LAPD headquarters to show unity among people of color and law enforcement.
For some of these artists, getting political is a new thing. Lorraine Ali, senior culture writer for the L.A. Times, joined The Frame to discuss the trend.
Miguel's latest song "How Many?" centers around the line, "How many heartbeats turning to flat lines." Is this song a departure for him, topically?
He's been pretty apolitical. If you consider one of his hits before this, it was called "How Many Drinks?" — and it was literally about, How many drinks can I get this girl to drink before she'll go home with me from the club? This would be quite a departure from what he's done before. But it's also in keeping with what's going on in music right now, because a lot of the artists who are addressing this moment we're having right now — the Black Lives Matter moment — really have been pretty apolitical.
Along the same lines, there's the artist Drake. He didn't write a song, but he did post a note on his Instagram account about the police shooting of Alton Sterling that said, "This is real and I'm concerned. Concerned for the safety of my family, my friends and any human being that could fall victim to this pattern."
Even if people aren't creating songs, does it feel like there's a groundswell of people who have been apolitical who are starting to join the conversation?
Definitely. There's some sort of groundswell that's happening now. It's taken a while and it's interesting in the case of rap, because rap came initially from a place of telling you what was happening on the street before anyone else knew it. Now, it is essentially pop music.
I want to talk about a power couple, Jay-Z and Beyoncé. She has posted a letter on her website that says, "We are sick and tired of the killings of young men and women in our communities." She also has specifically addressed the killing of the five police officers in Dallas on her Instagram account. At the same time, Jay-Z has put together a playlist called "Songs for Survival." What are Jay-Z and Beyoncé hoping to add to the conversation?
Particularly with Beyoncé right now, there's a new artist emerging in her who has a lot of anger. Her album "Lemonade" — there are songs on there that are addressing being black in America. Jay-Z has done this in the past. In the beginning of his career, when he came out of what may have been labeled gangster rap, he was talking about what it was like to be a black man on the streets. He's kind of coming back around to that. I think they feel a collective responsibility at this point, being the essential royal couple of music, being two of the top artists in the U.S. Also, they have a little girl now. They've both said, I don't want to bring my child up in this kind of world that I came up in and am seeing around me. I'm concerned for her safety. I think that's also given them a new sense of urgency.
The other advantage that musicians have is that they can record a song in a couple hours and put it up on some streaming site and it's there immediately.
That's what's interesting. You would think that because music can weigh in so much faster than film or TV can do, you would think there would be more of that out there, and there isn't. Some of these songs you're hearing now, [like] Jay-Z's "Spiritual" — he wrote that last year, or even before that. Usher and Nas — that song ["Chains"] is almost a year old. It's taken a while for them to put those up. So you would think that you'd be hearing a lot more of this.
It sounds a little bit like you feel a frustration that these people have this great platform that they haven't really taken advantage of until now.
I do. I think it's been really frustrating actually to watch what's been going on in the world and to not hear pop, hip-hop and rock really weigh in on it in any meaningful sort of way. There have been outliers here and there, but it's this amazing platform that can weigh in quickly. I'm happy it's happening now. I'm happy we see signs of it. But it's taken a long, long time.