I Hope One Day We’ll Fly: Raury and Protest Music
In a conversation with Bobby Seale, the Co-Founder of the Black Panther Party, D’Angelo said,
“Ain’t nobody talking about nothing. Everybody talking about how many drugs you sold, how many bottles of champagne they’re poppin’ at the club. Ain’t nobody talkin’ bout no real shit. I know for a fact that the music back then in that day fed the movement. We as artists, I really feel like we have a responsibility” (Williams, The Huffington Post).
D’Angelo’s call for artists to use music as a mode of rebellion not only to sonically resist the onslaught of violence Black people endure on a regular basis, but also to advocate, to borrow from Professor Shana Redmond, for “revolution and future visions that disrupt and challenge the manufactured differences used to dismiss, detail, and destroy communities” (Redmond, Anthem 1). While D’Angelo recalls a time in which it was cool to be conscious, a time when Public Enemy invaded the airways and young people proudly and publicly shouted “fight the power” or “911 is a joke in yo town,” donned Malcolm X hats and t-shirts, he blasts music’s “gatekeepers, [who] are not allowing that stuff to filter through to the mainstream” today (Hyman, The New York Times). In our current climate where Black women, men, and children are gunned down for merely existing and Black youth activism is at an all time high with the Black Lives Matter social movement—what is the responsibility of music artists? While there is nothing wrong with using music to explore pleasure and find love in the club as Usher says, where are the anthems that also find pleasure in social and political resistance by communities of color?
After reading the conversation between D’Angelo and Bobby Seale, I meditated on the artists I love, who use their music and their platform to speak truth to power and influence the lives of their listeners. While major artists such as Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys, Kendrick Lamar, J.Cole, and Killer Mike have received mainstream attention for their proclamations of Black self-love and denunciations of racism, police brutality, and thwarted economic mobility in communities of color, younger artists such as Raury often go unrecognized for their political messages.
Raury hails from Stone Mountain, Georgia and his music greatly veers from the ready for the club tracks that dominate the exciting Atlanta music scene with the likes of Rich Homie Quan, Young Thug, and Migos at its forefront. Recently named one of XXL magazine’s top new and upcoming musicians to watch, Raury is a young man on a mission. The 19-year-old raps with a similar vulnerability, openness, and youthful angst that made one of his idols, Kid Cudi shoot up the Billboard charts and become a household name with his song “Day ‘N’ Nite.” Sonically, Raury floats between folksy vocals reminiscent of Bon Iver and witty rhymes packed with R&B, Rock, and Soul influences like his fellow rapper and ATLien, Andre 3000.
While Raury’s free mixtape Indigo Child (2014) made headlines for its odes to teenage rebellion, believing in oneself, and following ones’ dream at all cost, his song “Fly” has flown somewhat under the radar. On January 14th 2015, Raury released “Fly,” which features poetry by Malik Shakur, who is the nephew of Black Panther Assata Shakur. The song was recorded in response to two incidents; the assault on Black freedom after Darren Wilson was not indicted for the murder of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and the United States campaign to extradite Assata Shakur from Cuba to serve a prison sentence for the murder of a New Jersey state trooper in the 1970’s, despite her claims of innocence.
After the release of the song Raury tweeted, “I know it’s a new year but we can’t forget what happened and that they have been Killing our people, your people, my people.” Indeed, “Fly” makes it impossible to forget those slain at the hands of the police or white vigilantes by highlighting the fact that Black people are murdered for; playing with a toy gun in an empty playground (Tamir Rice), walking with an Arizona Iced Tea and a bag of Skittles (Trayvon Martin), sleeping on a couch during a police raid (Aiyana Stanley-Jones), and potentially selling cigarettes outside (Eric Garner). Therefore, Raury invites listeners inside the mind of a young Black man, who lives in fear that he, too, will be gunned down at any minute. With just the chords of the guitar, Raury hauntingly sings,
“I’m afraid I’ll die. And you can look at me and never wonder why. Because I’m brown and young, and my hair it is nappy. And if I spend a day outside, just doing normal things inside my hometown, and be the wrong place wrong time, I could be dying…And in the rising sun, hope you remember me with positivity. Cause there’s a target on my back. Time’s only wasting.”
Essentially, Raury asks his listeners what is the value of Black life? Furthermore, he asks where is it safe to be young and Black in America if he can get murdered just by walking down the street in his hometown? Raury calls attention to his brown skin, young age, and “nappy” hair to highlight the ways in which racism is grounded in trivial differences amongst human beings, such as skin color and hair texture. More importantly, Raury reminds us that while race is a social invention, racism is indeed real as his Blackness makes him a walking target for police brutality or senseless gun violence within his own community.
The first time I heard this song, it gave me the chills. Raury manages to highlight the fear many Black citizens live with, while condemning the ways in which racism robs a lot people of their compassion to value another life. In a series of tweets, Raury states “Fly” is a “reset button on the revolution to inspire hope for the future and the growth of black excellence.” At the young age of 19, Raury understands not only the healing power of music, but also his ability to help contribute to the pulse of social movements. Although Raury uses music as one of his methods to critique injustice, most people may not recognize his music as such because, while he has received critical acclaim, he has not achieved mainstream success just yet. Thus, Raury’s “Fly” is a beautiful answer to D’Angelo’s call for artists to make protest songs. While more artists should use their music to reflect what’s happening today in society, some of the music is already there, and we, as the consumers, just have to support it.
As Raury sings, “until we fly above the things that make humanity divide,” the fight for justice continues. No one should have to live in a country in which they feel Black lives are quite literally disposable.
Side note: While I chose to focus on Raury for this particular post, below are a few of my favorite songs that should go on everyone’s protest anthems playlist.
Hyman, Dan. “D’Angelo and Bobby Seale on the Past and Future of Political Protest.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 19 June 2015. Web. 22 June 2015.
Redmond, Shana L. Anthem: Social Movements and the Sound of Solidarity in the African Diaspora. New York: NYU Press, 2013.
Williams, Brennan. “D’Angelo And Black Panther Co-Founder Bobby Seale Discuss Racial Politics And Protest Music.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 23 June 2015. Web. 23 June 2015.
Kyera Singleton is a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of American Culture at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, where she writes about black women and incarceration in the 19th century. She holds a B.A. in American Studies and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies from Macalester College. Kyera is also the co-host of the popular podcast, The BackBeat.