As a child of the ’80s, the majority of the rap music I grew up on always carried with it a greater meaning as a takeaway. A few weeks ago, I mentioned how the violent scenes often heard in gangsta rap still carried themes that artists wanted to share with the world at-large. It all goes back to the often-cited quote calling rap CNN for ghetto dwellers.
We also recently started to broach the topic of who speaks for Black folks when a tragedy happens. It was also during that late ’80s/early ’90s artists did certain rappers and groups did start to reach that level of recognition previously held by the likes of Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton and others from the Civil Rights era. The music gave these previously unheard voices from different communities a chance to be heard on a wider level and much more often to, as quickly as they were able to release a song or new album.
All of which brings us to today, where the people of Ferguson and police standing at the scratch line. The outrage turning to protests and turmoil in the wake of Mike Brown’s murder. It took several days of confrontation before the nation truly took notice, but there were people who’ve been on the ground level in Ferguson since late Saturday afternoon. For us, that took on a stronger meaning because St. Louis is one of those areas we’re connected with. What started with Trackstar stretched into us linking with The Force collective and from there it just grew as we grew. As more artists emerged from the scene, we tried to highlight them. They supported us, we supported them and out of that mutual respect a bond grew.
I expected rappers I knew it was only a matter of time before rappers started doing Mike Brown tribute songs or finding ways to reference his name and Ferguson into their rhymes. Still, I wanted to hear words from St. Louis artist or group who found a way from the streets to the studio to give a report from ground zero.
For now, Souls of Liberty are that voice with “Stay Alive,” their tribute to Mike Brown that doubles as an exhale moment in many ways. We’ve highlighted the duo – composed of Ryan Escobar and Tenelle Donta – and their brand of “life music” over the years and they met the expectations of what a tribute song tied to this situation should sound like. There’s pent up frustration, honesty, anguish and self-reflection all exposed in the four-minute track. And the social commentary cuts straight to the chase: “Even if I’m not committing a crime, I stand a chance to die, So my number one mission is to stay alive”
TSS: What scenes have you encountered prior to and since last Saturday that helped inform this song?
SOL: The majority of the music we have recorded in our career took place in an apartment complex adjacent to the shooting. Mike Brown’s friend, (the young man he was with during the incident) Dorian [Johnson] had a summer school class with Tenelle in high school.
We live in a city that is completely segregated. Our rights have been violated by police since we were pre-teens. We know what it feels like to be treated like criminals. We know what it feels like to be assumed guilty until proven innocent. This is OUR community. As artists from St. Louis we felt like it’s something we had to do.
TSS: When you went in the booth, what was on your minds?
SOL: Anger was on our minds and hearts as we stepped to the mic. As the riots took place we were upset with some of the ignorance that took place but we understood where the pain was rooted. Our barbershop is in that neighborhood. We saw the aftermath the next morning.
People in the media want to overshadow the truth and belittle our people. Our city has a reputation of being dangerous but in the past week the black community along with other races have stood for justice together. St. Louisans have pride. We have heart and fear tactics won’t make us go away. We won’t settle for a Trayvon-like situation in our city.
Black people are more united than ever and hopefully our art can add to the protest in an effort to get justice for Mike and his family. We need this situation to be an example and set a precedent so that police brutality can end, and police around the nation are held accountable at all times.
TSS: If there’s a message you could send to the world outside of just this song, what would their words be?
SOL: We need to end color blindness in our country. We need to unify within the black community. Education is not equal in St. Louis and it needs to be taken seriously so we can cultivate our young people. Knowledge is power. Let this be the event that ends the cycle. We have to vote. We have to realize that we are being transitioned into prisons at an alarming rate and do everything in our power to not become second class citizens. Black people have to do better. We can change the way things are. We are the future.
We plan to create a better St. Louis, one soul at a time!