It was hailed as a creative, artistic moment that grappled with the complexities of race in the US, filled with provocative imagery that evoked slavery, police brutality, and the gun control debate as functions of racism in America. However, part of its popularity was in its ambiguity; the plethora of ill-advised and downright corny knockoffs that hit Youtube within a week of its release proved how easy it was to miss the point.
Dallas, Texas rapper Bobby Sessions’ video for “Like Me” came out a month before and tackled many of the same subjects. Honestly, the furor Glover received could’ve just as easily gone to Sessions video. Where Glover couched his commentary in catchy, easily relatable trap pop, Sessions’ song buzzes with the electric fury of the outrage that James Baldwin once said every reasonable human being must feel at America’s many injustices. While “This Is America” is leavened by the contemporary dances of South Africa and America’s inner cities, “Like Me” is candid and brutal in a way that says “these subjects are not light and fluffy.”
Sessions is not here to make you dance or feel good; he’s rightfully distressed by the conditions he addressed and wants you to be too. If “Like Me” comes across more grimly, less overtly acceptable to the status quo, so be it. Never mind becoming a media darling, Bobby Sessions is here to tell the uncomfortable truth, raw and unfiltered. You can either get with it or get out of the way.
That’s the sentiment behind “Pick A Side,” the second single from Sessions’ punk-rap debut album on Def Jam, RVLTN (Chapter 1): The Divided States Of AmeriKKKa. In that video, Bobby takes to task anyone who’s been ambivalent about the current state of affairs of American politics. Barely blurred photos of Kanye West and Donald Trump hang on a wall behind Bobby as he serves up a heated diatribe about the desperate need to take a stance — neutrality is not an option. He says as much during a phone interview in which he reiterates his positions without equivocation.
“‘Pick A Side’ establishes that to have an actual revolution you cannot just be pointing the finger at everybody else,” he explains. “You have to look at the damage being done by members of your community. There are people of color that get in positions of power and get in positions of influence where they can educate their viewers or audience about what is going on in their community, but they decide for their personal financial gain to dismiss all of those issues in their own community and act like they do not exist so that they can appease their white superiors.”
It’s clear he doesn’t have much time to waffle about what his own goals are. He is so candid and straightforward because, for him, the dangers feel immediate and tangible. He wrote “Like Me” as a tribute to his cousin James Harper, who was shot and killed by police officers in 2012. The reactionary, borderline inflammatory imagery of “Like Me” reflects that sense of outrage and deep loss, but also roots it in America’s long history of violence against Black people.
The video opens with Bobby standing next to a tree in a ripped tunic, a noose tied loosely around his throat — the allusion to lynching is unmistakable. In the scene that follows, Bobby is seen chasing a uniformed police officer in an inversion of a scene that we’ve watched play out on the news and social media feeds too many times. The implied parallel is no accident.
“So, the point of ‘Like Me’ is to show the correlation between slavery and police brutality,” he says. “How the tools are different — like, in slavery times it was a whip and today it is a nightstick, but the dark intent is still the same. People around the world that look like me are often mistreated or abused, marginalized, etc… it has been sold to you as an isolated incident [but] you can trace this behavior back almost 500 years ago.”
The revolutionary throughline of Bobby’s work springs from anger but focused and redirected toward imparting a positive impact on hip-hop and pop culture as a whole. The mission on RVLTN (Chapter 1), with all its coiled rage and primal, cathartic release, is to surface these issues in an undeniable, inescapable way. “The goal of this chapter was to identify what the problem is,” says Bobby. “We cannot skip to the “Kumbaya” moment at the end. We are going to peel everything back layer by layer and you are going to feel a number of different emotions when listening to the project. You are going to be happy, you are going to be sad, you might cry, you might scream. I want people to be in tune with all of those emotions while they listen.”
For all of the intense, raw emotion expressed on RVLTN (Chapter 1), though, the ultimate goal isn’t rage for rage’s sake. Bobby knows that a “riot is the language of the unheard,” but something constructive has to come of it. There’s work to be done, and Bobby is up to the challenge as well. It’s why he quit his job with $50 in his pocket to pursue music full time. It’s why he speaks at schools and works with the Colin Kaepernick Foundation outside of his music. It’s why he makes sure that, while he makes sure the music is palatable, the message within doesn’t get watered down. He wants to set an example.
“I wanted to make sure I am inspiring more artists to let go of that fear, say it as raw and uncut as you possibly can,” he says. “People will like it or people will hate it, but it does not matter. I can sleep at night knowing that I did not water down my message to get famous. I am going to say it exactly how I see it and I am going to continue to speak out about it. If anybody has a problem with me saying it, make sure that society is improving and I will not have anything to say.”