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Posted under: Culture Opinion

King Mez wants to use his music to love and protest

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king mez
king mez
Photo: NPR Another video. Another black person lying dead in the street. Another police officer, nameless, faceless, shouting into radios, “he’s dead.” A mother feels a pang in her stomach, her ears ring a sound she’ll never hear again. Charlotte, North Carolina. Ferguson, Missouri. Tulsa, Oklahoma. Baton Rouge, Louisiana. And those are just the ones that make the news. The Washington Post (the paper of Watergate) keeps a running tab on who police are shooting. It seems they’re shooting more and more. And they’re fearing more than ever, too. There have been days of protesting in Charlotte. People are fed-up. They’re tired. Day one ended in bloodshed after a man shot a protester in the head. Point blank. The crowd erupted. Social media followed suit. First, we heard that a protester shot his activist kin. Then, that it was the police. Now, finally, the truth: an assailant opened fire on Justin Carr setting off a tidal wave of rioting. The response was deafening, as usual. 

What's going on

Yeezy Season Kanye
Yeezy Season Kanye
Photo: Giphy The violence feels senseless. The reactions to black people doing completely ordinary things seem absurd at best. And King Mez, a North Carolina emcee on the rise, agrees. “Unless something comes out that’s firm, hard evidence, it’s hard to pinpoint what’s actually going on,” he stated. “It doesn’t feel right to me. Especially since it’s a recurring theme.” Such a recurring theme, in fact, that the political right has readily jumped to the fantastical idea that the “mainstream media” is race-baiting, so ready liberals are to suit up for a racial holy war. How arbitrary those folks would rather do some magical thinking than deal with the reality: African-Americans, Latinos, and other POC are disproportionately affected by policing strategies that value escalation. “That’s the thing that frustrates me, too,” says Mez. “People are always talking to us like we’re crazy like we’re supposed to be beyond this. I don’t even see how that makes any sense. We’re still dealing with this to this day.” His voice rises and falls in waves. You can feel the tension in it. His fear. Fear that all our lives are up for grabs in this free-for-all of a situation. We hit them with #BlackLivesMatter. Some argue that we’re separatists. We hate America. We want this discord, and, most disturbingly, that we deserve it.

The narrative of race

Yeezy Season Kanye
Yeezy Season Kanye
Photo: Giphy The narrative is a simple one. "Brown people commit the most crime, they argue. Of course, they’re the ones we should watch the closest." But these institutions have given themselves away. For, if you’re watching us as closely as you say you are, then it stands to reason that you could be stacking the deck. Who's watching the folks this media narrative presupposes is not committing a crime? And, the kicker, who is watching you? The examples of oversight are almost too numerous to claim. In June of 2015, an officer approached a young, black woman in a parking lot in Austin, Texas. The resulting exchange went viral. The officer body slammed her and generally acted the fool. She was arrested and placed in the back of another cruiser where she asked the question on everyone’s mind. The officer replied that blacks had “violent tendencies.” He elaborated, “Ninety-nine percent of the time … it is the black community that is being violent. That’s why a lot of white people are afraid. And I don’t blame them.” I do. These narratives are costing us our lives. But what King Mez wants to know is where are the artists that are willing to speak out about these issues? “As an artist, I feel like I’m excited to do the things I can do with this art to make things better. But I’m really disappointed in anybody who ain’t using everything they have to make this sh*t better,” he notes. “I’m disappointed in the artists who won’t use their voice.” There are a few that are.

The artful protest

Some of the best musical output this year has been "protest" records. Jamila Woods Heavn and NoName’s Telefone are exuberant, somber redresses to bigotry. Colin Kaepernick’s silent kneeling during the National Anthem inspires both an image of prayer and of defiance. And Charlotte, too, has been artfully protesting. Through curfews and state emergencies, they’ve marched. Even now that partial viewings of the dashcam and body camera videos of police officers involved in the shooting were released, still they march. Because, despite the rhetoric, protesting is an act of love. It’s a peaceful reminder that people matter. Mez wants to show that, as well.  And he understands how hip-hop’s influence can shape the world. “Hip-hop is the most influential culture in the world. Even pop music sounds like hip-hop. Hip-hop culture influences the whole world. All we have to do to be together, but people’s minds are on so many other things,” says Mez. “It’s so much bigger than me. It’s so much bigger than my career. I’m so passionate about this.” With everything going on in his home state, how else could he be?

The Last Question

Yeezy Season Kanye
Yeezy Season Kanye
Photo: Giphy Blavity: Is there anything you do for self-care? It can be hard to watch all the media around this stuff. King Mez: I’m going to be honest with you. It’s hard for me to watch [the videos] all the time. I definitely don’t like to see, but I honestly, in some instances, force myself to watch it. I want to feel those emotions. [That] will directly affect my art, directly affect the way I carry myself and the decisions I choose to make. What a lot of people don’t even realize is at this point all the decisions you make as a black man you’re not just making for you. You’re making them for everyone. You’re making them for the culture. As an artist, it’s not just about you anymore. It’s about everyone.

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