After months of being cooped up inside and watching a so-called “invisible” enemy take the lives of thousands of our fellow Americans (and many more of our global brothers and sisters), the idea of returning to normalcy has been on many of our minds. Sadly, for some, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a deadly reminder that some things haven’t changed much. Poor communities, of course, are being hit hardest by the virus, challenging living conditions and less access to proper health care leading to a disproportionate number of deaths in many Black neighborhoods and other minority communities. And despite our country being devastated by the worst medical emergency of our lifetimes, headlines and even viral videos continue to deliver the tragic news that jogging while Black, sleeping at home while Black, and going to the grocery store while Black remain routine ways to get killed.
Michael “Killer Mike” Render, half of hip-hop duo Run the Jewels, has been one of the more vocal artists since the murder of Minnesotan George Floyd by four police officers on camera in broad daylight. Sick to his heart, Render still summoned the strength to stand alongside Atlanta’s mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, and deliver words of wisdom to those looking for effective ways to channel their anger, frustration, and pain. The rapper has continued to make the media rounds this week — much like he did during the Ferguson aftermath — offering not only empathy and understanding but a blueprint of sorts for what both Black and white people can be doing to bring about positive change.
It’s no surprise, then, that the fourth Run the Jewels album, out this week, doesn’t shy away from issues of police brutality. What’s more chilling than surprising is just how prescient some of the lyrics are, particularly in Killer Mike’s verse on “walking in the snow”. “And you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me,” raps Render. “And ’til my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, ‘I can’t breathe.'” These were the same words uttered by a dying George Floyd as now-fired and -charged police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s throat for nearly nine minutes. They were the same dying words spoken by Eric Garner who was strangled by a police chokehold in New York City nearly six years ago. Of course, Killer Mike was alluding to Garner’s tragic last words, but the Floyd murder only goes to prove how predictable this deadly narrative has become. Hell, the image conjured by the song’s title takes us all the way back to Bigger Thomas’ fatal run-ins with white society in Richard Wright’s 1940 novel, Native Son.
As peaceful protests push on, looting continues to wane, and powerful men like Donald Trump race us back to the days of Walter Headley and Bull Connor with his divisive dog whistles and violent attacks on innocent American civilians, both Killer Mike and partner El-P are using their music to call attention to the real enemies and truth of matters. “Funny fact about a cage/ They’re never built for just one group,” El-P explains. “So when that cage is done with them and you’re still poor/ It come for you.” Render adds, “I promise I’m honest/ They comin’ for you/ The day after they comin’ for me.” It’s a reminder that no matter how much parts of white America may want to shrug and look the other way, most of us have a lot more in common with the George Floyds of the world than the men siccing military police on peaceful protesters and posing awkwardly with Bibles. Without that united push-back and determination for change, the stories of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery will continue to be “normal.”
For a list of related organizations supported by Run the Jewels, click here.
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