Admittedly when I stared JOVM a little over four years ago, I never intended the site or its content to be overtly political; however, political and social issues frequently influences the artists and art that we respond to and love. Let’s face it, political issues influence and inform every aspect of our lives – and the artist can’t somehow exist in some kind of vacuum where political issues or social issues don’t touch them. That just isn’t terribly realistic. But at the end of the day, whether that particular artist is politically motivated and discusses sociopolitical issues through their work is a deeply personal choice; after all, for every Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli, Brother Ali and Immortal Technique, there’s a a Lil’ Jon, Lil’ Wayne, Drake, T-Pain, etc. And to be fair, that’s fine. 

But what I think we can all agree on in a is that we live in rather troubling times both for the United States and for humanity in general. Some pundits may openly deny this but there are things that are incontrovertible: there is great inequity, inequality, partisan divisions, misunderstanding, ignorance, hatred and fear. And it seems more than ever, that I turn to music and art for comfort and for understanding —especially after Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice and countless other boys and young men’s senseless deaths. 

And over the last few weeks, young people everywhere have taken to streets to protest and letting their voices be heard in as many displays as possible including petitions and letter writing campaigns. And there have been a number of very thoughtful and thought-provoking essays, speeches and articles on the pertinent issues that comprise what may be our time’s greatest and important challenge. Along with that, a number of artists have responded, expressing a collective – although incomprehensibly not universal – sense of horror, confusion, shame, discomfort, disillusion and outrage, among other emotions. 

In the wake of the Eric Garner grand jury decision, there have been a number of artists writing songs – and in fact, if you’re been following this site, you would have come across a song by the Chicago-based songwriter Sam Dew, TV on the Radio‘s Dave Sitek and vocalist Alice Smith on “Shell Shock,” a song which sounds as though it owes a great debt to Afrika 70-era Fela Kuti, thanks to its tight, propulsive and relentless groove, as it does to the Civil Rights-era work of Curtis Mayfield; in other words it shows music — in particular, soul music — has had a very vital and necessary role in every protest movement. 

With “Shell Shock” the song openly discusses life in perpetual warfare — a life in which authorities view everyone as enemies of the state, and in which its citizens feel as though they have no redress for cruelty. Its also a life in which citizens know that they could die for even the most innocent and unthinking of infractions. Sounds familiar doesn’t it? Smith expresses a mute, powerless horror throughout the song — and in a way that’s haunting. 

Brooklyn-based electronic music artist, Mark Roberts, who performs under the moniker of We Are Temporary recently released his protest song “I Can’t Breathe (In Memory of Eric Brown)” which features a sample of the entire Eric Brown incident paired with ominous, swirling electronics and chilly synths, and marchers using the phrase “I Can’t Breathe” as a rallying cry. Much like the Alice Smith song, the song expresses an overwhelming sense of horror; in some way, the song is an indictment of our criminal justice system. 

You can download the track and pay as much as you want with the proceeds going to the ACLU and their attempts to stop discrimination. Check out the bandcamp link here:

https://starsandletters.bandcamp.com/album/i-cant-breath-in-memory-of-eric-garner