When a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo for the death of Eric Garner, Ali Shaheed Muhammad knew he needed to say something. The A Tribe Called Quest member decided to confront what he saw as blatant injustice in the Garner case by channeling his energy into a new record.
Ali partnered with fellow entertainers/activists Merna, JaPoet, and David Luke to construct the #BlackLivesMatter themed song "CPR." The 25 year Hip Hop veteran refers to "CPR" as the first track he ever created without his ego being the motivation.
Beyond dropping "CPR" and marching in the streets, Ali is further bringing awareness to reforming America's justice system by calling for new legislation on rules of police engagement. The Brooklyn-bred producer/emcee is also promoting cooperation with civil rights and community organizations to address the civic and social concerns underscored by the killing of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and other unarmed minorities at the hands of law enforcement.
AllHipHop.com recently spoke with Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Part one of the exclusive interview covers the making of "CPR" and another major collaborative effort on the near horizon.
“CPR” is a very powerful statement about what is taking place in the country right now. At what point did you decide you wanted to address those issues?
It was when the announcement was made that the grand jury in the case of Eric Garner against the police officer decided not to indict him. I think Ferguson was upsetting, and I instantly went out and protested then. The news of Eric Garner - it definitely was like somebody punched me in my gut and took all my wind out. Not only just the wind out of myself, but everything that my father, my mother, my grandparents, and all my ancestors fought for in this country.
To get to that kind of injustice, especially after there being clear proof that he was murder by law enforcement... I cried for maybe like 5 hours. At that point I stopped crying and it hit me - make a song. Make a song expressing how you’re feeling.
How did you pull together the different artists on the track?
I’d been working with Merna. While that ruling was read, she and I had been writing a song together. I had to tell her, “Let me call you back and figure something out.”
Later that morning, when I had the idea of me doing something, I reached out to David Luke, one of the producers in my camp. I don’t know why I wanted his voice on there. I know that David is an emcee, but our working relationship is more as a producer.
He’s an incredible songwriter and beat maker, but I just had it in me to ask him to listen to this song to see if he would be part of it. David is a young father. He has a three-year-old son. I felt like he would understand. Just to get that young father’s voice - What’s the world going to be like for your child?
After that, I sent it to Merna. I didn’t instantly hear a singing part, but I just knew that Merna's music is in a sense of calling out a certain type of oppression. I felt like her spirit in what she and her people, the Palestinians, have gone through in being oppressed... I felt she would have something to say.
JaPoet is another artist that I work with, and someone that is slightly younger than I am. Knowing that he’s a prolific poet, I felt that he too would be able to add his emotion. I didn’t have anything specific I thought he could bring, but I just wanted him to put his Black male perspective on tape.
You’re also selling t-shirts to raise proceeds for the Eric Garner Family Fund?
I made the song strictly from the perspective of "I’m an artist," and I didn’t know what else to do outside of marching and lifting my voice. I didn’t want to sell the song. I just wanted to put it out. Then I also thought of the word “equality” while I was making the song. It’s a basic word. It’s what we all want from this situation, just to be treated as equal.
So I came up with this idea of “equality” as a shirt, and I thought it could be cool if something was done with it. Merna also said, “What about donating the proceeds to the Eric Garner family?” I said, “Yeah, that would be dope.” So I did it.
In addition to that, I wanted to do more than just give to the Eric Garner Family Fund. I wanted to put a word out there for people if they also want to do that. I think there are other organizations that we need to support to fight those legal battles. There’s the National Urban League, the NAACP, and the ACLU. I feel people should donate to these organizations, and if not money, then time. Use those resources to help battle these injustices.
With the release of "CPR," are you thinking about releasing a sophomore solo album?
I’ve been working on a solo record, so that’s something for my 2015. I’m doing a couple of things. There’s a record with Adrian Younge. He and I are working on an album together. That’s slated for early 2015. I’m working on my solo record for mid-2015.
It’s interesting. There’s nothing out there that sounds like what [Younge and I] are doing. It’s pretty exciting.
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