Brandon Jenner has been a musician his entire life. But in 2020, he releases his most powerful song to date: “Say My Name.” The record was initially released privately on Youtube to raise money to kickstart a donation fund to send proceeds to Color of Change Org, but recently enlisted the smooth vocals of R&B singer-songwriter Emi Secrest.
The Los Angeles native originally created “Say My Name” after seeing the video of Ahmaud Arbery being murdered, overcome with pure disgust.
Jenner states, “I was shaken to my core as I have been far too many times in my life seeing so many displays of blatant racism in our society. Please allow me to state this obvious truth: I am a white man and will NEVER know what it’s like to walk a single step as a black man in this world.”
He also gives the disclaimer that he’s by no means pretending to understand the black experience in the record.
Spending quarantine with his newborn twins, Jenner feels strongly about using his platform, which includes 1.2 million followers on Instagram, for the greater good. 100% of proceeds from the song will be added to his already $15K donation to black causes and organizations.
AllHipHop caught up with Jenner and EMI, the latter of whom is featured on The Real’s theme song and also sang in Kanye’s Sunday Service choir. Her hair has been blue for the last 4 to 5 years, connecting the dots with colors and vibrations, researching meanings and intertwining them with music.
AllHipHop: Brandon, you just had twins. How’s fatherhood?
Brandon: It’s fantastic. It’s as good as it can get. I’m sleeping pretty well, I’m married to a superhero so that helps a lot. It’s been a fantastic experience. I have 3 kids now, which is crazy. Life’s going to be super busy.
AllHipHop: How are you guys holding up with everything that’s happening in the world?
Emi: Holding up as best as we can, with the climate of everything going on. I know for me being a black woman, it’s very disheartening every time I see – we literally finished one interview, I get on my phone and it’s another thing. It’s a constant state of being uncomfortable. What I’m trying to do is find little pockets of comfort in the uncomfortable. I don’t think I’ll be comfortable until this s##t changes, being honest.
Brandon: I’m okay. My life has been kind of strange. I have 3-month-old twin boys so with regard to the quarantine, my life’s been like that anyways. We’ve been in the zone. Everything has escalated to this point where I’m trying to do good with the tools we have at our disposal. Emi and I love making and writing music, we have our eyes focused on taking what we can trying to bring some light into the world. We’ve had our heads down and worked really hard on this song.
AllHipHop: What was the creative process of “Say My Name”? What did it mean to put it out during this time.
Brandon: I wrote it right after I saw Ahmaud Arbery being killed. It was absolutely disgusting, I couldn’t go any further without pouring those emotions I had into words and writing music around it. I did that with no real aspirations other than I need to pour these feelings I’m having into the piano, with those words at that moment. Down the road, I’m thinking I might put in on an album. But when the George Floyd thing happened, I knew there was an urgency. There’s a reason why I started writing it, so I wanted to get it out as quickly as possible. I had to do the song justice, I had to make it great. I reached out to Emi because I knew that she’d help to make this song spectacular. We joined forces, and the result’s pretty epic.
AllHipHop: How did you guys meet initially?
Brandon: A couple years ago, we met through some mutual friends. Emi from the very beginning was so generous with me. We met, we worked together. I had other projects I going on that she couldn’t do, so she connected me with other people who’d be great for it. She’s a connector. She encourages success in everybody around her, she has this real generous spirit. We became friends and co-workers at different times, and each other’s supporters.
AllHipHop: Emi, what did you bring to the record being a fire singer and a strong black female in the space?
Emi: Thank you. When Brandon intitally hit me, he asked me to listen to the song. I keep it real at all times. I believe we have a responsibility to be accountable and hold those around us accountable as well. Initially I said “oh my gosh, I’m so happy that a white man is saying something.” Because for years, we as black people have been speaking and not really being heard. If we were heard, we wouldn’t be right back here again. For me, it was important to allow him to be an ally and amplify my people’s voice. Allow him to amplify the black woman’s voice in particular because forever, we have been disregarded and disrespected. It’s very important for me to stand in my power and allow him to help me, allow him to create a platform so that the message can really go beyond my audience and his audience. We can really touch and penetrate the hearts of everyone in the world. That’s literally my angle.
When we got in the studio and I started singing, I felt the words in my soul. It gave me goosebumps and chills that he could be so selfless, step out of himself and really pour into this song. I was very supportive. Of course, we’ve gotten support and we’ve gotten the other side of it as well. But when your intentions are pure and you’re speaking from your heart, what’s from the heart reaches the heart. I’ve never really cared about what people said about me or said as pertaining to me because I know who I am as a person. I know what I stand for, which is equality and justice. I’m totally against police brutality and I know that he is too.
AllHipHop: Brandon, talk about speaking up as a white male. What does that mean for someone with your platform?
Brandon: There’s a certain amount of reservation with white people where they don’t want to say the wrong thing or offend people. There’s this fear around speaking up. I don’t know what it’s like to walk around in a black person’s shoes, I’ll never know what that feels like. But I do know what it feels like to be a white person and have those reservations, which I’ve expressed to Emi. Her and I along with other people’s opinions we really respect, we reached out and wanted to know how the song sat with them.
Aside from some details on how to do this as respectfully as possible so that it’s received well, what we got more than anything was encouragement. People felt not only was it important for people to speak up, but also for white people to speak up so that they can reach an audience who obviously needs to be reached. When it comes to this subject, people’s minds need to be opened up to the information. It’s clear how disenfranchised the black community has been historically for quite some time, and it still persists today. It’s important for people like me to speak up. Really, this wasn’t even my intention in the beginning. I saw another human being treated inhumanely and I wrote a song about it. It turned into an opportunity more than to speak up, but mostly to be able to listen and be able to learn about what we can do moving forward. I’ve learned so much. I’ve had more conversations around race in the last few weeks than I have in most of my life, that by itself is wonderful.
AllHipHop: You guys both co-produced the record, right?
Brandon: Yeah, I love working with Emi. I appreciate her. We were in the studio working right now.
Emi: I’m giving you a little surprise. In getting that feedback from our village, I really wanted Brandon to talk to black men so he could see how it sat with them. After speaking with not only black men but our whole village, we decided we wanted to make this a duet. Today, I went and swapped lines. It’s a duet now. One thing we never want to do is hijack any moment or come from a place that’s not pure. For me to be a black woman, I can speak on this subject because I’ve gone through this. I’ve lived this my entire life. I’m grateful for him being an ally, him opening his platform.
For years, generations, you always see the black girl who can sing real good and she never gets anything. Not even her name on the record. He sent me the mp3, it said “Brandon Jenner featuring Emi Secrest.” I’m like “where’s the feature at? I thought I was arranging some vocals.” He’s totally selfless in wanting to share my people’s message. I f##k with it, I respect that. I’m so grateful to him for being selfless in this and really wanting to make a change.
Brandon: It’s an opportunity. We have opportunity when we go to vote. We have opportunity when we decide to go and protest. We have opportunity in the conversations we have with people out in the world. We also have opportunity to lift and elevate the voices of the black people in our circles, this is that opportunity. Emi’s somebody that I look up to, she’s fantastic on so many levels as an artist and as a human being. This is an opportunity as well to not only spread the message we’re trying to get across, but also spread the talents of this incredible woman sitting next to me.
AllHipHop: Is the new version out or not yet?
Emi: I just laid it. This is our third interview so between the last one and this one, I went into the studio and laid it. Brandon’s also so amazing. I want people to know he literally did all of the music for the song, with the exception of drums and my producer Stanley Randolph. Shout out to Stanley Randolph. Brandon played all the instruments, he’s really talented. He’s amazing. I really want for my people, black people, to put yourself in a position where you can have those uncomfortable conversations with your friends. I also challenge my black queens and kings to create places that are safe so that white people can f##k up and say the wrong thing, and we can correct that in love. It can really be a change.
Most of my white friends are scared to say the wrong thing. It’s not that they don’t believe this is wrong, it’s not that they don’t want to help, they don’t want to be offensive in helping. The way we counter that is we come together and do what he and I did, we talk about it. I know he loves me. I know it’s not his intent to be malicious or harmful towards me so then I’m able to receive what he’s saying, take that and we can grow together. White people don’t know, they don’t know what to say or what’s offensive. They don’t know how to handle this because we’ve never been here before.
Brandon: That’s been such an amazing learning lesson for me. Having all these conversations about race with black people has been a wonderful experience, it’s been great across the board. It’s a weird thing, we can come with these different opinions or I can listen to someone’s different opinion on how we should approach this song — we leave the conversation as teammates going forward, really trying to create some change. It’s been amazing to watch people come around and support this thing we’re doing because they understand that our intentions really are in the right place. We’re trying to spread awareness, spread love, and hopefully make people feel.
AllHipHop: Talk about 100% of proceeds going to black causes and organizations.
Emi: We’re not touching a dime. We haven’t touched a dime. The song’s not even registered to either one of our personal accounts. We’ve raised so far a little bit over 20,000 for Color of Change, we literally have screenshot receipts. We ask our village and our loved ones to listen to the song, then donate directly to the charity and send us a screenshot. I reached out to my village and out of all the charities and organizations, this was the most reputable I could attach my name with. I knew the money was really going to and for the black community. It’s very important for me being an artist, to use my voice to help. I challenge all artists: if you have friends in the industry and they’re willing to help, figure out what ya’ll can do. Your thing may not be writing a song. it may not be doing a duet. But it’s definitely about us coming together to create change.
AllHipHop: What do you want listeners to get from the song once they hear it?
Brandon: In the video, I saw someone who in that moment was treated as less than you and I. Less than human. I hope through the lyrics, I remind the listener that this is a human being with as much importance and as much emotion as you and I have. Has as much of a right to be here and to be happy as any other one of us. I hope through the lyrics, it reminds everyone that this is someone who has a mother. This is somebody who had yet to meet his children, that I’m sure he dreamed of one day. This is somebody who wishes and always dreamt that his life would turn out differently. I hope I remind people that somebody who might have any of those feelings or somebody that might even discriminate even if they don’t even know it, remind that person that we’re all human beings. In this situation, Ahmad was and to have the same empathy for him as you would your own child.