Kevin Writer may have just gotten his biggest gig to date: music supervising Will Smith’s new movie about the 14th Amendment called Amend: The Fight for America.
Debuted on Netflix, the 6-hour docuseries asks the ever-evolving question: “What does it mean to be an American?”
The groundbreaking narrative format sees Mahershala Ali, Diane Lane, Samuel L. Jackson, Pedro Pascal, and Yara Shahidi breathing life into writings and speeches by the 14th Amendment’s most passionate advocates such as Frederick Douglass, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Andrew Johnson.
Insert Kevin Writer, the music supervisor who collaborated with Dreamville’s Deputy, Mikhala Jené, and Inglewood’s own D Smoke in releasing the soundtrack’s title track titled “We Are the Promise.”
The song explores the evolving fight for equal rights in America, with Smith declaring “this country is worth fighting for because of THE PROMISE of the 14th Amendment.” Together, Writer and Smith created an uplifting anthem that embodies the spirit of the series while serving as a battle cry for everyone who’s ever struggled with the promise of America.
Additionally, Writer will be music supervising and producing content for a new educational platform titled Blueprint, which focuses on social and emotional learning serving middle school and high school kids. Joining him on the project will be Smith’s own son, Jaden Smith.
Read below as we discuss his work at the intersection of music and social justice, along with what it means to be able to work with Will Smith and Westbrook Ent.
AllHipHop: What was the household like growing up in Detroit?
Kevin Writer: It was great. I come from a Christian household, so my first experiences came from making music in my family’s church. I worked as an intern for Fred Hammond, who’s a musician from the gospel world and that internship led to more opportunities, which eventually landed me in Los Angeles. Nick Cannon and I partnered to build Ncredible Records and that’s where things really got going for me. He mentored me and connected me with L.A. Reid and Mariah Carey. I’ve been very fortunate to be able to work throughout the industry and do work that I’m passionate about.
AllHipHop: Best memories from working with Nick Cannon and touring as Mariah’s opening act?
Kevin Writer: It was a fantastic journey. Nick was a great mentor. As an African American working in Hollywood, he really cleared the path for me and a lot of other great artists like H.E.R. and Kehlani.
Touring and writing with Mariah was a great experience. She was incredibly supportive and collaborative. One of the most humble people I’ve ever worked with, considering that she’s sold more records than almost everybody. [laughs]
AllHipHop: Talk about your work now at the intersection of music and social justice.
Kevin Writer: I think music and social justice have always had a unique connection. Throughout history music has been one of the most effective tools in the fight for a more equitable society. Music inspires people and when it’s used in this way, it oftentimes brings out the best in us. During this project, our team was literally protesting in the streets and then going to the studio to create the sound for AMEND which was a surreal experience.
The 14th Amendment, which is what Amend is all about, impacted my grandparents, my parents and now my own life. It was because of the promise of the 14th Amendment, that things like Civil Rights, same sex marriage rights, Immigration Rights and Women’s Suffrage have been able to proliferate.
AllHipHop: What does “We Are the Promise” mean to you? It’s such a powerful record.
Kevin Writer: “We Are the Promise” was birthed from a meeting with Will Smith, he kept saying that the 14th Amendment was a “PROMISE” and that the U.S. was worth fighting for, specifically because of this promise. So how does this promise get fulfilled? It gets fulfilled by us, by people who deserve to be viewed as equal in the eyes of the law and to have an equal experience. If you look at cases like Brown v. The Board of Education, Obergerfell v. Hodges or The United States v. Wong Kim Ark, the promise of the 14th Amendment is the entire backbone. “We Are the Promise” really was a battle cry that says in order for the promise to be fulfilled, we can’t depend on the government to come up with the solutions. We have to stand up, get involved in our communities, get involved in these conversations, and sacrifice so we can help fulfill that promise.
AllHipHop: Talk about the making of the record, also D Smoke’s involvement with the song.
Kevin Writer: We worked with Deputy from Dreamville Records and Mikhala Jené. When we brought the project to them, they hopped right on board because of the messaging and the impact the 14th Amendment has had on their lives. We were thinking of lyricists to be a part of the project and D Smoke’s work has always represented the perspective of the people. I’ve been a fan of D Smoke for a long time, so it was cool to work with him on a project like this.
He dropped a song last year called “Black Habits” that’s one of the most played songs on my Spotify playlist. His body of work speaks for itself. He’s African American and Latin American so his experience is two-fold and unique. We thought as a team it’d be so impactful to have him be a part of it. With him being nominated for Best New Artist at the Grammys, the timing couldn’t be better.
AllHipHop: How did you land the role of music supervising such a big project for Netflix?
Kevin Writer: The opportunity came via two producers I’d been working closely with, Jana Babatunde-Bey and Jamal Watson. We talked a lot about human rights and civil rights leading up to the project and found that we shared a lot of the same ideas.
AllHipHop: What was it like working with Will Smith on the docuseries?
Kevin Writer: It was pretty surreal. Will is someone who really cares about this topic. He gave me an opportunity to present my song to him and the Netflix executive team in person. He has a piano in his house, he said “why don’t you present the song idea for everyone?” That was a special moment for me.
AllHipHop: How were the 62 songs determined for the series?
Kevin Writer: That was a lot. Haha. A lot of the music came from artists who we knew were passionate about Civil Rights, Women’s Suffrage, LGBTQ rights and Immigration rights and have made music that represents these ideas. Ian Broucek also came on as co-supervisor, he’s a real pro and I learned a lot working with him. He had a great ear for this world of music.
Picking those songs was really about being responsible to the project, to each episode and to the overall messaging. We have an original song in the project titled “Shoot” from singer-songwriter Stacy Barthe. One of my favorites. She came on set and gave a performance that was beautiful. I hope folks are able to see that one day.
AllHipHop: How was it working with stars like Mahershala Ali, Diane Lane, Samuel Jackson and Pedro Pascal, Yara Shahidi?
Kevin Writer: At the top of Episode 6, which is the last episode, we talk about immigration. You see this conviction when people talk about what their American experience has been.
One of our producers, Hayley Delaine asked the question: Has the United States lived up to its promise? And the answers were somewhat surprising. Most of the people you’ve mentioned have experienced real challenges due to the country not necessarily living up to its ideals. Seeing the strength, the persistence and the love in these people’s eyes was really special.
AllHipHop: Any goals for yourself at this point in your career?
Kevin Writer: I really would like to continue to work on projects like this. I’m currently working with Exeter High School in New Hampshire on a project where we’re highlighting artists like Lauryn Hill and Bob Marley and discussing how they’ve impacted the world with their music.
I’m also working on a project called Blueprint right now with Jaden Smith. Where we explore social impact, music and art with middle school and high school kids.
AllHipHop: Why did you get involved with a project about the 14th Amendment?
Kevin Writer: I got involved because I recognized how the 14th Amendment has impacted my life and it impacted my family’s life. Without the promise of the 14th Amendment, I’m not sure I’d have the opportunity to work on an important project like this.
AllHipHop: Anything else you want to let us know?
Kevin Writer: If you haven’t seen Amend yet, check it out. At times it’s not an easy watch, but it’s an important watch. A lot of people don’t know much about the 14th Amendment because the wording is kind of complicated. AMEND makes it a lot more accessible.
I’d also like to thank the entire team for the opportunity: Tomas Carillo, Omarr Rambert, Hayley Delaine, Candace Rodney, Ian Broucek, Jamal Watson, Jana Babatunde-Bey and everyone @ Overbrook, Westbrook, MakeMake and Neophonic.