ABC/Fred Watkins2016 was a year of highs — and incomparable lows.
In light of advancing police brutality, shooting deaths of individuals like Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, and the Black Lives Matter movement, gun violence against black Americans became an ongoing topic of discussion, especially among well-known artists and their fans.
— Many celebrities, such as Empire‘s Jussie Smollett, used their talents and platform to spread awareness through music. Smollett recorded the song and performed the track “Need Freedom” for the third-season premiere episode of Empire, which was a response to the shooting deaths of Castile, Sterling, and the Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando, FL.
“I recorded this exactly seven days after Philando Castle was shot. What are we doing as a people, a nation; what message are we sending to the next generation? Then this song came,” Smollett told Billboard in September.
— Beyoncé also used the power of words, but not through music. The celebrated singer wrote a letter, simply titled “Freedom,” that asked her fans to contact local politicians and legislators in order for their voices to be heard. “This is not a plea to all police officers but toward any human being who fails to value life. The war on people of color and all minorities needs to be over,” she wrote.
— Even in time of celebration, a number of artists could not help but think about the publicized shooting deaths and following protests that unfolded on television screens around the world. Sandra “Pepa” Denton of Salt-N-Pepa, Tristan “Mack” Wilds, Roxanne Shante and Dej Loaf were just a few of the stars on the VH1 Hip Hop Honors pink carpet in July to give their thoughts on how people could support one another in troubled times, share messages to victims of gun violence, and stress the importance of activism and Black Lives Matter.
— Also in July, Snoop Dogg and The Game led a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest to the Los Angeles Police Department, where 37 cadets attended their graduation ceremony, in response to the shooting deaths of Castile and Sterling. The Game also organized an anti-violence summit, called “Time to Unite: United Hoods + Gangs Nation,” in Los Angeles to help stop community violence. Both Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and many gang leaders attended the event.
— In September, a rework of The Black Eyed Peas‘ debut smash hit “Where Is the Love?” was released to bring attention to gun violence, including an accompanying music video that featured a slew of well-known faces, such as Usher, Mary J. Blige, The Game, DJ Khaled, Andra Day, Diddy and Jamie Foxx.
— T.I. became a vital force in the Black Lives Matter movement, as he used his social media accounts to write impassioned letters, release songs and share quotes and images related to taking a stand against injustice. The rapper’s electrifying performance of “We Will Not” at the BET Hip-Hop Awards in October became one of the most memorable and talked-about award show performances of 2016.
— Common‘s eleventh studio album, Black America Again, released in November, highlighted the social issues that plagued black America prior to and during 2016, and urged people to voice their frustrations and provide solutions.
Even with the seemingly endless support from musicians, one rapper in particular — Lil Wayne — both confused and enraged many fans after his Nightline interview with ABC’s Linsey Davis in November, in which the entertainer stated that he did not feel “connected” to Black Lives Matter and that the name of the social justice movement sounded “weird.”
“I don’t feel connected to a damn thing that ain’t got nothing to do with me. Feeling connected to something that ain’t got nothing to do with you? If it ain’t got nothing to do with me, I ain’t connected to it,” Wayne told Davis.
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