In light of a pair of police shootings that killed African-American civilians in Baton Rouge and Minnesota, Jay Z has unveiled a new track titled “spiritual” inspired by the rash of high-profile instances of police brutality. The song is Jay Z’s first as a lead artist since the release of his Magna Carta Holy Grail in 2013.
“I made this song a while ago, I never got to finish it,” Jay Z wrote of “spiritual” on Tidal, where the song is streaming for both members and non-subscribers. “Punch (TDE) told me I should drop it when Mike Brown died, sadly I told him, ‘this issue will always be relevant.’ I’m hurt that I knew his death wouldn’t be the last…… I’m saddened and disappointed in THIS America – we should be further along. WE ARE NOT.”
The emotionally raw track, featuring an unnerving beat by Detail, wrestles with spirituality in the face of police brutality. “I am not poison / Just a boy from the hood that got my hands in the air / In despair don’t shoot / I just wanna do good,” Jay Z raps on the chorus.
Later on the track, the rapper opens up, “This is the real me unfold / Gangster is love, I’m thuggin’, I’m huggin’ / This is tougher than any gun that I raised / Any crack that I blazed, that was nothin’ / Peeling back the layers, uncovering / Scars that never healed, I never kept it this real.”
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“spiritual” comes in the aftermath of the deaths of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Philando Castile outside the Twin Cities of Minnesota, two African-American men who were fatally shot by police within 24 hours of each other.
In both cases, video from the incidents have sparked questions on whether the police’s actions were justifiable; in the case of Castile, his girlfriend Lavish Reynolds filmed harrowing Facebook Live video moments after he was shot during a traffic stop, with her young daughter crying in the backseat.
On Thursday, Beyoncé also commented on the police shootings, first during her concert in Glasgow, Scotland with a moment of silence honoring all those killed by police brutality, then with an open letter posted to her website.
“We are sick and tired of the killings of young men and women in our communities,” Beyoncé wrote. “It is up to us to take a stand and demand that they ‘stop killing us.’ We don’t need sympathy. We need everyone to respect our lives.”
Jay Z’s “spiritual” comments end with a quote from abolitionist Frederick Douglass, “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”