“Don’t just support Black people when it’s the popular thing to do”: Lata Harbor Offers Perspective on the Current State of Civil Unrest

Lata Harbor

Lata Harbor’s (formerly known as Bobby Brackins) drug of choice is music. The multidisciplinary talent has played a huge role in curating the vibe for some of the music industry’s biggest hits. 

With a laudable pen game that cites songwriter credits for ballads like Justin Bieber’s “I’m The One”, Tinashe’s “2 On” and Chris Brown’s “Loyal”, the melody maestro has easily become one of the more sought-after wordsmiths of the last decade. 

His musical legacy is one imbued with significant material, but the story continues to write itself, finding the Berkeley-born, Oakland raised artist taking on a new epoch under the moniker Lata Harbor. “My whole mindset is evolving, my life’s experiences are evolving, and I want to put that in the music and not be put in a box,” says Lata. “Lata Harbor kind of enables me to put music out without overthinking it or asking myself ‘does this fit’ with the last thing I’ve been working on.” “My biggest record as Bobby Brackins was ‘143’, and not to take anything away from that, but I’m not making music like that anymore,” Harbor candidly admits to me over the phone. 

With growth being a direct byproduct of change, the plight of Black lives plagued with enduring existential barriers at the hands of systematic oppression only prolongs the road towards social reform. Let’s be honest, change is long overdue, but when you’re considered a minority, the racial inequities are apparent, “You have to work harder.” “With me being a black man, I can say that the work is cut out for us and the battle is definitely uphill,” says Lata as we discussed the black experience in today’s music industry. 

The language of political discourse is no longer limited to revised press releases and formal statements. 

People are unifying to demand a permanent change on a national scale. The Black Lives Matter movement and other activist groups have lobbied local legislation in an effort to hash out public policy and push proposals. The untimely deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and most recently George Floyd, to name a few, have subsequently prompted a national reckoning with the ongoing battle of equity and race in America. Being socially woke isn’t enough, the people are tired. There is a roster of Black lives lost at the hands of excessive force from American policing, a broken system that requires steadfast actions to tackle racial reconciliation. 

While protesting and politically-charged narratives through song are equally resourceful, sometimes you have to have those uncomfortable conversations in order to amplify perspective. “The uncomfortable conversations provide knowledge as well,” Lata says. But is he wrong? After all, the city of Los Angeles plans to cut $150 million from the LAPD’s budget and allocate funds towards social programs within black communities, so maybe the course of action surrounding civil unrest breeds results. 

In this over the phone interview, we deconstructed Lata Harbor’s latest single release – ‘Drug of Choice’, the current state of civil unrest around the world, and the black experience.

Throughout your tenure as a professional recording artist and songwriter, you’ve been very vocal about your growth. With most recently transitioning from Bobby Brackins to Lata Harbor, how would you best describe this stage of your career? 

My name is Bobby Brackins, but Lata Harbor is like a new enterprise that I’m working on.

I like the name honestly because it’s kind of like a band. It showcases the evolution of growth for when I want to take my music. It’s a lot of collaborative effort, because I write a lot of songs for a lot of people. 

Like this last song that just came out, ‘Drug of Choice’, we just wrote it as a song to ya know, try and make it potentially fall into Beyonce’s hands.

I put a verse on it and then had my friend Eric Bellinger put a verse on it, Chloe had already sung on the original demo, and she’s amazing, so we kept her on it. 

Lata Harbor kind of enables me to put music out without overthinking it or asking myself ‘does this fit’ with the last thing I’ve been working on. 

Lata Harbor is an outlet for me to put out good music.  

My biggest record as Bobby Brackins was ‘143’, and not to take anything away from that, but I’m not making music like that any more. My whole mindset is evolving, my life’s experiences are evolving, and I want to put that in the music and not be put in a box. 

I’m going through my own transitions, my own changes of thinking. 

For example, I watched the Malcolm X movie for the first time a couple of nights ago. He went from Malcolm Little to Malcolm X, and then he changed his name later on in life, so it’s like as you grow you evolve. 

I’m evolving every day, just respect my evolution. 

Does systematic racism exist within the music industry – If so, how can we collectively work towards creating a safe space for Black voices? 

Systematic racism is in every industry that generates a lot of money, especially in entertainment. 

Look at the top heads of labels, the presidents, the majority of people running things are white men. 

There’s room for more black CEO’s and heads of these giant corporate groups. Black men have been able to be lucrative and make their own things independently, but the Universal system, the Sony system, the main labels and who have the most power, are all run by predominantly white men. 

The way to change that is by what we’re doing now, having these types of conversations. The culture of Black people is what’s selling a lot of these records. 

Everyone takes what they want from the Black culture and profits from it. The way for more Black people to be in powerful positions is to literally kick the door down. 

We have a lot black men who are some of the best A&R’s, like a Sickamore and Tunji, these guys have white, male bosses that they are reporting to, but they are the ones in the streets finding talent who are understanding the culture. 

We just have to support each other and be more aware that we are the voices, we are the vessels of what’s making these gigantic corporations a lot of money from our lifestyle. 

We gotta support each other more as Black men and uplift one another. 

There should be a lot more people of color, minorities, a lot more women in powerful positions. 

A woman’s touch is magic. 

The more women directing film, more women producing music, more women in executive positions, we need all of that. 

The world shouldn’t just be run by powerful white men. 

How would you define the black experience in the music industry?

You have to work harder. 

With me being a black man, I can say that the work is cut out for us and the battle is definitely uphill. 

Minorities and women have to connect 5 more dots to every one dot a white male connects.

The black experience is an uphill battle because we have to work way harder to prove ourselves. The basic opportunities of good playlisting, etc. 

Shit really hasn’t changed much. I watched an old MTV interview with David Bowie and he asked the interviewer why there weren’t a bunch of black artists on MTV, and the interviewer was stuck. 

Don’t just support Black people when it’s the popular thing to do. 

Give us a chance to really have the eyes and ears to have a successful career. 

When you hear the phrase Black Lives Matter, what comes to mind?

Don’t sleep on us. 

We’re here, we matter and we are relevant. Don’t take us for granted and don’t treat us inferiorly. 

Black Lives Matter means give us the respect that we deserve, simple as that. 

Personally, what resonated with you most from actively partaking in the LA protest over George Floyd’s death a few weeks back?

People are not only demanding change, their demanding permanent change.

I went to the LA protest, some in Oakland and some in Berkeley, and the Black student union at Berkeley, they put something together at Berkeley High School that was so profound, the energy was so strong. 

They weren’t up their saying Instagram quotes and politically-correct stuff. They were speaking their mind and it wasn’t anything negative, just stuff that made you think. 

I’m honestly glad all of these conversations are being had. Like for example, today is Juneteeth (Friday June 19, 2020) and literally I know that it’s a Black holiday, but I read more about it today than I ever have before. They weren’t teaching us that in school. 

That day should be a national holiday, it’s American history. 

Juneteenth isn’t a day that I should learn about at this stage in my life, I should’ve learned about that in middle school. There’s a lot of forgotten history and things that get brushed aside, a lot of things that we are deprived of, our own culture, our own history. 

The protests are awakening significant conversation and significant change. 

A lot of people are feeling the pressure because it’s not only black and brown people marching, everyone is out there speaking against an unjust system. 

How do you feel about politically-charged narratives and hip-hop – does this stylized rhyme scheme amplify perspective or does it create a divide amongst listeners? 

It does both.

I love going back to artists like Public Enemy and Tupac, people who spoke out against the system in the past, the music they created is still relevant today. 

I feel like there’s a slight divide. I mean J.Cole just put out a song that shared his thoughts about what’s going on and he received a lot of backlash for that. 

Some people feel like he wasn’t defending a Black woman in the right way and a lot of people were upset about that. 

At the end of the day, yeah he received some backlash from that, but that moment sparked a conversation, a conversation that needed to be had. 

All conversations aren’t meant to be comfortable. The uncomfortable conversations provide knowledge as well. 

I think it’s amazing how people have their own opinions that can cause a divide in their train of thought, but it’s all for the best. 

It’s clearly evident that protesting is one form of making change, but what do you feel like are other viable alternatives to combat social injustice and policy reform?  

Our art speaks volumes. 

Even now in Oakland, I see a bunch of different murals going up, people pay attention to that.

Some of the art pieces you see from driving around are so impactful. People are making music, people are making songs – Anderson Paak just dropped a dope video that talks about what’s going on now. H.E.R just released a song called ‘I Can’t Breathe’, and ya know, people really gravitate towards the arts –  to paintings, drawings, visuals etc. 

I feel like there has to be more of a demand for things to start in the school system with just being more aware with what’s going on. The curriculum needs to be changed, it needs to be updated so that everyone can be intune with factual history and current events. 

Through education, the arts and with people having debates, that will inspire change. 

If there’s somebody who says something really racist, we have to check them. Whether it’s verbally or physically, we have to put an end to the bullshit. 

Don’t just sit there and be quiet if somebody is talking out their ass and saying some racist shit. 

Stand up for what you think is right and for what you believe in. 

We gotta nip that shit in the bud. If you hear anything or see people doing something and you’re in a position of influence or in a position to speak out, do that shit. 

A makeshift memorial for George Floyd located in Minneapolis, MN. 
(Photo: Trevor Hughes, USA TODAY)

With you being one of the more sought-after songwriters in the music industry, how have you managed to deal with lack of recognition or not receiving proper credit? 

At the end of the day, I don’t beat myself up over it.

I know that I got a lot more music left in me and if I bent myself up over not getting the recognition I deserve, I feel like I would become super bitter and the chip on my shoulder would become too heavy to carry. 

I know that my songs and the songs that I’ve helped write for others  have touched people and lifted them up during dark times, helped them establish relationships and all types of stuff. 

I know that what I’m doing has purpose, it isn’t just being taken for granted. 

As of late, many corporate figureheads and big-name brands have suddenly directed their efforts towards addressing the plight of Black lives living in an oppressed society. Do you consider their philanthropic actions sincere or mere tax deductions? 

Both. Some people are honestly sincere and doing research, knowing that they can make a difference. 

And then there are some people who are trying to get a reaction by making contributions. 

Silence is violence, if you’re not saying anything you’re siding with the oppressor. 

A lot of these companies know that a lot Black people aren’t going to tolerate corporations not supporting Black initiatives. 

There will always be people who do it to make headlines, people who do it to evoke change, and people who just don’t give a shit. 

In terms of creative insight, how would best describe your ‘Drug of Choice’?

With this song, it isn’t like ‘let’s go try cocaine or do molly’ or some shit like that, it’s not that implication. 

It’s literally what gives you that extra boost, what makes you want to get out of bed the next morning. 

What excites you, what motivates you. 

My drug of choice is music, music is my girlfriend. I literally wake up everyday and think about music. 

Everybody can have their drug of choice. Whether it’s painting, skydiving, skateboarding, writing a script, or even protesting – whatever you love, whatever you feel like is your purpose, that’s your drug of choice. 

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