On a 10 pm Zoom, a visibly fatigued Tyrese had been working since seven that morning. He was filming a movie (which apparently included some stunt work.)Yet as he discussed his new song “Legendary” his words and body language were filled with frenetic energy. As he detailed his reasoning for making the Cee-Lo featured track with an insistent sense of necessity, you got the impression that this man was truly invested in speaking out on the racial injustice that has overrun American life and discourse. His passion shone through his fatigue, passion for the song, passion for the upliftment of his community, and a desire for justice.
The song, which is his first new music in 5 years, is a Nina Simone like take on the brutal killings of unarmed Black civilians at the hands of police nationwide. In the gut-wrenching video, Tyrese inserts himself into George Floyd’s last moments, singing while he has a knee in his neck while lying prone on the pavement. The Floyd tragedy is also reflected in the tracks 8:46 runtime. Cee-Lo’s vocals lend well to the weightiness of the topic while providing an element of spirituality. A mysterious rapper also jas a standout feature, an extremely bar heavy, thought-provoking, examination of the myriad of issues faced by people of color.
The video premiered on BET during the 2020 March on Washington (also known as The Get Your Knee Off Our Necks March.) Since it’s release the song has gained traction, engendered debate, and continued a fight for justice that the righteous are taking up all over the nation. We spoke to Tyrese about the song and overall situation shortly before it released. Please support the song financially, all proceeds are going to the movement.
DGB Mark: This video is a piece of art. Obviously recent events contributed to it’s creation. What was your inspiration to insert yourself physically into these situations in the video?
Tyrese: George Floyd’s death gave me life. It activated something in me that forced me to react personally. Normally I’d be uncomfortable making a song like this, portraying these images. Or really doing anything stepping into this space.
What made you take that step?
Most actors, singers, rappers, see all of this stuff. We see it on our timelines, we see it on the news. It doesn’t matter if you have 100 million followers. Most people aren’t comfortable doing something like this. This isn’t about me as a celebrity. This is about me as a Black man. Not about my next album. This is about giving a voice to the voiceless. All of the proceeds will go to the cause.
Has anyone been particularly helpful with the whole project?
(Civil Rights legend) Attorney Benjamin Crump. He’s been a gem, the heart. Almost a scientist behind orchestrating this entire thing. We’ve FaceTimedEric Garner’s mother, Breonna Taylor’s mom, Trayvon’s mom, George Floyd’s entire family. Ben flew in to make sure his presence was felt in the video. He made sure everyone knew what imagery would be presented, the significance of the statements that we wanted to make, and the reason. We were making it on behalf of the traumas that have happened. Happened to them, their children, family, and loved ones.
How did you come to know Benjamin Crump, who’s one of my heroes, and bring these matters to his attention?
I met Attorney Crump at the first George Floyd funeral in Minneapolis. Before then I met the young lady who shot the footage of George Floyd’s murder in it’s entirety.
She’s been living in isolation, through death threats and worse. Allegedly police officers are targeting her, trying to use Black people to kill her. Allegedly.
So I met Benjamin Crump at the funeral. We exchanged info, and since then he’s been to my house six times. He’ll stay 5-7 hours, do CNN interviews from my house and everything. We’ve developed a true friendship, a real brotherhood.
I sense that this is much more than a song to you.
It’s art. It’s protest. We’ve sent it to everyone imaginable. Denzel, Viola Davis, the King family, etc.. We sent them this art, this protest, and they validated it! They’re standing with us and rooting for it.
So not only isn’t this career-oriented, you’re strongly advancing the cause. It sounds like your in it to win it, brother.
We don’t care about the charts. We don’t care about relevancy. We don’t care about furthering our own interests. This is something God is doing through us. To benefit the moment, for the pain and the traumas we feel daily.
Is making a song like this cathartic for you? Or does it reawaken feelings of anger when you hear it?
I’ve never done a song like this before. I haven’t arrived at a place where I can put it into words. The only thing I can say is that the most uncomfortable thing about this song is that I have to do interviews to promote it, because this is not about me.
This may sound crazy, but it’s almost as if something is working through me. I want to deflect that energy towards the family’s living through this every day. That’s what this about, it’s about them.
Damn you’re really reluctant to discuss yourself. It’s palpable how much you want to advance the message. Advance it in a way that raises awareness, not to take credit.
It’s really hard to talk about Tyrese right now. It’s about George Floyd, Breonna, Trayvon, & Ahmaud. It’s hard to talk about anything I’ve done or achieved. It is not easy to live with and in this Black skin in America right now. We hope and we pray that justice is served for all the victims of police corruption, excessive force, and murder.
That’s you rapping right?
Whoever it was rapping did a good job though. The rap was strong. I heard you say Black Ty at least twice though. I listened to those verses a few times. The lyrics and delivery were top notch. I was impressed.
Mark I will arrange for you to do an interview with Black Ty real soon. As far as Legendary the song says Tyrese featuring Cee-Lo Green.
I love it. I’m a Black Ty fan. I’m going to hold you to that. (He can rap though, check out Black Ty all over Alter Ego below.)
Any last words?
Justice. Justice is what we are after. Justice. Vote, go vote. Please go vote.