The year is 2016 and black Americans are facing a crisis. Again and again, unarmed black people are being gunned down by the police officers employed to defend them. But then you already knew that.
It’s a shitty indictment of our times that institutional racism and police brutality are just par for the course, everyday, almost banal even. The news is littered with stories of unarmed civilians shot down just for driving to the shops, walking down the street, for leaving their homes, for being black. So how do black Americans even attempt to make sense of, and fight against, this horrific state of affairs?
Black musicians from Kendrick to Beyoncé are taking on the racism at the heart of American society through their music, bringing their messages of hope, solidarity and black power to millions. But these big names are just the tip of the iceberg – beneath the Grammys and number one albums are scores of other lesser-known black musicians that are making music to fight the injustice of our modern times.
Z-Ro is just one. At thirty-nine years old, the Texan rapper is taking on the black lives crisis through his hard-hitting, overtly political music. Named one of America’s most underrated rappers by the New York Times, Z-Ro has been around since the late nineties without gaining much mainstream attention, but his new track ‘Skrewed Up’ deserves to be heard by everyone, whether black or white, American or otherwise.
Opening with real audio footage from the aftermath of a police murder, the song begins with the bold statement: “We are witnessing the return of slavery”. Like Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’, ‘Skrewed Up’ is packed with instantly memorable lyrics. From “Black lives don’t matter / The law already showed you that” to “Whenever we open the door / They close it back,” the track is a fierce take-down of current race relations in America.
But despite the obvious anger lying beneath its surface, there is something sadly defeatist about the way Z-Ro sings the refrain of “This world we living in is so screwed up,” as though he has been beaten down, made exhausted and forced to resign himself – as so many black Americans surely have – to the fact that this is the way America works in 2016.
Interspersed with audio from police radio over the sound of percussion and strings, ‘Skrewed Up’ is another pebble on the growing mountain of black protest music, but one that undoubtedly deserves your time.