Indianapolis MC Human's first single “Human Off The Chains” featured extensive use of samples from Malcolm X's famous "Message to the Grass Roots" speech. That's when I became a fan. “Human Off The Chains" established a penchant for political commentary that's well represented on Human's latest offering "BET.” Using Black Entertainment Television channel as a focal point, Human questions the relationship between police brutality and the representation of Black culture in mass media.
The song's message is articulated in even stronger form through a video directed by Indianapolis filmmaker Jace as part of MFT's Music Video In A Day series. Jace and Human will host a screening of the video for "BET" this Friday, February 5 at Studio B.
I spoke with Human at the WFYI production studios. You can catch the full interview this Wednesday evening at 9 on 90.1 FM WFYI Public Radio.
NUVO: Can you talk about the concept behind "BET" and what inspired you to write the song?
Human: I wanted to create a work of art that posed a question as to whether the way urban media portrays Black America and minorities in general has had some influence on the ignorance and bigotry that might lead to incidents of police brutality. I titled the piece "BET" because for me, BET seems to embody all of the so-called "urban media" entertainment outlets.
NUVO: When you sent me the link for the video of "BET", you mentioned that you'd like to discuss the song within the context of Black History Month. Why did you feel it was important to connect the song with Black History Month?
Human: Black History Month is a time where we shine light on us as a people. That's where we really delve into our accomplishments and what we've contributed to America as a whole. But we have this other side of the perception in how we're portrayed in urban media and pop culture. When you think about pop culture, especially now, it's very difficult to discuss it without talking about our contributions as a people. So I felt like it was a good way of sparking some dialogue about that subject during this month.
NUVO: You and Jace created a really powerful video for "BET."
Human: I got together with Jace and we talked about the song and what I wanted it to convey. We came up with some concepts and Jace's ideas were phenomenal. I felt it was a good marriage to the song.
In the video I'm being beaten by a police officer in the front room of a white family's home and the family is oblivious to it. In my mind that kind of symbolizes how broader white America feels when we talk about racial discrimination and the police. It's in their face, but they don't process it the way we do.
NUVO: When we were talking before the interview you mentioned that "BET" isn't merely a critique of white America. You're also questioning certain aspects of Black culture too. Can you explain what you meant by that?
Human: While media outlets like BET are not Black-owned, they try to create products and programs that they think will resonate with our community. We absorb that stuff and regurgitate it. We take it and we reflect it and we say, "This is who we are." Sometimes we're part of the problem. Sometimes we project and own the stereotypes we're given.
To some extent, I'm a stereotype. You know, another rapper, and I play basketball too. I'm really good at it. I have a nice crossover. [laughs] I just wanted the piece to be somewhat critical of both sides. Obviously more critical of police brutality and the militarization of police departments and how they treat minorities, but also to hold us accountable for what we allow to reflect us to white America.
NUVO: Political themes have been part of your work going back to your first single "Human Off The Chains.” As an artist what drives you to comment on social issues?
Human: Sometimes when I'm writing, I'm not too cerebral about it, I just have a feeling I want to express through the music. It is obviously message-oriented, but I think the main reason I do it is that I want to contribute something that sparks some kind of internal debate. As an artist I've always had this internal battle going on inside of me, and I think some of the best art pulls you to the edge and makes you shift in your seat a little bit. It pulls the strongest emotions out of you, either hatred or love. I tend to operate on those extremes.
NUVO: Are there any specific artists that have inspired you to gravitate toward political themes in your writing?
Human: Mos Def and Talib Kweli have definitely inspired me. Immortal Technique inspires me. Even Kanye West inspires me. I feel like he's definitely a conscious artist, though we don't necessarily associate him with that sub-genre. Kanye has a lot to say on the political plane. And Lil B The Based God, I like him and he inspires me. Lll B is a real conscious artist, so is Jaden Smith. I look at all these people as revolutionaries. They bring a lot to that art form and to the discussion.