“All you celebrities out there, here’s a chance to do something else. I challenge all of you to sing that we ain’t going to stop till people are free.” Those are the words of esteemed actor Samuel L. Jackson, as he opens the deeply powerful “I Can’t Breathe,” featuring Mad Lion, KRS-One, Talib Kweli, Brother J and ONYX’s Sticky Fingaz.
As the title, a reference to the dying words of Eric Garner who was killed by police in July of 2014, suggests, the song is a strong protest against the systemic violence that has been levied by the police against Black citizens for decades, and which has become a part of the national consciousness in recent years, due to more and more incidents being captured on video and disseminated through social media. This week, the shooting deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota, by police officers, have re-ignited the powder keg that has been smoldering since that Summer of 2014.
Throughout “I Can’t Breathe,” spotted on Ego Trip via HipHop-N-More, Jackson sings a solemn refrain of “I can hear my neighbor crying ‘I can’t breathe.’ Now I’m in the struggle, and I can’t leave. Calling out the violence of the racist police. We ain’t gonna stop, till people are free.” Each MC takes turns voicing the myriad emotions ranging from frustration to sorrow that have engulfed many in the nation over what has become an epidemic. Talib Kweli rages against the machine, rapping “American Dream or American Lie? You ever try to carve a piece of that American Pie? Your chance of dying from an American cop is highly more likely than a terrorist plot. I’m like ‘Wow, who the terrorists now?‘” KRS issues a call to action, closing the song with the words “Remember. Revolution only works for those that participate. Don’t stand on the sidelines.”