As Americans mourned Alton Sterling's death and were beginning to organize around yet another unjustified police killing of an innocent Black man, tragedy rocked the nation again when police shot Philando Castile in a St. Paul, Minnesota suburb less than 24 hours later during a traffic stop for a broken tail light.
Needless to say, America is still reeling. And with more news of bloody clashes between police and civilians breaking seemingly every day, the senseless racialized violence shows no signs of abating. People are desperate for solutions.
The day after Castile's death, 22-year-old Oakland rapper Legendvry felt the urgent need to act. He gathered about eight of his friends — also young, Black, male artists and musicians. And while not everyone in the group had previously considered himself an activist, their informal hangout over brunch turned into a four-hour brainstorm session about what they could do to unify and empower their community in these trying times.
"It all started from a tweet, and we all met up. Just getting the foundation, bringing up ideas of what we can do, getting the ball rolling," said Legendvry. "'Cause it's on us now. It's been on us, but it's really on us now. If we wanna see a change, we have to come together and move as a unit. ... The more people that start to see it, the more people will wanna be a part."
Themes of Black unity and resilience course through Legendvry's latest work. For the past year, the Town native has been working on his EP, Præy for the Weæk, which he's self-releasing on July 28. Amid high-energy hustling anthems, it contains reflections on the impacts of systemic inequality — evictions, gun violence, and a lack of educational and economic opportunities that leave people feeling disenfranchised and hopeless. But in acknowledging these realities, the EP emerges as a robust, defiant rallying cry for change.
"We have to find creative ways to survive," he said, discussing the role of art in political movements. "The system was built against us as Black men. ... You have to take that into consideration every time you step outside. So we have to educate the people."
The strong social and political themes in Præy for the Weæk might come as a surprise to listeners who got to know Legendvry through his debut album, 2015's Trap Art, and his new single, "Easy," which has been making its rounds on social media. Produced by Spencer Stevens of the rising DJ-producer collective Wav Bros, "Easy" has all the makings of an Oakland slap. Over a bold beat with a chunky bass line and sparse, UFO-like synths, Legendvry spits fast-paced bars about ambition. Never break a sweat or lose/Tell me who I gotta prove it to.
The track is an instant earworm, and its bombastic lyrics might cause one to assume that the title Præy for the Weæk is meant to be taken as a tongue-in-cheek flex — a Machiavellian assertion of dominance. But Legendvry's sensitive, nuanced lyricism throughout the EP proves otherwise.
In contrast to "Easy" and other head-nodding, up-tempo tracks, "Præy," the introductory song, opens with somber piano notes that spill out of its main riff like falling raindrops. The dark melody underscores the number of sobering topics Legendvry lays out in its lyrics, as if offering listeners a roadmap of what's to come.
Legendvry seems to effortlessly string together a variety of disparate themes, touching upon topics such as gentrification, religion, and the prison-industrial complex with evocative and incisive storytelling. Bein' harassed by the cops/They hope I'm totin' a glock/So they can book me in the pen/But I got saved by the art. Throughout addressing these difficulties, he maintains that devoting himself to his creativity has helped him transcend challenging circumstances. What about us? Pray for the weak becomes an earnest mantra of uplifting those in need.
"I was raised in the church and in the streets," he said of his upbringing in North Oakland. "It was really me saying that I understand that there are different ways to pray, and you have to survive."
While "Præy" is more reminiscent of spoken word poetry, overall, the fast-paced, bass-driven production on the EP makes it catchy and accessible despite its heavy lyrical themes. With Legendvry's aggressive flow, the project's sound will most likely make it more appealing to a street rap audience than a conscious rap one — not that the two don't overlap.
There's no denying that art infused with social justice rhetoric often appeals to those with education and privilege — and doesn't always speak directly to those actually dealing with the struggles it seeks to address. But We gon' be alright, the hook of "Alright" from Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly, has become a common chant at protests, and recent local releases such as Mistah F.A.B.'s Son of a Pimp, Pt. 2 have also sought to motivate everyday, working-class people to stand up for their rights against police brutality and work towards social good in their communities.
"I was once that person, I thought it was nothing more than the hood," Legendvry said, adding that he wants to inspire his listeners to see greater potential for themselves than what their surroundings may have to offer. "It's sad. That's why we need more Black-owned businesses and [to] build pillars in the city to stand strong and support each other."
He continued, "Everything I do is about uplifting people and empowering. That's my role in life. I know as a Black man right now, we are in trouble. And we're being misled by the entertainers. ... It's essential that you empower your people."