Just after Baltimore's Uprising in response to the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, singer Joy Postell returned to her hometown from Los Angeles. Conflicted by what she saw on TV from her LA home and the on-the-ground accounts she was getting from friends and family back home, she realized that she needed to see what was going on for herself. "Hands Up Don't Shoot," which was premiered on Saint Heron, was the protest song born out of Joy's frustration. It chronicles two fatal police shootings—one, a fictional story based in 1965, and the other of Ezell Ford, the 25-year-old black man killed by police in Los Angeles in August 2014.
Postell continues to make socially-charged music with her new song and video, "Consciousness," which we're premiering today. "I began writing this song in May of 2015, the same month I moved back to Baltimore from Los angeles," is what the singer tells me via email. The song will be featured on Joy's debut project, Diaspora, which is set to drop in early 2017. In the video, she takes on the role of Angela Davis, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, and Celie Johnson from Alice Walker's The Color Purple. The visual is broken up into different scenes for each character as a singing Postell asks, "Now what's this consciousness you speak of?" To learn more of the process in making the song and video, we spoke to Joy Postell.
Noisey: Was there a specific event in your life that led to the writing of "Consciousness?"
Joy Postell:More like a series of events combined with observations and the city's energy. I began writing this song in May of 2015, the same month I moved back to Baltimore from Los angeles.
We were living right next to a corner store in Sandtown and I remember every morning I would wake up, look outside and see the boarded up, vacant houses, the boys on the corner, the junkies, then walk over a few blocks and be on Park Ave.— a white-washed, well-groomed, affluent area—less than half a mile within each other. These two worlds exist; systemic oppression. I was so angry, I was so sad, it made me question everything. Then that summer Charleston happened and I was super sick over that, feeling very helpless. The question of "What did we do to deserve this type of treatment, except be black?" constantly echoed in my mind. The continuous attacks on our mental health via the public lynchings constantly being displayed in the media played a large role as well.
In the video you play the role of four notable women in Black America: Alice Walker's Celie character from The Color Purple, Angela Davis, Nina Simone, and Billie Holiday. Why were those four crucial to include here?
All these women represent the full range of emotions that I wanted to convey. Celie blossomed and finally found the courage to take her freedom back; Billie Holiday fearlessly sang "Strange Fruit" for white audiences in a time where she wasn't even allowed to use the same bathroom due to Jim Crow laws; Angela Davis eloquently spoke (and still does) truth to the masses in an anti-black, male-dominated society; Nina Simone was a rebel, filled with passion and fierceness who continued to speak out through her music.
These women personify fearlessness—pushing boundaries and standing up for what they believed in. Their strength and courage inspires me to do the same. "Consciousness" is a song about elevating to a level that these women embody.
In the song, you question if we'd absorb what rappers push to us if it was delivered by preachers. What connection do you see between the two in terms of their impact on the Black community?
They both provide a voice for the black community. Since the beginning of time, people who have the gift of communication influence the masses and add direction. Just like preachers have from generation to generation, from Dr. King to Tupac Shakur, these speakers have influenced the way we think and the way we carry ourselves. Their words hold weight, and we need to be conscious of the weight that our words hold. I think especially in these times, it's important for us to take accountability for not only our actions, but for our words as well.
The video ends with you running through a field, wearing a white gown. Is there a particular message you're trying to convey?
Consciousness. Freedom. Liberation. Being back in tune with our ancestors and nature and all the beautiful things that they have to offer us.
Photo: Audrey Gatewood
Lawrence Burney is a staff writer at Noisey. Follow him on Twitter.