NEW YORK — Grammy-nominated singer and “Fast & Furious” actor Tyrese grew up around police brutality, gang violence, murders and psychological trauma in the Watts neighbourhood of Southern Los Angeles. But the artist known for R&B hits focused on love (“Sweet Lady”) and relationship woes (“How You Gonna Act Like That”) said he never felt comfortable singing songs about those painful and weighty topics.
Tyrese said watching the death of George Floyd inspired him to create the song “Legendary” and its powerful accompanying video “8:46” — a reference to the length of time prosecutors once said Floyd was pinned to the ground under a white Minneapolis police officer’s knee before he died (it was really seven minutes, 46 seconds).
Both the song and video will be released Friday.
“I am completely irrelevant in music. I have not been on the charts. I have not had a presence. I have not done anything to contribute hotness or relevancy tied into music. When I say that George Floyd’s death has given me life, this is what I mean: He has lit a fire in me that has had me sitting dormant,” Tyrese said.
“When you see and witness something so painful and traumatizing, you are reminded through Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin that in one second your life can be taken away from you. As a singer, I have never had the (courage) or audacity to ever sing about anything that touches into these types of topics.”
“Legendary,” co-starring CeeLo Green, features Tyrese singing and rapping, while the video includes a scene of Tyrese with his face pressed against the ground as an officer’s knee cripples his neck, replicating the last moments of Floyd’s life.
All of the proceeds from the song and video will be donated and managed by the office of civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing the families of Floyd, Taylor, Arbery and Jacob Blake, the Black man who became paralyzed after being shot multiple times by police in Wisconsin on Sunday.
With Crump's help, Tyrese received the families’ blessing to create “Legendary” and “8:46,” which infuses footage from recent protests. The video, directed by Deon Taylor, who directed Tyrese and Naomie Harris in the 2019 police drama “Black and Blue,” will premiere Friday on BET.
“The truth is this song ‘Legendary’ is the most uncomfortable thing that I’ve ever done in my life,” said Tyrese, who added that the multiple deaths of Black people “has caused me to lose a lot of sleep.”
“I’m more vulnerable than I have ever been in my life,” the 41-year-old continued. “I am not in fear of my life. I fear no man, but I am specifically aware that I am stepping into a realm that I have never stepped in ever in my life.”
Like Tyrese, a handful of artists have released songs detailing the Black experience in the U.S. and the violent protests around the world, including Beyoncé, Meek Mill, DaBaby, The Killers, Trey Songz, Lil Baby, T-Pain, Kane Brown, Ty Dolla $ign, T.I., YG, Mickey Guyton, Terrace Martin, Leon Bridges and more.
Even though Tyrese’s music video hasn’t been released yet, he said he’s already gotten a tremendous response from some of his famous friends, including Viola Davis, Denzel Washington, Vin Diesel, Taraji P. Henson, Lee Daniels, Ava DuVernay, “Joker” director Todd Phillips, Steve Harvey and “Fast & Furious” director Justin Lin.
“They have all seen it. They have all responded. They have all stood with me,” he said. “They have all validated ‘Legendary.’”
Tyrese’s last album, “Black Rose,” was released in 2015. He said though it has taken time for him to use music to speak out about heavy topics, he wants to acknowledge those celebrities who have been bold and vocal.
“Beyoncé’s ‘Black is King’ changed my life and changed me forever. We need to protect Beyoncé at all costs. Whatever visions and ideas this powerful Black queen has bouncing around in her mind, we need to be willing to protect her at all costs,” he said. “We need to protect LeBron James at all costs. He has decided to boldly and specifically step into carrying the torch of speaking up and speaking out.”
“I am so proud of Colin Kaepernick,” Tyrese added. “Long before it was ever cool to speak up and speak out, he took a knee on behalf of peaceful protest. He compromised his own survival to peacefully protest and speak up and speak out about something that’s on his heart.”
Mesfin Fekadu, The Associated Press