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‘I Can’t Breathe’ is indeed the ‘Music for the Movement’

The four-track EP combines legendary covers and original music, from newcomer Keedron Bryant to rap star Rapsody

Think back to Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam” or Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” during the civil rights movement. Or even N.W.A.’s “F— Tha Police” during the height of the war on drugs. Alongside every social justice demand for change is a fitting soundtrack.

And therein lives the inspiration for The Undefeated and Disney Music Group’s joint EP, I Can’t Breathe/Music for the Movement. The project is not only an ode to the social justice movements that have emerged in America in 2020, but it’s also a call to action ahead of Election Day.

Music for the Movement employs contemporary artists and producers for covers of classic records. Of the project’s four tracks, three are covers from an eclectic mix of established and new artists. Rising star Keedron Bryant, whose “I Just Wanna Live” went viral following George Floyd’s killing in May, covers Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology).” Songwriter, singer, poet and screenwriter Jensen McRae channels the energy of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.” Meanwhile, three-time Grammy-nominated artist Terrace Martin quarterbacks a soulful rendition of The Impressions’ 1965 landmark anthem, “People Get Ready.” Running shotgun with Martin is three-time Grammy winner Robert Glasper and vocalist Alex Isley. The EP’s sole original track is the 9th Wonder-produced “Pray Momma Don’t Cry” from Rapsody and Bilal.

Rapsody performs on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon on Jan. 28.

Andrew Lipovsky/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

“[My management and I] talked about the vision for the project. [Disney] were talking about re-creating songs from artists that spoke to the times. But a lot of them artists sing, and I don’t sing!” Rapsody told The Undefeated, laughing. “But the ‘Pray Momma’ beat was just speaking to me at the time.”

The song is a grief-stricken roll call for names who are 2020 flash points. Rapsody cuts directly to the nerve with lyrics lifting names such as Breonna Taylor: Gun to your back cause you Black/ Kids in the whip/ Seven to his back, different than when we ride for Kaepernick/ At 17, a son dies, murder was the case/ Time flies, still we never can forget the face/ It’s mourning nights knowing Breonna ain’t get another morning/ Watching Black death, our murder shouldn’t be normal.

“I wanted to include those stories. These are real people that have mothers. We’ve gone to too many funerals,” Rapsody said. “I really appeal to your soul. Hopefully, if you have one. …

“I want people to know whether they got boots on the ground or not and they hear the music and remember that feeling. That’s why I do what I do. To be part of the soundtrack to their lives. To give them some peace, or some joy or some therapy to release to. That’s a hard job to do.”

With the election a little more than two weeks from the EP’s release, Music for the Movement aims to be a charge to young Black voters, many who are prepared to vote for the first time.

“We have to vote down the ballot. For your judges, police commissions, attorney generals,” Rapsody said. “They’re going to be the ones that decide how millions of people get health care, how schools get money they need to feed children, Medicaid. This is about your everyday life.”

Liner Notes

I Can’t Breathe/Music for the Movement will live exclusively on Spotify.

Justin Tinsley is a culture and sports writer for The Undefeated. He firmly believes “Cash Money Records takin’ ova for da ’99 and da 2000” is the single-most impactful statement of his generation.