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The day after Michael Brown was shot, Muhammad Austin, known musically as Mvstermind, left a protest in Clayton, returned home, sat down in his room, and produced a song addressing the tensions and frustrations he felt regarding Brown’s death. Austin is one artist among many painters, graphic designers, actors, and musicians producing work to give voice to their thoughts on the shooting of Michael Brown.
“Art is universal to humanity itself,” said Austin. He acknowledged the complicated situation developing in the shooting’s wake. ;“There’s a lack of understanding that the arts can heal.”
Twenty-three-year-old Austin is part of the young entertainment collective MME. He is one of the St. Louis artists who have released music, primarily through audio sharing platform Soundcloud, related to recent events in Ferguson. Austin released the music, labeled “#OPFERGUSON II WAVE 1 & 2 (Westfall),” with one intention. “I wanted to touch base on all sides. There’s a lack of sympathy as human beings. “
The first half of the track relates to Austin’s experience with the initial response of the St. Louis African-American community. Although the music is abstract at times, it focuses on frustration, outrage and the urge toward action. The second half of the track focuses on Austin’s desire for a peaceful response to the tragedy in Ferguson. He acknowledges that the urge toward violence is a natural human reaction but says that same humanity should lead us past those reactions to peaceful endeavors.
Miistro Freeyo is another St. Louis musician who’s released music dedicated to Michael Brown. His song, “What You Gone Do ? #WYGD” is a more traditional memorial and includes lyrics like "Kill or be killed is all we know.”
The first song that appeared on SoundCloud was rapper VA Pete’s “#JUSTICEFORMIKEBROWN.” VA Pete is Virginia resident Lamont Woods.
“I got these feelings for his father and feelings for his mother, and I made this song for his city,” said Woods. He continued, “I didn’t want this to be a gimmick thing, it was just on my heart to actually speak about the situation, so that’s what I did.” Woods said it was difficult to channel his initial reaction into his music. “The hardest part is when you have to tap into your emotions. It’s an amazingly frustrating situation. When I got the news I shed a few tears.”
As the week continued, more local artists lent their voice to tribute and protest songs.
St. Louis rappers Prince Ea and Hitman Holla, real names Richard Williams and Gerald Fulton Junior have also posted tracks online, although they use the forum YouTube. Prince Ea released a spoken work piece filmed in front of the destroyed Quick Trip, site of many of this past week’s protests. Michael Brown, Same Story has received almost 5,000 views. A different Prince Ea video has received over 1 million views.
Hitman Holla’s video “#MikeBrown” has over 7,000 views. The track is characterized by the use of a recorded news clip and ominous introductory music, and relates parts of the narrative that has unfolded over the past week. The video touches on the issue of excessive force often raised by protestors in Ferguson, “If he ran, they could have chased him. Unarmed, they could have maced him.”
Although these songs express frustration and anger, most try to acknowledge there are multiple sides to the story. Many express an understanding of the violent response, but call into questions the social situations that elicit that response and point toward peaceful responses as an alternative way to manage community outrage.