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Protest Song Of Week: ’16 Shots’ by Vic Mensa

Hip hop artist Vic Mensa, who is from Chicago, released an EP on June 3 featuring a track, which addresses the killing of Laquan McDonald by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke.

Since what happened in Ferguson and Baltimore, when police officers killed Michael Brown and Freddie Gray and there were uprisings afterward, there have been several artists who responded to police violence by putting out songs dealing with the issue.

On “16 Shots” (and his entire EP), which is called “There’s Alot Going On,” Mensa openly confronts what it is like for a young black man to be a target of police. The cover of his EP is a picture of him as he would appear on a sheet used for target practice at a police shooting range. Yet, one might notice that the bullet holes on the album cover are all around him. Mensa himself presents this powerful image of being bulletproof.

The hook counts up to “fuck 12,” which is another way of saying “fuck the police.” He then says, “16 shots/And we buckin’ back.” McDonald was killed by 16 shots.

The city of Chicago under Mayor Rahm Emanuel covered up the video of the McDonald shooting. Mensa directly refers to the coverup and how people are ready to rise up in the streets. Chicago police are mounting up to crush any kind of rebellion.

Mensa includes humanizing details of black life. “I can’t imagine if it was my own mama/Got her first born son stole from her, he never had a chance.” And, “They threw a little girl down on the pavement/Pushed here with the bike and said, ‘Stay out the way, bitch’/She was bleeding on the ground through her braces/This is what happens when niggas don’t stay in their places.”

He makes reference to the Chicago police superintendent Garry McCarthy, who doubled back on the video. Not long after, McCarthy was out and replaced, but Mensa makes it clear that Emanuel is covering up the scale of corruption around McDonald’s death.

“There’s a war on drugs, but the drugs keep winnin’/There’s a war on guns, but the guns keep ringin,’ the refrain says.

Mensa says people are going to break into stores on the Magnificent Mile in Chicago and go to “prison in style.” This kind of act grabs the world’s attention, as “cops killin’ kids and stayin’ out of jail.”

Devastatingly, the outro of the track is McDonald family lawyer Jeffrey Neslund describing what can be seen in the video of the shooting. The ambience cranked up while Neslund delivers makes the description of the brutality all the more haunting.

Mensa performed “16 Shots” at the Justice For Flint fundraiser in Flint, Michigan. It is simultaneously empowering, as an anthem for the movement for black lives, and a reaction to the horror of what unfolded when Laquan McDonald was killed by Van Dyke and a code of silence kept the truth of what happened concealed.

Listen to “16 Shots”:

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Are you an independent artist who has written and/or produced a protest song that you would like featured? Or do you have a favorite protest song? Submit a song to protestmusic@Shadowproof.com

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."