Brittany Campbell is a Renaissance woman if ever there was one. She is an actor, a singer, an activist, an animator. She is perhaps most familiar for roles in Hamilton on Broadway and in She’s Gotta Have It, the Spike Lee joint on Netflix. She is also half of the band Mermaid, with her girlfriend, Candace Quarrels, who recently performed on an NPR Tiny Desk Concert, curated by Brittany Howard.
‘Matter’ emerged out of an intense conversation Campbell had with a friend in Los Angeles whose parents’ store was destroyed in the violence accompanying a Black Lives Matter protest. This was part of a series of difficult conversations she was having with people, which left her deeply unsettled, prompting her to ask herself why the idea that black lives matter was even up for debate. And so, ‘Why is it viewed as a political statement instead of fact? I wrote “Matter” to address everyone. To encourage introspection and to keep peeling back the layers of ourselves.’
She also animated the visuals that come with the song, where she addresses this rot in American life, and over a laid back soundtrack centred around an acoustic guitar, Campbell’s powerful voice asks ‘Do we matter.’ This makes me stop in my tracks. I am fully aware of the fact of the insecurity of black bodies in America, this is a country founded upon slavery, this is a country where African Americans are infinitely more likely to lose their liberty or their life due to the simple fact they are black. I teach US history at the university level, and this is something I hone in on every semester. And yet, sometimes I hear an African American artist personalize the experience, such as Killer Mike did on the new Run The Jewels album, noting that the men killed by the police look like him, to the point where he raps
And every day on evening news they feed you fear for free
And you so numb you watch the cops choke out a man like me
And ‘til my voice goes from a shriek to whisper, “I can’t breathe”
Each time I listen to this album, which is a lot, this stops me cold. Similarly, when Campbell asks if African Americans matter, I have the same experience. It sucks the air out of me. To say this shouldn’t be the case, to say this is so epically fucking wrong, to say that we can and need to do better, all of that just feels so trite. Campbell, like Killer Mike, is getting to the fundament of humanity here, to the very core of our humanity and our souls.
She goes onto sing
We wanna breathe again
We wanna breathe again
We wanna breathe again.
Proceeds for this song are going to Abundant Beginnings, a grassroots organization that helps to support a new generation of activists, and the Sista Afya Community Wellness, an organization dedicated to the mental well-being of African American women.