black autonomy: i don’t want space here if i have to die for it

November 7, 2016

The day Sandra Bland is murdered by the Waller County Police Department; I am sitting at my former band mate’s house in Los Angeles, California. I spiral into my “regular” routine of what happens when yet another Black body is murdered by the state: bouncing between sadness and anger all while ranting. At one point, I recall becoming so anxious I start tapping the back of my guitar. It is in this moment, I spit out:

“I don’t want space here
If I have to beg for it
If I have to pay for it
If I have to die for it”

I pause.
Flip over the guitar and sing the same line.
And it is in this moment,
the hook for Die For It is born

By KiNG Hunt*, AFROPUNK contributor

Die For It was a song that I started writing in 2014 and took a year and a half to finish. The introductory poem and chorus were written in direct response to both the deaths of Laquan McDonald and Sandra Bland, however, it took over a year to finish because I knew I needed a different perspective. I needed more than just my own, I needed a Black man (which now I understand in some ways centers a cis-normative narrative) to declare alongside me: America, we did not ask to be here nor do we want to be here.

The band KiNG Black, now disbanded, was formed in early 2016 as a direct result of recording the demo for Die For It. We spent 6 months together, recorded 4 demos, shot a music video, which never released, and performed at Black Lives Matter events all summer as well as at Sofar Sounds. We had the attention of notable people in the industry, we had a strong team heavily invested in us – it almost seemed spiritual how everything appeared to be moving in the “right” direction. It almost felt as though I was on the brink of achieving everything I ever wanted in my career: to be a socio-political artist who was Trojan horsing poetry into mainstream media.

However, in becoming a member of Black Lives Matter, in spending more time educating myself on the Black radical tradition, on what liberation has historically meant for Black people in a global sense, I started questioning what I was really doing with this band. I came to understand the entertainment industry as inherently capitalist; as we know, capitalism is a system of exploitative economic relationships that is historically based in the reduction of Black and brown people to chattel- that is, items to produce capital. The entertainment industry is not exempt from these relationships: whether with music labels, TV networks, or whatever meeting I was in with whoever – the constant theme remains that the entertainment industry has always and will continue to profit off Blackness and the trauma that comes with it.

As I started expressing this, I began noticing how those around me desired to silence me, how there was an overwhelming sense of individualism, how my bandmates and producer thought if we catered to this system and became powerful within it – that was revolutionary (something I, too, once believed); when in reality, there is no such thing in history as Black people becoming powerful by seeking inclusion within the existing power structure – we gain power by creating new ones and dismantling old ones.

I acknowledged: yes, if our band grew in popularity and if we had millions of listeners, we were utilizing a platform but what is the validity of a platform where we are advocating for the destruction of racism when we, ourselves, are seeking to profit from the exact construct that benefits from racism and keeps the Black community in a constant state of drowning. I started taking note of the people around us: whether those investing money, the “higher ups” we were having meetings with, our producers, directors, etc. – they were all white, they were all white people seeking to eventually make money off pimping our trauma under the guise of “trendy sociopolitical artistic expression.” I was watching my genuine work morph into something else: colonization for the purpose of monetization. I became so disenchanted to the point I decided to retire from both poetry and music because I realized the worth of my work was reduced to how well I could generate money for white people.

It was then I came understand, on the surface, everyone around me loved Die For It and my other work but refused to acknowledge its true purpose:

Die For It is an answer to a question that once plagued me:
“What does freedom look like?”
Die For It is a declaration of Black Power.
It is an acknowledgement that:
Yes, everything in this system has proven to be designed with the intention of Black people failing, yet everything in this this system has simply proven how our resilience refuses to die.
Die For It is saying: it shouldn’t have to be this way.
Die For It is our refusal to be silenced in the face of constant death.
It is the reason I decided to come out of retirement
and use art as a form of resistance on my own terms.
Die For It is a siren song. It is a call to action.
It is a demand for revolution.
It is a demand for liberation.

“Die For It by KiNG Black, now disbanded, is a song written in honor of Sandra Bland, Laquan McDonald, and all Black life lost at the hands of the police state. It is a declaration of pain, of healing, of Black autonomy, of Black self determination, and a call to action for liberation.”

Vocals By: Niki Black & Tate Tucker
Poetry By: KiNG
Produced By: Billy Burke
Written By: KiNG & Tate Tucker

*KiNG Hunt is a ratchet intellectual and member of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles who believes in using art as a liberatory practice all while fulfilling the angry Black girl stereotype on a daily basis. Twitter & Instagram: @HollaItsKiNG