Came all the way from the slave ships / 2015 it’s the same shit.” In a recording studio on the corner of 22nd and Wabash Avenue, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan sits quietly with his eyes closed, listening to these lyrics rapped by Roseland artist Pyro. Headphones on, hands clasped in front of his face, Farrakhan nods his head to the track “Justice or Else,” a collaboration between various South Side artists that speaks out against police brutality and institutionalized racism.
This is what Pyro claims he saw when Farrakhan previewed the track a few days before its September 24 release on SoundCloud. “Justice or Else” features Farrakhan’s own booming voice in addition to a slew of other Chicago artists: Lil Herb, King Louie, Saba, Goalden Chyld, GLC, Teefa, Pyro, Katie Got Bandz, Chella H, Que Billah, Mic Terror, to name a few. Producer SickOne also collaborated with Xcel and Da Internz in the production of the song, which is filled with heavy orchestral strings and guitar. Local artist Antwone Muhummad organized the collaboration, helped produce the track, and brought Farrakhan on board. The track’s producers sampled some of Farrakhan’s past speeches, most notably a speech he made in June at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in Washington D.C.
I had the chance to speak to Pyro and Goalden Chyld, brothers who traded bars in a verse on “Justice or Else.” Pyro was on the “L” when Antwone Muhammad, a friend and mentor of Pyro’s since the sixth grade, contacted him about an open spot on the track.
“He sent me the beat, and I was on the train writing up the rap right there,” Pyro said. He described the importance of the track coming from Chicago artists, stating that the media often portrays Chicago as “the worst of the worst.”
“The youth in particular, who are coming out of this violence, who grew up in it, are saying that this system is not right and we are not going to take it anymore,” he says.
Both artists touched on the responsibility that musicians have to speak positively and to educate others. “Artists are leaders of the world,” Pyro said.
The seven-minute track was inspired by and named after Saturday’s commemoration of the anniversary of Farrakhan’s original Million Man March. Twenty years ago, the Million Man March brought together hundreds of thousands of African-American men with the hope of spreading a positive, nonviolent image of the black male that challenged stereotypes. The march doubled as a call for placing black Americans’ concerns back on the national political agenda. This year’s event again demanded justice for America’s black population, but also expanded its scope to include Native Americans, Mexicans and other Latinos, women, veterans, the poor, and the incarcerated, according to the event’s website.
“Justice or Else” takes the concerns of the marchers seriously. Goalden Chyld questions the negative image of black Americans in one of his verses: “Where we get the guns and the drugs from? / ‘Cause come on, I know you know we’re not sitting around trying to make ‘em.” He and Pyro go on to express positivity and unity: “That’s word to the Almighty! / But these devils they ain’t ready for God’s army!”
A single, steady note on the piano punctuates the last few seconds of the track with no other instruments in the background. Even though the message is spoken by many, “Justice or Else” has a powerful resounding singularity that culminates in what Goalden Chyld called a “huge step towards mental, physical, and spiritual freedom.”
Pyro’s single, “Arrogant” and an EP, Who Am I, are coming out soon. He also recently released “10,” a track inspired by the “Justice or Else” movement. Goalden Chyld just released an album called Stand For (Justice or Else). Both “10” and Stand For (Justice or Else) are available on SoundCloud.