Viral ‘I’m Not Racist’ video raises Joyner Lucas’ profile
I first heard the name Joyner Lucas last week. Sitting in Klein Park with a friend who raps and writes poetry, he pulled out his phone and said, “Hey, check this out.”
He pulled up the video for Lucas’ “I’m Not Racist” on YouTube — which now has nearly 82 million views — and I was blown away. The track, which runs nearly seven minutes in length, tackles the tough topic of racial tensions in today’s charged political climate.
To put it simply, it is “conscious hip-hop” as it was meant to be.
The video — in which Lucas does not appear — features a white man wearing a Make America Great Again cap and an African-American man with dreadlocks. They are sitting across a table from one another in what appears to be a large warehouse as the clip opens. Throughout the video, they lip-sync to the track.
The song is structured in two parts. The first is from the perspective of a white character, casting aspersions at the black character and peppering them with the oft-repeated refrain of “I’m not racist.” In the second half of the song, the African-American character responds. Without spoiling it, I’ll just say that the ending is particularly profound.
I won’t lie. The first time I watched it, I was pretty uncomfortable. But, for the next several days, it lingered with me. I went back and watched it, over and over again. Unlike your typical “catchy tune,” it wasn’t the song that was stuck in my head as much as the concept. The idea kept playing in my head, long after the video ended.
Lucas, who has been around since at least 2007, began recording under the name G-Storm. That year, he changed his stage name to Future Joyner, and, with his uncle, Cyrus tha Great, formed a hip-hop duo called Film Skool Rejects. In 2011, he released his first solo mixtape as Future Joyner.
Then, a rapper named Future broke onto the scene. That prompted Lucas to drop the “Future” from his name and move forward as Joyner Lucas, the name he has used since 2015.
Along the way, he has found some success. He was featured in the 2015 BET Hip-Hop Awards Cypher, and the following year he signed to Atlantic Records, where he remains.
“I’m Not Racist” is not a one-off stab at taking on weighty topics. In June 2016, Lucas released his first major-label mixtape, “508-507-2209.” The lead single, a track called “I’m Sorry,” deals with the issue of suicide and depression. It has received more than 38 million YouTube views.
In his remix to Lil’ Pump’s “Gucci Gang,” released late last year, Lucas harangues a generation of rappers that can seem to rap only about material excesses and drug use.
The response to “I’m Not Racist” has been decidedly, well, mixed. On one hand, CNN called it “the brutal race conversation nobody wants to have.” The Washington Post said “however well-intentioned it was, it’s simply not the springboard for a conversation that would ever be productive.”
With that in mind, I’d urge you to watch the video and judge for yourself. But, be forewarned, the song contains tons of racial stereotypes and slurs, and plenty of salty language.
— Originally Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News, 07/26/18