NEW YORK -- Rap act Black Star entered a studio here Friday (April 23) to record a single in collaboration with other artists to protest the February police shooting in New York of an unarmed immigrant.
Mos Def and Talib Kweli, the 26-year-olds who make up the New York rap duo, announced in a press conference earlier that day that proceeds from the song will go to efforts to combat police brutality.
"It's a beautiful day," Kweli said during the conference. "When I woke up, I was like, 'Wow! This is really going to happen.' I want to thank all the artists, all friends of mine, for coming out. We're feeling sort of overwhelmed."
The two rappers seemed taken aback as they entered Sony Studios in Manhattan to find dozens of reporters and cameras, as well as actor Malik Yoba of the television show "N.Y. Undercover," guitarist Dwayne Wiggins of Toni! Tony! Tone!, social activist the Rev. Al Sharpton and a number of fellow rappers.
Members of the Atlanta production team Organized Noize flew to New York on Thursday to produce the not-yet-named single, which is scheduled to be released on Rawkus Entertainment on May 19.
Devin Roberson, a publicist for Rawkus, said later that afternoon that other artists, including soul singer D'Angelo and rappers De La Soul, Rass Kas, Gang Starr, Sporty Thievz, Inspectah Deck, Mobb Deep, Black Moon, Sister Souljah and KRS-One, either came down to the studio Friday or have committed to add something to the song later.
Atlanta rappers OutKast and Goodie Mob, as well as Q-Tip, Busta Rhymes and others, will contribute vocals to the song.
Rico Wade, 28, of Organized Noize, said he wanted the recording session to result in highly accessible music.
"I want to put a record together that's hot," he said. "We gonna get everybody in and collaborate and we gonna sit back and put it together. I want to produce something special." Organized Noize has produced songs for OutKast and for girl-group TLC, including their hit 1994 single, "Waterfalls."
Wiggins is also involved in an alleged police-brutality case; he filed a $1 million civil lawsuit in Oakland, Calif., last week claiming mistreatment by cops during a March traffic stop. He was on hand Friday to contribute guitar licks over lyrics written by Black Star.
Kweli and Mos Def (born Dante Beze) said they decided to record the single almost immediately following the Feb. 4 death of Amadou Diallo, a 22-year-old immigrant from Ghana who was shot 19 times by four police officers outside an apartment complex in the Bronx. The officers, who were pursuing a rape suspect at the time, fired a total of 41 rounds at Diallo. According to Bronx County District Attorney Robert T. Johnson, Diallo was unarmed.
The four officers -- Kenneth Boss, Sean Carroll Edward McMellon and Richard Murphy -- who police investigators determined fired the shots, were indicted in late March on one count of second-degree murder each. The men, backed by New York Police Commissioner Howard Safir, said at the arraignment that they had good reason to fire at Diallo.
"I did nothing wrong and this trial will show that," Murphy was quoted as saying in the New York Post outside Bronx Criminal Court on April 1, the day the four were arraigned.
Mos Def refused to believe the officers were just doing their job, he said. "This is not a black issue. This is not a young issue. This is a human issue."
"It's such a blatant example of racism and police brutality." Kweli said.
Black Star released their first album, Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are ... Black Star, last year. The album, lauded by critics as cerebral and musical, included
The Diallo case has prompted a number of protests that have included the high-profile arrests of Sharpton and actress Susan Sarandon. Sharpton led a protest walk across the Brooklyn Bridge two weeks ago that attracted more than 20,000 people.
Sharpton said he felt a hip-hop voice to the protest was inevitable. He also noted he was proud it took just two months to set up the recording.
"It is the hip-hop community that is the target of a lot of the racial profiling and police brutality we are fighting. ... It is the right thing to do, that they would come together and lend their voices and their talents."
Kweli said he and Mos Def decided the song would be the most appropriate form of protest they could offer, rather than participating in rallies at City Hall and getting arrested for civil disobedience. "As young black men and women, it might not be the best idea in the world to go down and get arrested. But we had another way we could contribute."