The Black Lives Matter-themed video depicted Insecure star Sampson being pulled over by white police officers and then pushed to the ground. As he attempts to run away, the white officer shoots at him.
“It’s a state of emergency, it’s been a hell of a year,” social justice leader Tamika D. Mallory could be seen saying in front of a crowd of people holding signs calling for equality. “President Biden, we demand justice. It’s bigger than black and white.” Civil leader and activist Killer Mike also appeared in the performance to perform a brief monologue.
At the end of the performance, the rapper could be seen facing an assembly line of police officers before standing on a police car as a crowd of people surrounded him holding signs that read messages such as “Our skin is a not a weapon” and “Respect Black lives like your respect Black culture.”
During the Grammys, a joint statement from the Recording Academy and CBS appeared on screen. “The Recording Academy and CBS condemn and denounce all forms of racism, sexism, violence, anti-Semitism and hate. Let’s continue to use music to bring people together, leading with love, healing and a sense of unity across all lines of difference.”
In a statement, Sampson tells The Hollywood Reporter that he originally had to “think hard on Jesse Collins invitation” to be a part of the performance. “Ultimately after seeking a lot of advice, I did this to show Rayshard Brooks could easily be me. It was an honor to be included in art, with the legendary Fatima, that honors the Black Lives Matter movement and directly challenges the Biden administration to step up,” Sampson says.
“Still, it can’t stop at performance, and diversity and inclusion,” he continues. “We have to move beyond that into action and true liberation. Especially in the entertainment industry. Our art is too often devalued by the entertainment industry. Art is life. The same Anti-Blackness that devalues our art, is the same Anti-Blackness that devalues our lives. It’s the same Anti-Blackness that killed Breonna Taylor and Rayshard Brooks. There is no revolution without art.”
Further adding, “Toni Cade Cambarayou said that ‘it is the role of the artist to make the revolution irresistible’. They devalue our art, because our art can be revolutionary. I believe that’s what was achieved in this artistic expression at the Grammy’s. I hope we made the ancestors proud. If it were only up to us to determine the value of our art and our lives… there would be a revolution and they don’t want that. So they continue to devalue our art. They continue to devalue our lives. We will end that. We will continue our work to uproot and abolish Anti-Black systems and build better.”
Sampson is known for being politically active, having founded the racial justice group BLD PWR. According to the organization’s website, the intent is to “build and train an inclusive community of entertainers and athletes to advance radical social change.” Sampson led a number of Black Lives Matter demonstrations around Los Angeles last year, protesting the killing of George Floyd and other Black men and women at the hands of police.
During a protest in May of 2020, Sampson was hit with rubber bullets by the LAPD, and documented his experience on Instagram. “Y’all ain’t see no police fucking up white folks when they took guns to the state house,” the actor said at the time. “Y’all didn’t see police attacking white folks, beating ’em up with batons, shooting them with rubber bullets when they brought guns to fucking state houses. We came up here with no weapons, with masks. And we’re the ones who are not peaceful.”
Among the other performances that had a political edge, Mickey Guyton, the first Black female solo artist ever nominated in a country category, sang “Black Like Me.” Her song touched upon the Black experience, with lyrics such as “If you think we live in the land of the free, you should try to be Black like me.”
After winning the award for best R&B performance for “Black Parade,” Beyoncé broke Grammy records and became the most awarded female artist of all time. She said, “As an artist, I believe it’s my job and all of our jobs to reflect the times. And it’s been such a difficult time. I wanted to uplift, encourage and celebrate all of the beautiful Black queens and kings that inspire me and the whole world.”
Upon accepting the award for best melodic rap performance for “Lockdown,” Anderson .Paak said he dedicated his Grammy to “every human being who has a voice.” He urged, “If you have a voice, don’t be afraid to use it.”
Hosted by Trevor Noah, the ceremony aired live from the Los Angeles Convention Center and was broadcast on CBS and Paramount+.
March 15, 2:43 p.m. Updated with Kendrick Sampson’s statement