LISTEN: Jill Scott’s Prophetic ‘My Petition’ Is Moving
Of all of the “neo-soul” artists that gained traction in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Jill Scott is one of the singers I admire most. Her talent is steeped in soul, blues, jazz, and opera. But the content of her songs is what really set her apart and skyrocketed her to legendary status.
Sonically, her music has come very far. Her early Hidden Beach recordings are intrinsically tied to my youth, from “Getting in the Way” to”Long Walk” to “I Need You”, her unbridled honesty apparent on every track. But in listening back to her recordings from the early 2000’s, I came across another gem that, in light of recent events, is all the more meaningful now.
“My Petition”, from her 2004 second album Beautifully Human: Words and Sounds Vol. 2, is about her airing her grievances within a relationship. In many ways, she relates this to America declaring its independence from England. It’s an apt comparison to make, touching on subjects like representation and freedom of speech. But when this same song is applied to the black experience in America, it takes on an even deeper meaning.
The song opens with simple words that cut right to the meat of the problem:
You say you mean good for me
But you don’t do it
You say you have a plan but you just don’t go thru with it
You say you know the way to go
And I should follow
But all of your empty promises
Leave me hollow
And in Black America’s history, I can’t think of a more incisive description of the broken promises we’ve had to endure. So many times America has attempted to sell us on a golden vision of the future, but in the end, we don’t have much to show for it. And the frustration that has overcome our community now is recognition of how hollow we feel.
On the chorus, our issues with distrust are further elucidated:
And I want to trust you
I want to love yeah
But you lie to me repeatedly
And oh I want to have faith in you
But you just don’t come through
Like you said you could
Isn’t that Black America’s #1 grievance? We want to believe in America. We want to have real equality with our fellow citizens. We want our lives to matter. And when people say they want these things too, their actions speak otherwise.
Then she speaks to the push back we receive when we stand up for equality:
You say that I’m wrong for
Stating my opinion to you
You say that I’m wrong and there’ll be quiet consequences too
But I know my rights babe
There’ll be no law abridging
The freedom of my speech
Or the right for me to petition for a remedy of grievances
This is literally what it feels like in America. At every turn, were are attacked, marginalized, and persecuted for our opinions. But in the midst of that blowback, we have to stand firm in our beliefs and on the side of freedom and true equality.
But then her message turns prophetic when she sings of what we want:
I want fresh fruit, clean water,
Air that I don’t see
I want the feeling of being safe on my streets
I want my children to be smarter than me
I want, I want to feel
I want to feel, I want to feel free
For real y’all
These are the issues that we are currently fighting for across the nation as we speak. Flint, Michigan‘s water woes continue. We’ve never achieved equal access to education. And with every passing day, we see more and more of our people needlessly gunned down by those meant to protect us. But the saddest thing about her prophetic words from 2004 is that they aren’t truly prophetic at all. Scott’s lyrics speak to the ongoing, perpetual issues that the black community has faced since the moment our ancestors stepped foot onto this continent. History keeps repeating itself. And just like the melodies we sang in the fields and the hymns we sang in churches continue to be part of our collection of rallying cries, Jill Scott’s “My Petition” deserves to stand right beside modern songs like “What’s Goin On?”, Nina Simone’s “Baltimore” and “Glory” from John Legend and Common.
Listen to the whole track below.
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/alphonsephotography/ – http://www.flickr.com/photos/alphonsephotography/7772352842/sizes/k/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24496289
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