When news broke that an off-duty Dallas police officer shot and killed Botham Jean, an unarmed black man, in his Dallas apartment, Alex Crawford was angry.
That was the feeling of many, but Crawford says it affected him on another level because he is a black artist.
“Where are we safe at?” Crawford asks. “Where are we free? Where do we have the same freedom everyone else has?”
The police violence going on today is frightening, Crawford says. A black hip-hop artist from Grand Prairie, he says he can’t take off his skin and he can’t change his hair.
“I am who I am, and I live it boldly and proudly,” Crawford says.
Crawford has a rule that he abides by as an artist. Whenever he becomes emotional about something, he puts it into his art, not on social media. He says if people feel passionately about something, they should use their platform to make change.
When he heard about Jean, he locked himself in his room, turned off his phone and Wi-Fi and began creating his latest single, "Out of Order."
The song was not premeditated, he says. It was then and there, and in the now.
“As soon as my emotions hit me, it was go time,” Crawford says. “It was a message that needed to be heard. It had to be felt.”
This was not the first time gun violence influenced Crawford’s music. When he was 22, his close friend, also a rapper, was shot and killed. Crawford wrote a song that day called "Flowers." The song spearheaded a benefit concert called Flowers Fest that Crawford organized to help people in need in the community.
“The way that I look at it is, you have to give people their flowers while they can still smell them, and be able to help people and actually water the seeds that become flowers,” he says.
The first Flowers Fest was last year at RBC in Deep Ellum. All of the donations went toward helping a woman whose daughter had just died of cancer. It was the first concert Crawford had ever organized, and he says he struggled at first to find a beneficiary for the donations. He suspects it's because people are embarrassed to tell their stories and ask for help.
The second Flowers Fest is Dec. 16 at Deep Ellum Art Company and it will benefit The Wholeness Connecting Center in Grand Prairie, which helps underprivileged children during the holidays.
“Being able to do it a second time and have more awareness for it and have people that are willing to help out is just amazing,” he says. “I love to see the growth in what I’ve been able to do and what the community’s been able to do.”
Before writing "Out of Order," Crawford was working on a four-part music video series he started in 2014. Part 1, Too Short for a Single, was supposed to be his first impression to the world as Alex The Great, the name he performs under. Part 2, The Deep, is about getting past struggles.
But when the Botham Jean shooting happened, Crawford decided to shift his focus toward expressing what it's like being a black American.
“You see children get shot and killed by police," he says. "You see grown men in their apartment get shot and killed by the police. The change that I think needs to happen needs to start from within, within the system.”
Crawford believes officers need more training and should be vetted more thoroughly. Additionally, he says the community should be a part of the police force, and the police should be part of the community.
“You don’t have a heart for these people, and if you don’t have a heart for these people, you shouldn’t be policing the people,” Crawford says.
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Crawford’s anger toward “the system” is shown in the music video for "Out of Order." In the video, there are clips of police violence throughout history and at the end, it shows a white wall with the names of victims of police violence written in blood.
Amber Guyger was charged with murder in the Jean case on Nov. 30. Crawford says this is a step in the right direction.
“I want to be influential," Crawford says. "I want to be legendary. I will be legendary. My name is Alex The Great.”