Floyd’s death in May 2020 particularly stung Jeff “Skin” Wade, a longtime music scene veteran who’s now a commentator for the Dallas Mavericks.
Wade and Luke Sardello, co-owner of Josey Records, own label Eastwood Records together. After grieving the news, Wade remembers, the pair tried to think of meaningful ways to contribute. They first talked about donating to Black Lives Matter, but they knew they had something more valuable than money to give the cause, an endless chain of heavy creative talent to anchor down the movement.
"We decided, well, you know, we probably just need to be more engaged than just donating money; donating money is cool and I support that," Wade says, "but what could we do that was more? And one of the motivating factors is that ... you know, we're white guys. I'm a white guy from the suburbs, and my life when I was an early adult changed pretty dramatically when I kind of threw myself into the Dallas rap scene."
Around 1991, Wade started coming up in the Dallas hip-hop scene as a musician, DJ and later music journalist and meeting members of the religious movement Five-Percent Nation.
"The guys that were running the Dallas rap scene, for the most part, were transplanted New York dudes, so there was a lot of that in the scene," Wade remembers, "and it was real, you know, eye-opening. It was quite an education for me and certainly, it opened my eyes to a lot of things and had a really profound impact on me."
After Wade left Erykah Badu's band, he stayed doing production for a company called First Com Music for the Universal Group, which is one of the sponsors of the project.
"My background was in hip-hop," Wade says. "And then I had this whole other career that took off because of basketball. And if you look at, you know, the demographics of the NBA, it's predominantly African American. And so I've had this really nice life based on my interaction and just awareness of that culture and that world, and it's benefited me greatly.
"And so, as Luke and I were talking through all this ... we thought, Why don't we leverage all of our relationships and everyone we've met along the way and see if we could do something a little more substantive than donate money? In other words, we can donate money and do other things at the same time."
Wade and Sardellos's idea was to put together a music project "and then utilize the songs to not only create engagement and awareness but also to generate money."
The nonprofit endeavor is raising funds for local social justice organizations that counter systemic racism: For Oak Cliff, the Music Forward Foundation, Joppy Momma's Farm and Young Leaders, Strong City.
"You could put all your energy into social justice," Wade says. "You could put all of your energy into barriers of entry for Black business. You could put all of your energy into underserved communities in education. You could put all your energy toward the wealth gap. You could put all of your energy into limited access to healthy diets. Like, there's a million things that are the byproduct of this. And so, instead of us starting an organization, we just wanted to start a creative endeavor because if you do that then there's no limit."
What was initially a "loose idea," Wade says, morphed "into all kinds of really cool things." On his entirely enviable Rolodex, one name stood out first: singer Keite Young from Medicine Man Revival, an activist for social justice who kicked off the project with the release of a single with Grammy winner Leon Bridges, a cover of T.L. Bennett's gospel song "Like a Ship."
The track was the first in a compilation that was pressed on a special triple-album vinyl by Hand Drawn Pressing, and it's an impressive exercise in name-dropping: Contributors to the album include The Black Pumas, Elliot Skinner, Holy Hive, Abraham Alexander, Ghost-Note, Cure for Paranoia plus a remix by JT Donaldson. Sam Lao and Sarah Jaffe paired up for a collaboration with "Domino," while Jah Born (whom Badu famously called "The God") produced the burningly political "Truth to Power" by Flower Child, one of the most electrifying new voices in hip-hop.
"Instead of us starting an organization, we just wanted to start a creative endeavor because if you do that then there's no limit." – Jeff "Skin" Wade
Wade also turned to his tall friends in sports.
"I was really confident that the Mavericks would help me support this because they had helped me support some things in the past," he says.
The basketball team supplied the funds for the vinyl, which was released on June 12 for Record Store Day. Much of the talent, recording studios (Niles City Sound, Klearlight Studios and Echolab) and collaborators mostly donated their time to Truth to Power.
Young calls the project "one of the most gratifying cultural efforts I've ever been a part of."
"I’m most alive when I’m at service to a vision that benefits the greater good," Young says. "My passion and calling are to build community. It’s my desire that this project grows into an effort that spans every major media market in the country and eventually every major city."
Wade says the sale of the record will go toward the four nonprofits, while the collective also will raise funds separately to support local Black businesses. As the son of a business owner, this was a vital part of the project's initiative.
"One way for a community to resiliently lift itself up is when you have opportunity in that community," Wade says. "And so I think a focus on Black-owned businesses is really powerful. ... When you have a small business and you employ people, you're doing something powerful in your community. When you give people opportunities and you give them jobs, you give them opportunities for their family to eat and hopefully be able to get education and those things."
The cover art was produced by artist Jeremy Biggers, who also directed Flower Child's video for "Truth to Power." A documentary about the project is also in the works.
Wade says that the project's mission benefits the entire community.
"Race is always a thing in this country," he said. "But those are elements where it becomes less important and then people sort of try to connect with one another, no matter how different their backgrounds are, and then they find their commonalities. And they start doing really great fucking shit together."