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Jonathan Emile teams up with Kendrick Lamar on Martin Luther King Day release

01/19/2015 12:32 EST | Updated 03/21/2015 05:59 EDT
Montreal-based singer Jonathan Emile was inspired to write the song Heaven Help Dem by the death of 18-year-old Fredy Villanueva, the Montreal teenager shot and killed by police in 2008. 

The song is an anthem decrying police brutality and discrimination in the wake of fatal shootings of young men from visible minorities in North America. 

"I feel so strongly about the militarization of police," said Emile.

"It does have something to do with colour, with our colonial legacy in the Americas. This is something we cannot really deny."

He picked Martin Luther King Jr. Day to release the song for sale on iTunes as part of his album Lover/Fighter.   

"Martin Luther King dealt with those [colonial] legacies. There's a fear of the other, of the young coloured person, of the impoverished, so I felt like I needed to do the song."

On mobile? Watch the video for Heaven help dem here

Collaborating with Grammy-nominated rapper Kendrick Lamar

"We just straight picked up the phone and said 'Hi, this is who we are, this is what we're about. We'd like to do this song, it's about police brutality, urban violence, and we'd like to know if Kendrick is interested,'" said Emile. 

A few days later, Emile received a call saying Kendrick Lamar agreed to collaborate. The two artists communicated over the internet and sent clips back and forth without ever meeting in person. 

The song was originally slated for release in 2014, but was delayed after the death of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old man who was fatally shot by a police officer in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri.

"It would have been opportunistic," he said. "It would have caused friction with people I respect. Some people are in the business of the now. I'm really more concerned with the timelessness of what I'm writing."

Spreading a positive message

To mark Black History Month, Emile will tour schools in Quebec and Ontario throughout February.

He hopes his speeches and performances will inspire the younger generation to create a world with less violence and discrimination.

"People have been working on [the problem of discrimination] for generations," said Emile.

"I think the solution is militant empathy. We need to be empathy-focused and listen to one another."

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