Ferguson native Keyon Harrold is still in shock after a December incident involving his son made national headlines, but they’re making the best of the situation and using it to spark change and awareness.
On the day after Christmas, a woman falsely accused Harrold’s son of stealing her cellphone at a New York City hotel. Video of the altercation, filmed by Harrold, went viral, and the family appeared on national news shows to address the injustice.
(The woman’s phone was found in an Uber, and she was arrested on multiple charges.)
“Life has taken a crazy turn. It’s a lot,” says Harrold, a Grammy-winning trumpet player who has performed with a who’s who of artists. Keyon Harrold Jr., now 15, is doing OK. “We’re doing self-care to come out of this in a positive light.”
One positive outcome: Harrold has taken over as curator of Spotify’s Black Lives Matter playlist, featuring songs of empowerment and pride. “These are songs that touch the heart,” he says. “They’re songs about love, freedom and encouragement.”
The playlist links to Color of Change, a racial justice organization.
“We want people to sign the (organization’s) petition to create legislation that will limit and stop the mistreatment and racial profiling of Black people, normalize fair treatment of Black people and hold people accountable, from the perpetrator to the establishment,” says Harrold.
The goal is to obtain 100,000 signatures.
This is crucial, he says, as Blacks are treated as “the lowest of the low. What happens in our struggle sometimes gets overlooked and overtaken. Our existence needs to stand on its own, and music is a perfect way to show that influence, to show our dexterity, our confidence, our emotions, our excellence and our beauty. We are the salt of the earth when it comes to our influence, but we’re so persecuted and looked at in such a disrespectful way.”
With the Spotify playlist, he says, he hopes to eliminate “marginalized images of Black people and create better images of how it’s supposed to be.”
The playlist leads with Common and Jessica Care Moore’s “(A Beautiful Revolution) Intro,” a song Harrold played on. The playlist also features “Black Parade” (Beyoncé), “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” (James Brown), “DNA.” and “Alright” (Kendrick Lamar), “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” (Gil Scott-Heron), “Young, Gifted and Black” (Aretha Franklin), “This Is America” (Childish Gambino), “What’s Going On” (Marvin Gaye), “Glory” (Common and John Legend), “I Can’t Breathe” (H.E.R.), “Strange Fruit” (Nina Simone), “A Change Is Gonna Come” (Leslie Odom Jr.) and “Colors” (Black Pumas).
The first song Harrold knew he had to include was J. Cole’s “Be Free.” His son introduced him to it.
“My son and I listen to a lot of music together, and he wanted it,” Harrold says. His son also brought D Smoke and Jill Scott’s “Sunkissed Child” to the table.
“MB Lament” was another early addition, from Harrold’s 2017 album “The Mugician.” He wrote the song in response to Michael Brown’s 2014 death in Ferguson.
Other songs from “The Mugician” that are on the playlist include “Wayfaring Traveler” (featuring Robert Glasper, Georgia Ann Muldrow and Jermaine Holmes) and “Stay This Way” (featuring Big K.R.I.T. and Bilal).
A number of the songs on the playlist are songs Harrold has co-written, produced or played on with other artists, such as Gregory Porter’s “Everything You Touch Is Gold,” Big K.R.I.T.’s “Drinking Sessions” and Samm Henshaw’s “All Good.”
Ads promoting Harrold and the Spotify playlist have appeared in Times Square and Penn Plaza in New York.
“It’s inspiring and amazing, and I appreciate the folks at Spotify for promoting a better image,” Harrold says. “We are vibrant people and should be looked at as vibrant. I appreciate Spotify. We’re here in Black History Month, and they chose an image of me and my son. We’re honored.”
Though Harrold had been involved with a few playlists and DJ sets in the past for Tidal, Soho Radio and other platforms, “this one is special,” he says. “It’s about humanity.”
Harrold recognizes that some people are hearing of him for the first time because of the hotel incident, though he’s been around for a long time. “I’m always about Black celebration, Black elevation and Black mourning as part of my brand.”
Harrold has new music in the wings, his first since “The Mugician.” But Harrold Jr. is actually up first; he is a producer, drummer, bassist and songwriter known as Key-Minor. He and his group, the Tribe, recently released a song titled “Unjustified Times,” featuring his father on production and vocal arrangement and his mother, saxophonist Kat Rodriguez, on video editing and co-lyrics.