By Darren J. Saint-Ulysse
I was, like many, first introduced to Keedron Bryant’s voice when a video of him singing a song called “I Just Wanna Live” went viral online. Posted only days after George Floyd was killed, the video features the then 12-year-old Bryant showcasing the maturity, control, and range of his voice as he sung and prayed a song that, as Access Hollywood’s Scott Evans put it, felt like “a song that we had all heard before,” despite being only recently written by Keedron’s mother, Johnnetta Bryant.
Yet in listening to Bryant’s EP “I Just Wanna Live,” released on September 11, I experienced more sadness than joy. To be clear, it is an album worth multiple listens: Bryant’s vocal ability and lyrical delivery shine throughout the EP, a collection of well-written and well-produced songs. But three out of the eight songs on the EP are different mixes of the title track, and the more I hear the song, the more I wish Johnnetta Bryant didn’t have to feel compelled to write it.
The song’s accompanying music video begins with Bryant – who, we should note, sings with a voice that does not seem to have completed the changes that puberty often brings — staring into the barrel of a gun pointed at him by a White man playing a police officer, while singing “I just wanna live! God, protect me!”
The video appears to have been designed as a commentary on the relationship between Black people and the American police force (ending with the police officer inexplicably extending a hand to lift Bryant up from the ground). The video stands in stark contrast to another video on Bryant’s YouTube page, uploaded four videos before Bryant’s initial uploading of “I Just Wanna Live.”
In that video, a seven-year-old Bryant is preaching – as if he were in church and had the backing of Cory Henry on the organ – about snow cone flavors. “Butterscotch and caramel!” “Chocolate cream!” “Better [for] diabetics, sugar-free flavors!”
The juxtaposition of these two videos accurately marks Earth’s reality: joy and lament, snow cones and the threat of death. I just wish it weren’t like this. I wish Bryant’s voice could have gotten our attention some other way.
And I can only hope he still is preaching about snow cones.
The tracklist for “I Just Wanna Live” includes:
- I Just Wanna Live
- Talk About It
- U Got This
- Kings N Queens
- Never Could Say
- I Just Wanna Live (feat. Andra Day, Lucky Daye & IDK)
- I Just Wanna Live (Gospel Spirit Mix)