Following her stirring rendition of Lauryn Hill’s “Just Like Water,” (re-titled “Water“), NYU professor/activist/singer-songwriter Crystal Monee Hall premieres a new song today (Feb. 9th) called “Lost Boys,” a song that resonates in these current times.
Crystal wrote a note about the events and books that inspired the song — including the mass-incarceration crisis, the Black Lives Matter movement, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book Between The World And Me.
The “Lost Boys” journey began during a conversation I had with a middle-school social worker based on the South Side of Chicago. She spoke of the inevitability her male students feel on entering the prison pipeline, and the frequent narrative of the “troubled student” that isn’t a bad kid but is acting out due to a family life broken by the system. It shook me to hear prison described as inevitable — and that her 12-year old students feel more fear than safety in the presence of law enforcement. Her unwavering advocacy for these students on the front lines of one of America’s most devastated communities left me inspired.
I needed to do something, and amidst all the new hashtags swirling in my head, an old “hashtag” came to mind from my adolescence (the land before hashtags), that empowered and motivates me to this day: #knowledgeispower. I decided to educate myself on the topic, so I went to what I knew—books. I read and re-read Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, and Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates. While reading Coates, a passage on the black family stuck with me:
“Everyone had lost a child, somehow, to the streets, to jail, to drugs, to guns. It was said that these lost girls were sweet as honey and would not hurt a fly. It was said that these lost boys had just received a GED and had begun to turn their lives around. And now they were gone, and their legacy was a great fear.”—Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
I ruminated on the phrase “lost boys” for months. Going back to the circled words on the page. Over these months, movements and organizations were born, myriad marches and protests were staged, conversations and conferences held. Social media was full of petitions and tweets, posts and reposts. Hashtags like #trayvonmartin, #handsupdontshoot, #blacklivesmatter, #iamsandrabland, #saytheirnames became symbols of solidarity. Our communities cried out, we bargained, we fought the depression and darkness settling around as we watched history repeat itself.
During this time I began working with producer Dan Edinberg. On this particular day, we began our 3rd and final song of the day. We built an instrumental track focused on keys, strings and horns. It took 30 minutes. So excited by the instrumental, I hadn’t thought through what it would be. I decided to take a first pass at the melody and somehow the entire lyric and melody poured out in one take. It let out my sorrow, rage, and hope. And the phrase “lost boys” finally came out of me.
“Lost Boys” is about eradicating fear of oppression. It’s about calling out the names of the fallen and finding a way forward, together. It’s about realizing that the “blood in these streets” can be washed clean if we stand up and speak out. It’s about recognizing that knowledge is power, and if we educate ourselves about the system that is failing us, we can work on changing it for good.
After years as a professor at New York University and singing with the likes of Kanye West, Mariah Carey, and Craig David, Crystal Monee Hall continues to be a key part of high-profile music moments, from singing with Mariah Carey’s Christmas residency at New York’s Beacon Theater, to performing alongside Kanye West and Chance The Rapper during their debut performance of “Ultralight Beam” on SNL to Craig David’s “All We Needed,” the official song of the BBC’s 2016 Children In Need campaign.
Facebook: Crystal Monee Hall