Title: 16 Bars (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
Label: Lightyear Ent.
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: November 8, 2019
Two time Grammy award winner and hip hop artist Speech Thomas and his band Arrested Development have spent the past few decades touring the world, seeking out opportunities to address social and racial justice issues. Since the release of their triple platinum debut album, 3 Years, 5 Month & 2 Days in the Life of (1993), they have created many different projects and facilitated opportunities for various communities. The documentary 16 Bars, currently screening on the film festival circuit, is the fruition of one of the most ground breaking projects they have released yet. The film follows the journey of Thomas and his band members as they work with inmates at the Richmond City Jail to produce written and recorded narratives about the complex issues of the criminal justice system, including the social and economic effects it has on the families these men were taken away from. In the words of Speech Thomas, “these men are behind bars… but their voices have to be heard.”
The inmate artists selected for the soundtrack album include Teddy Kane, Garland Carr, Anthony Johnston and Devonte James. One of the highlights is the song “Lay My Burdens Down,” which features an all inmate choir recorded in the facility’s cafeteria. Another highlight is the poignant “Where My Daddy At,” a ballad-like hip hop song featuring Teddy Kane, rapping about the realities of fathers being taken away from their families and how the family structure breaks down as a result. The gain from these songs, the documentary and the project as a whole is the exploration of how the correctional system strips away inmates’ humanity. Instead, efforts should be made to figure out why these men are being placed in the correctional system in such large numbers, and how the community can help to keep these men and others out of prison. 16 Bars is more than an album full of beats to dance and move to, it is a think piece and more importantly, a collective narrative that will hopefully inspire many!
Reviewed by Bobby E. Davis Jr.