The R&B crooner talks about his recent jail stint after an Occupy D.C. rally, and why it may not be his last.
BET.com: Why did you get involved in the Occupy movement and why does it resonate with you?
Raheem DeVaughn: For those who are in tune with my music, I’ve been looking to be part of something bigger. The climate of the country is there right now. I’ve been creating the soundtrack for this movement for a while and looking for it, and it’s all making sense. Meeting with Bootsy Collins and Cornel West during Sunday’s protest was not by accident.
We were at the Occupy D.C. rally and a sister in the crowd asked Dr. West, "What are you gonna do today to honor MLK?" It was a challenge. His response was basically that we’re still fighting for the same things that Dr. King fought for in his era. And don’t get it twisted--there’s nothing sweet out here right now. I’m seeing homeless vets, homeless mental patients, I’m walking with brothers with their college degrees and can’t get a job. It just hit home. And we said what he can do is go to jail today.
You’re a famous singer and you end up behind bars. What was that experience like ?
I’ve said it time and time again: I don’t see how anybody can get used to jail. That doesn’t mean I won’t go back in there again for a just cause. But for wanting to hustle or sell drugs or making stupid decisions, messing around and catching charges, I can’t see wanting to be in the system.
Ninety-nine percent of those people were my people behind bars. I have a problem with that. That was part of the reason I was at the rally as well. So whether it took me not bathing, drinking water, not seeing any of my people for 24 hours, it was very humbling.
Waking up and dozing off, I was thinking, I was in the cell with Dr. Cornel West!
What did you talk about?
We talked about poverty. That brother is dedicated. We live in a world where there is so much wealth. There shouldn’t be a homeless person. That’s crazy. Kids should be able eat and have health care. We should have better schools. Me and Dr. West are two totally different generations, so to be able to have that one-on-one time was powerful and life-changing.
Shout-out to all the officers in D1! They treated us fairly even though we were considered high profile.
A brother who was locked up there said, "Man, y'all did that? Y'all got arrested? I need to be over there with y'all!"
You gotta think of the people who can’t be on the front lines [because they] can’t take off of work or be away from their families. We did it for them too.
Do you feel that you are changed?
It forever impacted my life. I got my batteries charged up and I went straight to the studio and created music and I didn’t sleep for days because I couldn’t go to sleep.
I saw so many people who I went to high school with in jail and I have no regrets. I can’t say that it won’t happen again.
What is the message you were trying to send?
The message is: Wake up. This can be you. My parents are older, so I have a mom who struggles. It gets tight at times. I have a father who has health issues and battles cancer and wonders if he can pay for his treatment.
That wasn’t Raheem the artist Sunday. It was Raheem who is in their shoes.
Is there a movement toward consciousness among entertainers and musicians?
I think you have some artists who try to be as conscious as they can be. There’s a line being drawn in the sand. You have to decide if you in it or if you ain’t. This is entertainment but you’re gonna be held accountable for what’s coming out of your mouth. You’re gonna be held accountable by the same community that supported you. I go out to the schools and give them that 15 minutes and I can tell you it changes lives.
How does this kind of consciousness affect the music you create ?
I feel like I serve the same purpose as the Martins or the Malcolms or the Erykahs or the Harry Belafontes. They made music that stood for something.
What can we expect to hear from you in the future on the activism front and the music front?
I’m excited about my new project. It’s a relationship album. It’s about love, pain and healing. I’m in the middle of a bidding war. I’m re-inventing myself. I’m getting into more activism, partnering with the CDC [Centers for Disease Control] for HIV awareness, and just trying to become a better man, a better individual. I’m also raising money for cancer research because both my parents had cancer scares.