Behind the Song: "Change (If We Try) feat. Abbey Smith" by CAMM
On Tuesday, September 27, 2016, police in San Diego, CA shot and killed Alfred Olango, a mentally ill, unarmed black man, after his sister called for help when Olango was experiencing an apparent mental breakdown. This report came nearly two weeks after police in Tulsa, OK shot Terence Crutcher, an unarmed black man whose car broke down in the middle of a road. In the time between these two shootings, Nashville-based hip-hop artist CAMM released a new single featuring soul singer Abbey Smith titled “Change (If We Try).” This new single addresses the fear and anger invoked by the injustices affecting black Americans on a daily basis, specifically police shootings.
“Change” was actually written about a year ago in response to the social injustices taking place then, but sadly a year later this song is as relevant as it would have been in 2015. The song opens with a filtered-out jam between CAMM, Abbey, and the band, fading into the actual song as CAMM lays down the first verse over sustained piano chords, snaps, and light BGVs. CAMM doesn’t waste a second, jumping right into his message: “I see my people get killed daily / And I pray thee, mercy and grace offer some safety / In the system that hate me.”
The first verse grows more intense as CAMM not only expresses his personal fears and fears for other people, but also highlights the ironies of orders to comply from police: “…they line us all up and yell ‘turn to the front’ / ‘keep your hands to the front,’ but you got ’em cuffed to my back / My jaw scrapin’ the ground as I lay down flat / They yell ‘stand up, boy,’ but yo knees in my back.” CAMM is no doubt referencing instances of police shootings such as the shooting of Terence Crutcher, where Crutcher had his hands in the air when officers fatally shot him.
There are other ironies at play here, too, as CAMM points out just before the second half of the first verse: “And if perception is reality, I’m facin’ the fact / That in a country full of Christians you hate that I’m black.” A 2015 reportfrom Perfect Insider ranked the United States as having the largest Christian population in the world, followed by Brazil and Mexico by a margin of over a million people. A Christian himself, CAMM struggles to come to terms with this fact in spite of the racism he has experienced and witnessed from other so-called Christians.
Racism’s roots run deep, and CAMM doesn’t shy away from exposing the fear born from insecurities and a lack of understanding that morphs into hate, saying, “Cause all that melanin been bringing out some fear in yo hearts / The insecurities start and switch the fear out with hate / We went from kneeling and praying to all becoming yo prey.” CAMM acknowledges that in many instances racism towards black people in America stems from an ignorance about the injustices facing black people. This ignorance turns into misunderstanding and fear, which eventually turns into hate directed at black people.
CAMM doesn’t let this barrier stop him, however, proclaiming: “…Regardless we gon’ keep on with them marches / And all the tweets and posts, keeping the news close / And the dream of King can linger on, tellin’ my brothers to sing along.” It is crucial to address these problems and to continue to fight against them, especially for younger and future generations, as CAMM notes just before the chorus when Abbey Smith steps in with a soulful hook. Abbey sings a message of hope, encouraging listeners to be the change they want to see, if they will only try.
The second and final verse sees CAMM making a plea for change, asking people to “…pray for blacks the way we all prayed for the Eiffel,” making a reference to the sympathetic social media phenomenon in fall 2015 following the terrorist attacks in Paris. CAMM doesn’t think this situation is hopeless, though, expressing his faith in God to care for the black people in America and CAMM’s desire to help people who aren’t black understand the plight of his race when he says, “Look, we straight, I wanna help your fate / Cause I know God ain’t too pleased with how you treat my race.” CAMM’s last lines in the song end with him turning the situation on its head, noting that if it were another race facing these injustices they would be outspoken as well, having a reason to hope and pray for change just as black people in the United States do.
“Change (If We Try)” is a powerful testament from a young black man in response to the injustice, racism, and hate that plagues so many black Americans on a daily basis. CAMM’s verses are telling and extremely relevant to present-day America, offering crucial personal insight from someone watching these events unfold and fearing that he might be the next headline or trending hashtag on Twitter. CAMM and Abbey Smith’s latest single is available on SoundCloud for free streaming and download.