In late May and early June, as protests erupted all over the U.S. in the aftermath of the George Floyd killing, Chicago native Wyatt Waddell found himself trying to process a whirlwind of intense emotions. Hurt, outraged and inspired, the South Side R&B singer-songwriter headed straight for his pen and then the recording booth. The outcome was a fiery, soul-infused tune entitled “FIGHT!,” released on June 3, less than two weeks after Floyd’s murder. Set to uptempo percussion and Waddell’s impassioned cries, the track is both an anthem of hope and a call to stand up for equal rights.
Editor Roberto Johnson caught up with Wyatt to chat about writing and recording the song and the responsibility he feels to use his voice during times of social unrest.
You released “FIGHT!” back in June and it’s still getting great traction online. Can you tell me about the inception of the song and the specific moment that brought you to record it?
Wyatt: Honestly, the looting. Seeing the incidents with officers. When that started, I didn’t know what to feel. It made me angry, wanting to go out there. I had trouble writing before. I didn’t know how to put my feelings out there and how I felt about all the stuff that was happening. The song literally just came out of nowhere.
In the track’s liner notes, you mention how you typically write from your own perspective and that this song forced you to think from a different point of view. Where did you go in your mind to make that happen?
Wyatt: I usually am very insecure about what I write. I get picky and choosy about what I come up with. It was only getting out the way of myself and my insecurities. I had to get out of my own way in order to benefit other people.
A lot of artists have used their platform to either make a statement about racial injustice or release music addressing the topic. Why do you feel a responsibility to get involved and use your voice to help the cause?
Wyatt: To put it in other artists’ words, we have the ability to speak for those who can’t speak. I can recall listening to a lot of songs that hit it right on the head for me. I hope this is a type of a song that can be a kind of epiphany for other people. Simple and straightforward but effective. I can do that better than I can do oratorical speaking. I can convey my feelings through song because I have the time to do so and I work better under those circumstances.
How has Chicago shaped your stance on community and social activism?
Wyatt: I see it as very segregated. Even as a kid, I noticed how different everything was downtown on the North Side than it was on the South Side. It’s funny because it almost looks the same. Seeing the community as so divided and people coming up with stereotypes about how bad the South Side is, it kind of hurts. I feel that we could definitely all work together and kind of cross-bridge, but at the same time, I still kind of feel a dividing line.
In this country, minorities and people of color have always had to fight for equal rights. What would be your message to those feeling discouraged about progress and social change?
Wyatt: It’s very hard to chew on because the people controlling the masses have all the power. Right now, we’re living in a very uncertain time. I feel like we’re living in a post-apocalyptic world. I’d say it isn’t over. Get inspired by those of the past. No matter what happens, your head should still be in the game. We should still be speaking out.
The song puts it pretty plainly. Its message is to keep on fighting because that’s all that can be done – it’s the only option left. Where does that sense of resolve and the unwillingness to give up come from?
Wyatt: I think just hearing stories about other people. Stories about people fighting and moving forward and not giving up. Things like Martin Luther King uniting people, them enduring so much and just seeing the history, how people never gave up. They kept on going despite the odds they were against. People fought and died for this stuff, you know? I think that’s what I was trying to encapsulate in the song.
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Photo credit: Sam Fuehring. Purchase and stream Wyatt Waddell’s song “FIGHT!” on all platforms. All proceeds from are donated Black Lives Matter Chicago, Chicago Community Bond Fund and Greater Chicago Food Depository.