This Week's Hottest Dance Music Feature? Legendary Political Activist Dr. Cornel West

Brandon Lucas
Tony Bee

Brandon Lucas

You might not know the name Brandon Lucas, but you've almost definitely heard of Dr. Cornel West, the featured vocalist on Lucas' debut single.

Out Wednesday (September 30) via Lucas' own Purple Label Sound imprint, "Got That Hope" is a simmering house heater furnished with a chorus by the iconic political activist, author, philosopher and public intellectual.

Dr. West is also a longtime friend and mentor to Lucas. The Los Angeles-based producer has worked as West's social media manager since 2008, with West's messages of love, service and hope helping fuel Lucas' personal and artistic evolution during the past 12 years.

The Inglewood-born artist, a longtime musician, was working on his first batch of electronic productions this past spring, at the same time protests were happening throughout the country and on Lucas' own street in Los Angeles. Lucas asked his mentor about sampling a recent speech, and Dr. West gave the go-ahead, with "Got That Hope" featuring Dr. West's proclamations about being the human embodiment of hope itself sandwiched between Lucas' soulful vocals. The track is the first of several collabs from the two artists. Hear it below.

While West has collaborated on various hip-hop projects, released his own spoken-word albums and appeared in films including The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions, "Got That Hope" is his first foray into the dance world.

“You can’t talk about the great funk tradition without talking about house, techno music," Dr. West said in a statement, "all different kind of bodies -- straight, queer, trans, all connected through the depths of their humanity and allowing what is inside of their souls to overflow. That is what the rave is all about. That is what the groove is all about."

Here, Lucas talks about how "Got That Hope" came to be.

OK, this is a pretty wild collaboration. How did it come together? 

The record came about under the guise of having a lot of solo time to myself due to the pandemic -- and the weight of protests literally outside of my apartment window in the Fairfax/Beverly area of L.A.

I still run Dr. West’s social media, a gig I picked up back in 2008 when he was doing a lot of work with Tavis Smiley, who I interned for back during my R&B group days. I was an early professional pioneer in the social media world. I had built such a strong bond with Dr. West during our travels around the country and world, so when I graduated from USC to work in entertainment full time, we just kept working together on love.

Then what happened?

Fast forward to May 2020 and I had just begun producing and creating music of my own. I was also talking to Dr. West regularly, as the streets were hot with protests due to augmented racial strife, which inspired me to create a record with Dr. West’s message. Once he heard what I was working on, his excitement around the music and its connection to the roots of dance music ballooned into the idea of doing a full project together.

When did you first play your music for Dr. West, and what were his impressions? Was he already a dance music fan?

Out of respect I called him first, and I sent him the record right after. His response was something very Dr. West-like: “I love this funky piece, my brother! What a blessing to be a part of this groovin’ music!!!”

From there, we began having conversations about the state of the world as well as dance music -- and it was amazing how brilliantly he was able to connect the genre with the roots of the African-American tradition.

Building from these conversations, we began chatting with house/techno giants like Seth Troxler, which resulted in Dr. West’s involvement with and providing the opening word for Rave the Vote -- the voter registration festival series aimed at activating the dance community.

I imagine that it's not an accident that this song is being released a month before the election. What's the political intent of "Got That Hope"?

Absolutely. We wish we could have launched the full project before the election, but focusing on my music and the “Got That Hope” record was important to drive activation, conversation and some sort of positivity and hope in the midst of arguably the most divisive political climate we have seen in our lifetime.

Dr. West's chorus states "it's a narrative of a catastrophe, lyrically expressed, but doesn't allow the catastrophe to happen." What does that sentiment mean to you?

It’s what I’ve personally lived. Being so intimately connected to Dr. West’s message has impacted me greatly. I grew up “underprivileged,” but an overachiever nonetheless. I got close to Dr. West during a time in my life when everything I worked and lived for fell apart. His message of leadership through love and service has allowed me to express that hope in pushing for something greater in my life in the midst of “catastrophe.”

One of Doc’s famous quotes is “I’m not an optimist, but I am a prisoner of hope.” Hope is what keeps you going and fighting, especially during this time of uncertainty and catastrophe in our nation and the world. More than posting on social media, more than protesting, we have to lean on hope and do what you personally can do to make a difference.

What was his reaction when he heard the finished track?

Dr. West is all about the funk -- the power and drive of the beat does it for him, from what he has graciously expressed to me. I’m truly honored and grateful to have such support from him.

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