When singer and author Justin Michael Williams approached writing his first book by trying to answer one key question: How are you supposed to meditate when the world around you is in a state of chaos?
His answer comes in the form of Stay Woke: A Meditation Guide for the Rest of Us, which detailing meditation plans, affirmations and guides for keeping yourself in a state of mindfulness for marginalized people everywhere. “If you meditate when you’re black, or gay, or trans, or poor … you’ll start to break free from the chains that keep you in your place and that have kept your family and your people in their place for so long,” he tells Billboard via email. “The fact that we, today, even have the opportunity to think about things like mental health and manifesting and life purpose is an opportunity and privilege that we cannot take for granted. We have been paid for. And we cannot take that for granted.”
To accompany his new book, Williams also released a new song, “I Am Enough,” an anthem of empowerment for the communities in need of affirmation. But it’s in the song’s remixes that the star decided to do something different: instead of releasing club-ready productions, the star teamed up with producer Jon Chau to create relaxing “meditation remixes” of his song, to help assist his fans in their mindfulness.
“Most meditation music is just full of gongs and cheesy nature sounds,” he says. “And if you want to hear anything other than that, you have to search through random playlists of electronic “study” or “focus” music that isn’t really created with the idea of empowerment or meditation in mind.”
Williams chatted with Billboard about writing his new book, his upcoming meditation tour and more:
How did you go about putting togther the “meditation remixes” of your new single “I Am Enough”
With everything going on in the world today, I’ve been feeling like we’ve been in desperate need of a positive feel-good anthem that isn’t about sex or partying, but empowers us into something greater. The song “I Am Enough” was born from that. It seems no matter how much we meditate or how much we achieve or accomplish, there’s always that little child inside of each of us who just wants to hear, ‘You are enough.’ I love a good pop anthem, but I also love listening to vibey music when I’m working, being creative, or meditating—but most meditation music is just full of gongs and cheesy nature sounds. And if you want to hear anything other than that, you have to search through random playlists of electronic “study” or “focus” music that isn’t really created with the idea of empowerment or meditation in mind.
So I had an idea. And it actually came to me on a hike. I thought—what if I could take the empowerment anthem “I Am Enough” and rebuild it from the ground up in a way that was specifically curated for creativity, meditation, and focus. From that, the “meditation mixes” were born. I worked with an amazing producer and friend who I’ve known since college named Jon Chau to completely reconstruct the song—making it mostly instrumental, while still retaining the signature melody and most importantly, the mantra of the song: “I Am Enough.” In the original version, those words, “I Am Enough,” are a chorus, but in the meditation mix they become a mantra: reminding you of your power and greatness as you meditate, work, and create. My plan is to keep releasing meditation mixes for every song I have coming out this year.
Stay Woke deals with learning meditation as a marginalized person in society, and offers techniques for people on how to stay mindful of that reality while trying to achieve this level of calm. What made you want to write this story?
One of the biggest lies people have been told about meditation is that it’s about “relaxing.” But the truth is, meditation is not about relaxing, it’s about becoming more alive. More connected to your passions, your emotions, the people you care about, and the causes you believe in. If you meditate when you’re black, or gay, or trans, or poor or [insert marginalized voice here], you’ll start to break free from the chains that keep you in your place and that have kept your family and your people in their place for so long. The fact that we, today, even have the opportunity to think about things like mental health and manifesting and life purpose is an opportunity and privilege that we cannot take for granted. We have been paid for. And we cannot take that for granted. For many of us, we are the first generation to start doing the inner-work needed to break these cycles. So it’s important that we have practices — like meditation — that keep us grounded in who we really are as we fight for things like justice, equality, peace, and purpose.
Your upcoming tour for the book also doesn’t follow the traditional path of a book tour, but instead offers mass meditations. What are you hoping attendees get from the events?
My publisher Sounds True and I are skipping the traditional book tour model — which usually involves book store readings in affluent neighborhoods — and instead going on a “give-back” tour to some of the most impacted cities in the United States. Places that don’t typically get access to things like mindfulness and mental health. In each city we’re doing a big event that’s like a mix between a TED Talk and a music concert and giving away thousands of books and teaching kids to meditate.
I want you to picture this: tens of thousands of students across America are going to be in a room together singing the words “I Am Enough.” My mission is to use music, and meditation, and empowerment to teach them to a life-changing practice that will help them feel more connected to their sense of power, purpose, and possibility. The practice of meditation quite literally saved my life. I grew up in a home with gunshot holes engraved onto the outside of my house, and now I have the blessing of traveling the world to speak and teach and perform and live my dream. I want to make sure every single kid out there gets that opportunity to live theirs well.