One of the more provocative songs to come out of the Parkland, Fla. high school shooting is “thoughts & prayers” from politically charged alternative artist/rapper grandson (born Jordan Benjamin).
The song is a stinging indictment of politicians sending out their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims of the Feb. 14 attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school and other mass shootings, while consistently resisting any attempt at meaningful gun reform.
“No thoughts and no prayers can bring back what’s no longer there/ The silent are damned/the body count is on your hands,” grandson spits out on the song, which has garnered nearly 400,000 views on YouTube since its release on March 23 and more than 900,960 streams on Spotify. The song’s impact is made all the greater by the addition of the West Los Angeles Children’s Choir singing along with grandson as he laments our lack of action to protect children.
Grandson, who has signed with Fueled By Ramen Records, was in a New York hotel room when he heard about the Parkland shooting. “I wrote the song towards these politicians with transparent connections to the NRA and gun industry who trot out the tropes about ‘thoughts and prayers’ and do nothing time and time again from a legislative perspective,” he says.
As he was writing, grandson anticipated that Parkland may be the beginning of a movement. “I wanted a rallying cry, something I could say at the march and I tripped and fell into a song,” he says. “I juxtaposed the severity of the situation with an almost sing/song melody and incorporated the children.” All proceeds from the sale of “thoughts & prayers” limited edition merchandise available on grandson’s Bandcamp page will benefit the Youth For Safety and Justice Fund.
He debuted the song live March 23 at a pre-March For Our Lives event at Los Angeles’ Winston House, surrounded by the West Los Angeles Children’s Choir, whose members wore black t-shirts numbered 1-17 to represent the 17 students and teachers killed in the Parkland shooting. The same day, FBR rushed to get the song on Spotify’s New Music Friday.
The next day, grandson and the choir performed the song along the March For Our Lives route in downtown Los Angeles.
“We walked around the March, we performed a few times. We stumbled across some counter protesters who were standing up against any kind of gun reform,” grandson recalls. “We kind of had a stand-off with them. There was some negative energy. We wanted to have positive energy, so we sung and we told them that we loved them and accepted them.” When asked the counter-protesters’ reaction, grandson admits, “It wasn’t exactly the kumbaya moment we were hoping for, but I can’t take it upon myself to change everyone’s opinion. The purpose of the song is really to inspire dialog and discourse.”
Inspired by artists like Rage Against the Machine, Bob Marley, John Lennon and Nirvana, grandson feels “the responsibility of rock and rock is to provide a certain commentary, sense of urgency, sense of aggression. I’ve used music to say ‘this isn’t normal right now’.”
Born in New Jersey, raised in Toronto, and now living in Los Angeles, grandson, 24, has been making bold statement with his music for the last few years. A number of grandson’s songs have attracted several million plays on Spotify, including “Blood // Water,” with nearly 8 million streams, and “Bury Me Face Down” at 5.3 million streams.
Feeling he had taken his career as far as he could as an independent artist, he struck his deal with FBR in March. “I wanted to align myself with a more broad team that were committed to the same principles but had the sort of resources that can disseminate the message as far as it can go,” he says. “Fueled By Ramen from day one has been very committed to the beliefs I have and hasn’t tried to stifle me at all. They’ve been very proactive in helping align me with different charities.”
“Although it’s been a lot of fun developing the project independently, we have extremely lofty goals and always understood that we would eventually require additional resources — both human and financial — to break certain barriers and ultimately achieve what we set out to do,” adds Amit Krispin, who has managed grandson for two years (Krispin is also responsible for his nickname: he dreamt that he saw Benjamin performing as the crowd chanted “grandson.”)
Mike Easterlin, who is president of FBR, home to acts like Panic! At the Disco and Twenty One Pilots, says, “We were immediately drawn to grandson’s powerful union of art and activism. He’s an incredible artist carrying a powerful message and we saw how deeply that was resonating. grandson’s songs speak to a growing collective consciousness and we’re proud to stand behind such an inspiring vision.”
Coming in the next few weeks from FBR is an official video for “thoughts & prayers” that will integrate footage from grandson’s performances at Winston House and the Los Angeles March For Our Lives, a well as video submitted by fans. “I reached out to all my fans and followers to send in footage of them at the March, walking around with signs they made themselves with ‘no thoughts, no prayers’,” grandson says. “They marched, they chanted, they went hard.”
Grandson was 5 when the Columbine High School massacre happened in 1999. “I was in university working in education when I heard about Sandy Hook,” he says. “My childhood, education and adult life has been marred by these violent, senseless happenings and what I’ve noted is how we’ve become increasingly apathetic.” However, he has not given up hope that the next generation will not grow up with the spectre of gun attacks and as they embrace “thoughts & prayers,” he believes the song can provide a framework for a larger conversation. “This is so much bigger than me,” he says. “The way these kids have stood up for the message. I want to help them along. We want to use the opportunity to be a mirror to reflect them.”