Bobby Sessions

Bobby Sessions

German Torres, by permission of Def Jam/

Close-up of a young black man, looking directly into the camera, spitting fire: "Mouth is dry, bout to die/Spoke in public, rope is tuggin.'" The camera pulls back slowly, and before long we see the man is dressed in the rags of a slave and has a noose around his neck, ready for lynching.

The startling image is the opening salvo of the video for "Like Me," a cut from Dallas rapper Bobby Sessions' new EP RVLTN (Chapter 1): The Divided States of America, newly released by hip-hop titan Def Jam. Both song and video, directed by Jeremy Biggers, are meant to provoke, especially as they make connections between the horrors of slavery and present-day police brutality. In an era when hip-hop is more likely to foster material aspirations than political consciousness, Sessions is continuing a tradition established by the likes of Public Enemy, Dead Prez and The Coup. He wants to make it big, but he's also got bigger fish to fry.

"You have to be willing to be offensive or provocative in pursuit of the truth," Sessions says on a recent afternoon, relaxing in the Deep Ellum offices of his management team, High Standardz. "Everybody has these lines that they don't want crossed, but we all have to be uncomfortable to grow. I'm willing to go there with my music so that ultimately we all can grow — regardless if you love or hate my approach."

When Sessions raps, he's not just doing it for himself and his fans. He's also remembering his cousin, James Harper, who was shot and killed by a Dallas police officer in 2012. (Harper was unarmed; the officer was cleared of any wrongdoing). The moment was an awakening for Sessions, who grew up in Pleasant Grove. Suddenly, police violence wasn't just something happening on Twitter where, as he says, "You're scrolling down and you're like, 'Aw, that's messed up' and you just keep going about your day."

Harper's death was fuel for Sessions' creative fire.

"There's not someone in the family that has a platform where they can speak out about it," Sessions explains. "Since I have a platform, it's my responsibility to do so. Now that we're signed with Def Jam, we have a bigger platform, and I don't just use that to have a bunch of egotistical raps. I want to really talk about something that means something."

Sessions isn't shy about going after big targets. On "Pick a Side," he calls out black celebrities, including sports commentators Jason Whitlock and Ray Lewis, for kowtowing to the powers that be. He likens them to house slaves, seeking comfort while the field slaves toil.

"We have a bunch of people that look like me that are in positions of power and influence that will dismiss things that are happening within their own community in pursuit of personal gain," Sessions says. "So, simply put, you will appease your white co-worker so that you don't make them uncomfortable about what's really going on."

The 20-something Sessions, who won't give his age but describes himself as a "'90s baby," is a throwback of sorts. There are some major label hip-hop artists engaging with social issues; Kendrick Lamar comes to mind. But much of the up-and-coming generation appeals more to surface than to substance. It's not that he doesn't care about money; as he says, "I don't want to be a talented, broke rapper." That doesn't mean he's about to hold his tongue. Like Chuck D, he's got so much trouble on his mind. And he's determined to let it out.

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