How George Floyd's murder changed 4 Minneapolis musician's paths

Four people pose for a photo in front of a blue background
From left: Oaojooo, Breezy2Fresh, Mack OC and SoulFlower.
Taycier Elhindi for MPR

By Taycier Elhindi | Carbon Sound

On the three-year anniversary of George Floyd’s murder, I find myself reflecting on the past few years and how our city and community navigated such profound emotional turmoil. I often look back on that time and remember the fires that engulfed Minneapolis, the businesses that crumbled and the violence inflicted upon Black individuals by the state as we demanded justice.

However, amidst the chaos, I also remember the ways our community came together, the outpouring of love, and the instinctual desire to hold each other close.

Music has always played a crucial role in amplifying Black stories and narratives, serving as a universal language to break barriers, foster understanding and promote healing. As I’ve reflected on the last three years, I think about the music that inspired me and kept me going through that turmoil. I felt called to speak with some of the artists who created it.

Just days ago, I had the privilege of sitting down in my home with four talented Minneapolis musicians who have been using their art as a powerful tool for healing, unity, and resistance. SoulFlower, Breezy2Fresh, Mack OC and Oaojooo shared their experiences, inspirations and thoughts on the role of music in bringing about social change.

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  • Breezy2Fresh is a rapper who began making music to express himself, which evolved into finding an outlet to learn more about himself and tap into his emotions. Through that, he’s been able to relate to others on a deeper level. (InstagramSpotify)

  • Mack OC is a multifaceted artist who focuses mainly on Afro-fusion, R&B and rap. He believes music has the power to remind us of all that we are more alike than we are different. Mack hopes that he can relate to people through his craft and help others to feel seen in their experiences when they hear his stories. (InstagramSpotify)

  • Oaojooo is a rap and R&B artist, his connection to music lies in empowerment and he uses his craft to share his stories and experiences. “I like to tell stories with my music, and everyone has a story to tell.” (InstagramSpotify)

  • SoulFlower is a practicing healing artist who channels intuitive messages through music and uses it as a tool of feeling emotions to have a more grounded experience in this “mess of a world” we’re in. (InstagramSpotify)

The murder of George Floyd and the subsequent uprisings around the world left an indelible mark on these artists' lives, compelling them to respond to the profound moment. Here are selected moments from our two-hour-long table talk.

SoulFlower wears blue and sits on a chair
"I’ve done a lot of self-growth into my artistry and being more grounded as an individual," SoulFlower said.
Taycier Elhindi for MPR

SoulFlower described the summer of 2020 as surreal, with the widespread dissemination of traumatic events through social media.

“I wasn’t as into making music as I am now, but during that time I really wanted to connect with community,” she said. “There was a lot of destruction but how do we get together and heal?”

To fulfill this purpose, she co-founded Revolution Radio, a platform that provided resources and mutual aid. By channeling their emotions into art, rallies and protests, artists like SoulFlower found spaces to connect with others experiencing the same emotions, fostering a sense of unity amidst the chaos.

For Breezy2Fresh, the unrest following George Floyd's murder was a tipping point in a long-standing struggle against police brutality and systemic racism.

“It had already been brewing,” he said. “Even before George Floyd, there were a few of us that were making music geared toward this moment in history. I had made music about Philando [Castile] — that was right in our back yards too. I didn’t really make music directly about George Floyd because I realized as angry as a lot of us were, there needed to be uplifting messages as well.”

Outside of his own craft, Breezy saw beauty in the chaos, witnessing fellow artists use their art to support our community. 

Mack OC felt a strong sense of responsibility as an artist during that time. He wanted to be able to answer his future children's questions about what happened in Minneapolis in 2020.

He explains, “We’re all living in history, and I realized how monumental that was to have in our own backyards. Even if it never ends up in history books I had to think ‘How can you make an impact when it’s right in front of you?’” 

While thinking about how this would impact the state of the world going forward, Mack’s creativity was heavily fueled by the desire to relate to the people around him in that moment and create something that allowed people to feel understood in their pain, frustration, confusion, etc.

Oaojooo wears a hoodie and cap and sits on a chair
"I forget about what I was going through at that time because of how much community I did have and how much inspiration I had and creativity I was indulging in," Oaojooo said.
Taycier Elhindi for MPR

Oaojooo expressed the challenges he faced in creating at the time.

“It wasn’t till 2022 that I learned about toxic positivity, and I realized that I stunt my creation sometimes because I worry about being too negative or frank but that’s equally a part of it all,” he said. “The pain and turmoil are equally a part of the beauty and the creation.”

Despite the difficulties, he drew inspiration from the sense of purpose that arose during those events, witnessing the flame of purpose ignite in people who previously searched for meaning.

The conversation then shifted toward the role of creativity and art as a form of resistance. SoulFlower emphasized that creating art challenges the notion that individual voices do not matter.

“I think art is inherently activism because the world wants to push that your voice doesn’t matter and society wants to dim your light but when you make something that comes from you, it actively pushes against that narrative,” she said. “By making things and sharing your perspective on them you’re actively resisting a narrative that’s against you.”

Breezy2Fresh wears a grey winter hat and rests his chin on his hand
"It had already been brewing,” he said. “Even before George Floyd, there were a few of us that were making music geared toward this moment in history," said Breezy2Fresh.
Taycier Elhindi for MPR

Breezy2Fresh added that ideas are powerful, and art serves as an effective medium for conveying those ideas. By daring to put forth ideas for positive change, artists engage in activism that challenges societal norms.

Mack OC shared frustration with the notion that artistic expression is often discredited as a form of activism. He recalls a high school protest where he felt he could best contribute to a protest by making a song, only to be told that it did not count.

He believed that speaking through music is just as impactful as giving a speech. “People underestimate the effect,” he said. “While we go through these traumatic experiences everyone can pick out a song that got them through or really inspired them. It’s about the effort and speaking from your own heart. Adding your own piece to the puzzle.” 

With the three-year mark upon us, the artists shared their personal growth and reflections on the journey.

Breezy2Fresh, known for his introspective music, expressed a change in his approach, stating, "I’ve shifted more towards making people comfortable with introspective music and actively trying to process our emotions.”

He also highlights the importance of community outreach and pondered ways to uplift the community beyond rallying together. 

Oaojooo recounted his personal journey during that time, acknowledging the bittersweet nature of his experience.

“I forget about what I was going through at that time because of how much community I did have and how much inspiration I had and creativity I was indulging in,” he shared.

However, on a broader scale, he expresses a sense of simmering down and returning to survival mode, rather than feeling liberated to create and show up in the world as he desired.

Mack OC sits on a chair and leans forward
"We’re all living in history, and I realized how monumental that was to have in our own backyards. Even if it never ends up in history books I had to think 'How can you make an impact when it’s right in front of you?'" said Mack OC.
Taycier Elhindi for MPR

Mack OC emphasized the ongoing responsibility to support and amplify Black voices, acknowledging the need for continued activism and community engagement.

“Feeling like I’m already a Black man that’s here but that complacent mindset and victim mentality sets me back at times,” he said. “Since then, it’s made me feel disappointed in myself and my change in mindset. Now that everything’s died down it feels like nobody cares what you have to say unless you have a major platform — but this is still my responsibility. People still need support and help, and to be heard.”

SoulFlower reflected on the evolution of her artistry.

“I’ve done a lot of self-growth into my artistry and being more grounded as an individual,” she said. “I still have a lot of passion now for making music. I can see in my writings the passion that I had that summer was fueled by anger but now it’s fueled by love. I’ve also learned to stand and affirm myself in the face of people who had different thoughts and views as my own and not losing my perspective to others while still seeing them.”

The artists further revealed the profound impact of their music during that period. Oaojooo discussed his song “21KCUF,” emphasizing his commitment to work regardless of his circumstances and his intention to shed light on the harsh realities of the world.

Mack OC highlighted his tracks “Activated” and “The Bigger Target,” which serve as self-motivational anthems and reflections on navigating a predominantly white society as a Black man.

Breezy2Fresh shared insights into his song “Love,” which delves into the complexities of anger and malice, and how he realized the necessity of fighting with love rather than perpetuating the cycle of hate.

SoulFlower recalled her involvement in rallies, choosing to sing Nina Simone's “Blackbird” for its evocative nature. She also highlighted her song “Passion,” which explores carrying the weight of identity and the desire to be seen authentically.

“I talk about carrying something around and around and you never put it down,” SoulFlower said. “I feel like it translates to the baggage we all hold to this identity that’s put on to us not only being Black, but being proud of being Black and all that comes with that label and how we’re supposed to be and I think the song speaks to all of us wanting to be seen for who we are truly at our core.” 

As artists, Breezy2Fresh, Oaojooo, Mack OC and SoulFlower continue to grapple with the aftermath of George Floyd's murder and its impact on their artistry. Their voices serve as a testament to the power of creativity in driving change and the ongoing need to address systemic issues and create a more just and inclusive society.

Through their music and activism, these artists inspire others to engage in meaningful conversations and work toward a better future.