Following the police killing of George Floyd last year, the singer took to the studio to write "American Dream." He premieres its video with PEOPLE

By Tomás Mier
January 18, 2021 08:00 AM
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The Fourth of July had passed and Willie Jones was struggling to put on his red, white and blue with pride. After all, days before, thousands of Americans had hit the streets to protest racial injustice and police brutality after the police killing of George Floyd.

"I remember growing up and just being so excited about the Fourth and the fireworks and all of that," he tells PEOPLE. "But 2020 definitely uncovered a lot of truth to the world that a lot of people were definitely blind to."

"I asked myself, 'What does a patriotic anthem sound like coming from a Black man?'" he recalls.

So he took to the studio to write out his feelings — his American pride paired with his frustrations and anger with the racial injustices facing the Black community — into a genre-bending R&B-country song called "American Dream." And today on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Jones, 26, is releasing it, alongside its music video, which PEOPLE can premiere.

Willie Jones
| Credit: Willie Jones/Youtube

"It's my patriotic protest anthem. I'm just stating what it is. The truth of being Black in America," he says. "It's a song of hope."

The song's lyrics are a reminder to "not let ignorance and hate stop you," he says. And while he sings from his perspective, that of a Black man from the South, he hopes everyone can find some relatability and enjoy the track.

"Proud to be a Black man living in the land of the brave and the free. Yeah, I'm an American and that American dream ain't cheap," Jones sings on the track. "We've come a long way. We've still got a long way to go. When you're living as a Black man, it's a different kind of American dream."

As one of the several Black singers in country music, Jones felt it was part of his duty to sing about something that affected him so personally — even if he was told to stay quiet.

Credit: Gordon Clark

"I remember when s— went down with George Floyd and I had a couple people hit me up in country music, like 'Hey bro, don't do too much talking,'" he adds. "Honestly who cares what anybody has to think, especially because it stems from a place of just ignorance and hate."

Laced with comic book-style imagery of people in protest and Martin Luther King, Jr, the video follows a young boy who, with special powers, defends himself against a villain (seemingly symbolizing a policeman). He didn't want the song to focus on the turmoil, he wanted it to be empowering.

"I didn't want to see the same stuff that I see when I open up my Instagram where there's a video of somebody getting arrested or shot," he says. "I want to feel powered up after watching the video."

The idea for the music video, partly inspired by Black Panther, came the same night Chadwick Boseman died — a moment that is "crazy" for Jones to look back at. What came out was everything he wanted, including subtle references to his roots, such as the late Charley Pride.

"I sing that if you don't know your roots, then you don't know what you stand for. If you don't know where you came from, you don't know where you're going," he says. "So, learn about your past, so you can keep elevating toward the future. I think we're doing a great job of that as a people and as a nation."

"You definitely see the country changing and moving forward. We just got to keep moving forward. We can't stop. We can't digress. We just got to keep going, because we just a part of a story," he adds. "I just want it to be better for my kids and my kids' kids. I'm sure they going to put in work for it to be better for their kids."

"American Dream" is Jones' latest single ahead of the release of his debut album Right Now on Friday, which he promises is filled with "some slaps and bangers." His music — such as previous singles "Back Porch" and "Bachelorettes on Broadway" — perfectly mash R&B and hip-hop with a genuine country sound.

"I'm part of the growth of the genre," Jones says. "You can look at hip-hop and see drastic growth changes from it 10 years ago, 20 years ago. Country kind of changes a little bit. They're pretty conservative and that's cool, but we've got room to grow."

"I'm happy to be a part of the growth of the genre for the future of music," he adds.

"American Dream" is out now. Right Now is out Friday.