Breathing Life into a Song

Harleston Vinod album cover “My Luv”

By Patrice Smith

On July 17, 2014 Eric Garner died on a hot sidewalk in Staten Island, New York after he was placed in a chokehold by white police officers. He cried out 11 times “I can’t breathe”.

Charleston singer Harleston Vinod says Garner’s death and the way he died affected him.
“It hurt me and I felt helpless.”

Three weeks later an unarmed Michael Brown was gunned down by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. He was walking towards the white officer when he was shot at least 6 times.

Again Vinod is affected.

“We put our trust in the ones that wear badges but as a Black man in America you never know when it could be your time to die if you get stopped by the cops. This whole thing makes me mad.” Vinod says.

Instead of resorting to violence, Vinod, who is a songwriter and producer, put his feelings on paper.

“This world that we live in has got me and my feelings every time I turn on the television a killin’ “, lyrics from Vinod’s song “I Can’t Breathe”.

He says the words to his song flowed easily.

“After seeing it with my own eyes it wasn’t hard to write. I really got geared up to start writing and do a song when the Michael Brown situation happened,” Vinod remembers.

Vinod approached his producer looking for a sound that could interpret the raw emotions he was feeling.

“The producer and I went through several beats and came across exactly what I was looking for. I felt pain and sorrow and I felt the truth through the music. And that prompted me and my producer to come up with the concept using ‘I can’t breathe’ from Eric Garner and ‘Hands up’ from Michael Brown to come up with the hook to the song,” according to Vinod.

He says I can’t breathe also stands for being a black man and not fully being free. “We are still going through racism in the present day. Hands Up because in most situations African American men are complying and they are unarmed but they’re shot and killed.”

“I got my hands up I was putting my hands up and I got my hands up.”

According to a 2015 Washington Post article, of all unarmed people shot and killed by police in America, 40% were black men, although black men make up only 6% of the nation’s population.

“To see the statistics is mind blowing because African American men are 2 1/2 times more likely to get stopped by the cops than a white man. Also unarmed African Americans are 5 times more likely to be shot and killed than white men. So when you hear this you have to ask yourself what’s really going on?” Vinod asks.

“It ain’t gettin’ no better when will color not ever matter.”

After Vinod got the beat he wrote the first verse, taking some time to marinate on the beat so as to deliver the right message and not come off offensive.

“It happened in my city hoping justice will be given.”

On April 4, 2015, Walter Scott was shot 8 times as he ran away from North Charleston police officer Michael Slager.

“At this point I kind of lost it,” Vinod says.

Not only because another African American had been gunned down by a white officer but because Vinod says he has mutual ties to the Scott family.

“So I went back in to the first verse and changed it to reflect on the latest incident and to also come from a more inspirational angle instead anger,” Vinod says.

Vinod enlisted the help of two local rappers (Ismail Al-Muid and Lewy Gotti) who he says came up with the rap for verses two and three.

“Turning off the dash cam when you pull me over you’re the one whose been drinking but you’re asking if I’m sober.”

“In the studio I liked what I heard from us but I felt it needed something so I added a female voice on the hook to add the female perspective and a mother’s point of view because it’s their kids being shot and killed by police.”

“I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I can’t breathe for harassing me now you’re choking me I can’t breathe.”

The song was first released in July 2015 under Drip Drop Souf Entertainment, a local group.

Vinod decided to bring “I Can’t Breathe” to life so he shot a video.

“I wanted natural scenes to gain people’s attention. We shot some of the footage at the site of the Walter Scott murder.”

The video ends with a cry from Walter Scott’s mother, taken from a local newscast.

30 year old Harleston Vinod played soccer with the Lil’ Peles and is a 2004 Burke High School graduate. His love of music began when he played in the horn section of the school concert band. He began writing music when he was 19.

“Music is my up and coming career. I have a lot of songs that I want to produce.” Vinod says.

Vinod performs locally and does shows in the area. Check out “I Can’t Breathe” on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and at

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