Oklahoma City rapper Jabee Williams released a new single Wednesday featuring death row inmate and former OU student Julius Jones.
Williams announced “Until You’re Free” on Twitter July 14 and said he purposefully chose to not include the single on his recent album. Williams desired to highlight the Justice for Julius campaign separately, which is why he said 100 percent of the revenue made by the single will go toward the campaign so it can continue promoting criminal justice reform.
“I wanted to make sure I was intentional with it … so I decided to put it out by itself so that it could have the right attention,” Williams said. “(I want) people to know this isn’t about Jabee — it’s about Justice for Julius.”
In 2018, executive producers Viola Davis and Julius Tennon created a documentary called The Last Defense — examining Jones’s case and exploring flaws in the American criminal justice system. Williams, who was cast in the documentary, said his involvement in the series allowed him to develop a personal relationship with Jones beyond the persona presented in the news.
“He was really just a part of the city — (so) when everything happened, everybody kind of knew him already,” Williams said. “Whenever they did the documentary … I got really involved. We just built a relationship, started talking over the phone and I got to know his sister. It was just organic, I don’t know any other way to put it.”
Through phone calls, Williams said he came to know Jones as a fellow artist, as he would often share poetry with Williams. Jones’ artistry, Williams said, is what inspired him to create a song in his honor.
“One of the poems I really liked and I was like, ‘We should record this on a song,’” Williams said. “(The single) is a chance for people to hear his voice, hear his thoughts and hear his poetry and his words.”
In the poem, Williams said Jones paints a picture of how he is feeling in his current situation while Williams' portion of the song addresses his thoughts on Jones’ conviction. Because Jones is currently unable to physically represent and defend himself, Williams said he was inspired to use his platform to speak up for what he feels is wrong.
“Let's just say ... we look at it through the lens of the state of Oklahoma,” Williams said. "Looking at it through that lens, there are people who ... have been convicted of murder, served their sentence and been released. If we look at it through my lens, I'm looking at all the inconsistencies ... (and) everything that happened from the time the incident happened to now. ... To me ... there's no way you can look at it and ... not know something is wrong.”
Jones’ case, Williams said, is an example of a larger problem within the nation’s criminal justice system. This issue, Williams said, is founded on systemic racism and implicit bias.
“The way the system is … if you’re Black, you’re guilty — especially if it’s a crime that is considered a street crime,” Williams said. “The idea is that it’s in our nature and that’s the kind of people we are. … So instead of trying to prove your innocence, you are already considered guilty … (and) because of that, it’s so easy to get caught up in the system.”
According to the Prison Policy Initiative, 3,796 per 100,000 Black people are incarcerated in the state of Oklahoma. Comparatively, 767 per 100,000 white Oklahomans are incarcerated and the state's incarceration rate overall is 698 per 100,000 people.
Law enforcement simply needs a description, Williams said — and in Jones’s case, once the description of Black male was formed, any Black male fit the mold.
Williams said in the future, someone else’s Black son could fall victim to Jones’ present fate, which is why he feels so strongly about fighting against Jones’ conviction. Williams said the fact that Jones is still not free is why he continues to actively fight, and he hopes this song will inspire others to fight for Jones.
“The reason why I try to be so active and try to participate is that, to so many people, (Jones) is just another Black man,” Williams said. “He's not a human, he's not a son (and) he's not a brother to these people. ... That's the reason why I want people to know that he is a person, and if you look at the situation, then I feel like it's easy to see that he is (all of those things).”