Michael "Wanz" Wansley
Photo by Jim Bennett/WireImage
"Equality Is More Than Just A Word": Michael "Wanz" Wansley On How The Music Industry Can Effect Real Change
Many might recognize singer/songwriter/rapper Michael Wansley—a.k.a. "Wanz" or "TeeWanz"—as the vocals on the hook of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' 2012 smash "Thrift Shop," for which the trio won two GRAMMYs for "Best Rap Performance" and "Best Rap Song." But the performer and Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter member has been in the game since the '80s, having formed cover troupe Boys Will Be Boys and moving on to pick up the bass in Seattle acts The Rangehoods and Lifering.
Now, with Black Lives Matter protests being staged across the nation in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, David McAtee and many other Black people at the hands of police, the Recording Academy checked in with Wanz to get his thoughts on the current situation, what change looks like and how the music industry at large can contribute.
How would you describe our current situation?
As a older Black man, I'm caught in between the reminders of the past and the promise and optimism of today and the future.
How did we get here?
"We" got here through faith and perseverance. Believing in change, having faith in the changing hearts and minds of those becoming aware of injustice and prejudice on many levels. From Trayvon Martin to George Floyd— [it] has been a journey of discovery for many.
What does change look like?
Change or evolution? I prefer evolution from an older perspective to a newer one driven by the progression of Black People never backing down from their truth. Equality is more than just a word.
What are you doing to activate/advocate?
I am sharing my experiences and memories from 1967-1972 when this country lost MLK and Bobby Kennedy. There are many parallels between then and now for me. The biggest difference, as with the Vietnam War, has been televised displays questioning the perception of equality. I point to the horror of the eight minutes and 46 seconds that George Floyd lost his life and the manner in which that life was taken is the same as the lynchings and assassinations of old.
How are you coping?
Mostly, I'm reflecting. Thinking. Admiring those who feel they must take to the streets.
I remember crying with my father as we watched Obama's inauguration, I wish he and many in my family were still alive to see the evolution taking place before my eyes. I'm also trying very hard to be patient with those who still do not see or connect the injustices of today as an extension of prejudices of the past. Black History is undervalued in the educational system. The events of today will expand the educational perspectives of tomorrow and hopefully continue the positive evolution of American Society.
How can the music community at large contribute?
Remind the community of when music spoke to social and political issues. Popular music in the late '60s and early '70s dealt with prejudice, war, politics, social change—the music community needs to rediscover its gift and power to inspire. Raps by LL Cool J and Nick Cannon are examples of how music artists can stir the emotional core of almost anyone! The music industry as a whole needs to de-emphasize monetary importance and encourage using our gifts to empower and inspire fan bases.
In your opinion, what should non-Black people be doing to support the Black community?
Ask questions honestly and without political agenda. Then, listen. After the listening, people can decide for themselves what action or inaction to take, but without the transfer of accurate information, advancing positive evolution doesn't happen as fast.