On October 24, 2004, white Minneapolis police officer Scott Mars shot and killed a black 15-year-old named Courtney Williams. According to Minneapolis Public Radio, the police department claimed Williams was holding a gun when he was shot—a BB gun was entered as evidence—but the Williams family and members of Minneapolis’s Police Community Relations Council disagreed. In 2005 a Hennepin County grand jury decided not to indict Mars for the shooting.
Local rapper Nick Astro is the younger brother of Courtney Williams, though I wouldn’t have known that before December 31, when he dropped the song “Courtney (Never Catch Me).” Astro hadn’t previously addressed his brother’s death in his music, but on the refrain for “Courtney” he quietly says, “I was 14 at the time, my older brother was 15, livin’ in Saint Paul, Minnesota—was gunned down by a white police officer.”
Astro packs a lot of dread and helplessness into that near-mumbled revelation, but much of “Courtney” is buoyant. Piano and upright bass zig and zag while Astro unloads a list of stereotypes he faces down because of the color of his skin (“He can jump high, we can use him / The NBA will approve him”). Astro’s vision is heavy, but his performance isn’t burdened by its weight—in fact he seems fueled by it. His determination to stay optimistic while facing down injustices that can extinguish young lives is something to aspire to. “Courtney (Never Catch Me)” is today’s 12 O’Clock Track.