How Beyoncé’s ‘Formation’ video highlights the unsolved murder of a young black artist

The opening words in the video for Beyoncé’s “Formation” are arresting: “What happened at the New Wildins,” a man’s voice says, over images of the singer crouching atop a sinking cop car, flashing police lights, and the streets of post-Katrina New Orleans.

That’s Messy Mya, who goes on to say, “Bitch I’m back. On popular demand.” Here’s the video “Formation” samples came from:

Messy, born Anthony M. Barre, was a rapper and comedian who had a loyal local following on YouTube, a New Orleans icon who posted sassy videos talking about daily life and dishing out insults to people who got on his bad side. One of his catchphrases: “Now who gonna pop me?”

On Nov. 14, 2010, Barre was shot and killed, at the age of 22, as he was leaving a baby shower for the mother of his child. In the videos he posted in the days leading up to his death, the New Orleans Times-Picayune writes, he seemed to be be thinking about death. He said a young man’s life expectancy in New Orleans is limited, and made references to joining his dead friend soon. The news of his murder first circulated on social media, where photos of his body were posted. This is how theTimes-Picayune described him:

Sassy, raspy-voiced and heavily tattooed, with flowing hair in fluorescent colors, Barre demanded attention, often looking into the lens, imploring, “Follow me, camera!”

In several clips, he cavorts through Lakeside Shopping Center, critiquing the backsides of passers-by, criticizing the looks of the elderly, and accosting young women.

The investigation into Barre’s murder was mired with complications, and remains unsolved. A week after Messy’s death, Jason Baptiste Hamilton, 24, was arrested by police after he was caught on camera boasting about killing Messy.

Two years later, in 2012, just as the trial was about to begin, the court heard testimony that a video showing Messy being killed by someone else was circulating online. The charges against Hamilton were dropped, only to be re-filed soon after. It’s unclear whether police ever actually saw the video in question.

Hamilton’s defense lawyer presented evidence that his client is diagnosed bipolar and was not on medication when he confessed to murdering Messy, and were eventually able to provide alibis that lead to Hamilton’s release from prison in 2013. Since then, no new suspect has been charged with Messy’s murder.

“I don’t want my brother’s death to be just another unsolved homicide in New Orleans,” Messy’s sister, Anjelle Barre, told Shive Magazine soon after he died.

For some in New Orleans, Beyoncé including Messy and New Orleans bounce music legend Big Freedia on “Formation” is an emotional moment. To see a major, internationally successful artist like Beyoncé recognizing their impact, and to set her diverse, sprawling audience on track to learning who they are, is significant:

“Beyoncé + Messy Mya + Big Freedia. Y’all don’t understand how that makes us New Orleanians feel lol. I’m feel so liberated right now. 😂😂” wrote one commenter, Ginia Maxwell, on Messy’s video after “Formation” was released.