Country singer-songwriter Willie Jones' powerful, genre-blending new song "American Dream" addresses the country's past, present and future. The song, which Jones shared on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, was written shortly after the 4th of July last year, when Americans gathered in cities around the U.S. to protest racial injustice and police brutality after the police killing of George Floyd.
"Proud to be a Black man living in the land of the brave and the free. Yeah, I'm an American and that American dream ain't cheap," Jones sings. "We've come a long way. We've still got a long way to go. When you're living as a Black man, it's a different kind of American dream."
Written by Jones, Josh Logan and Jason Afable, "American Dream" is a "patriotic protest," Jones says.
"It's my patriotic protest anthem. I'm just stating what it is. The truth of being Black in America," Jones told PEOPLE. "It's a song of hope."
Jones says the song's video, directed by Jamal Wade, perfectly captures the song's statement. The video spotlights victims of police brutality and racism and honors George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, Rayshard Brooks, Daniel Prude, Sandra Bland, Aura Rosser, Botham Jean and many others.
"When I saw the final edit, I knew this was my most important statement to date as an artist," Jones said in a statement. "It's going to make people think and understand how I see our country, our collective past, and our future. It was captured perfectly -- the emotion, the creative use of anime, the message being relatable to so many... I felt relieved and inspired. No joke; I got chills."
During an interview with Apple Music's Zane Lowe, Jones said it was important to him to write a song that celebrated unity while also being honest about the progress that still needs to be made in America.
"This is where my people built the country, literally, and I'm here and I just wrote it for unity, man. For me, it was just stating the truth and the obvious," Jones said. "To be here in America is so much opportunity. We all have a chance to really do what we want, but you got to finesse it a little different. When you're African American, it's just a different vibe, but at the end of the day, we're all here in America and we all got hopes and dreams of this country just being better. Like I say in the song, 'We've come a long way, but we got a long way to go,' so if we just stick together and keep moving forward, I think we'll just keep moving the needle, but we have to express how we feel and talk about these things so we can open a dialogue up."
Jones also discussed the importance of representation in country music and showcasing a variety of stories and experiences in the genre.
"Since I got into creating my own original country music, it's definitely shifted sonically, the sounds that we're using and just even the representation in country, you've got artists like like me, Mickey Guyton, Blanco Brown, Kane Brown, Jimmie Allen, BRELAND," Jones told Lowe. "It's just cool to see people just come in and genre and just tell our stories, tell their stories, and just continue to just open up music, because that's the vibe, bro."
Jones performed at the opening of Nashville's National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM), the only museum dedicated to educating, preserving and celebrating the influence of African Americans on the American Soundtrack. The singer partnered with the museum for his his #IHaveAnAmericanDream initiative, which invites people to share their hopes for change in America. Donations made through the #IHaveAnAmericanDreamcampaign will benefit the National Museum of African American Music. Text 'AMERICANDREAM' TO 707070or visit the NMAAM website to donate.
In 2012, Jones appeared as a contestant on The X Factor USA, where he wowed Simon Cowell with his cover of Josh Turner's "Your Man."
Jones' new album Right Now will be released this Friday (Jan. 22).