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.
But the "Formation" video has also been criticized for using some of these local references, wading into hazy arguments about consent and creative license: Some of the New Orleans footage in the video comes from a 2012 documentary about New Orleans bounce music, That B.E.A.T. While the production company that owns the rights to the footage struck a deal with the makers of Beyoncé's video, the documentary's directors say they never consented to having their footage used. The directors criticized Beyoncé for using other artists' footage instead of actually filming the entire video in New Orleans herself:
"The documentary footage was used with permission and licensed from the owner of the footage. They were given proper compensation. The footage was provided to us by the filmmaker's production company," a spokesperson for Beyoncé told Fader. "The filmmaker is listed in the credits for additional photography direction. We are thankful that they granted us permission."
And the director of the "Formation" video, Melina Matsoukas, responded directly on Twitter:
For fans, the samples cement Mya's legacy, and opening "Formation" with the voice of a young black artist shot down at the age of 22 is a powerful, symbolic statement :
"We will NEVER forget you Coo. Beyoncé just made you immortal baby! Yaaasss! RIP Messy Mya! We love you!" wrote another commenter, Leeyahh.
Monique Pope, another commenter, wrote, "Messy Mya you'll live forever!!! Beynonce featured you in her new song!! I knew that voice it brought a smile on my face. Sleep in peace!!!"