A photo from the "Bull City Anthem" music video. Credit: Khendron Mims

I first arrived in Durham more than four decades ago after listening to my dad who regaled me with stories about the city. I figured it was the closest I could get to Africa with a bus ticket.

Memories of why I love Durham resurfaced after listening to Bull City Anthem, a raucous, feel-good, rap-infused paean that celebrates the best of Durham. The cut was first made public on YouTube at 12 a.m., New Year’s Day.

Home to the Bulls, Blue Devils, and the Eagles/ 147 didn’t stop us from connecting/ We stand strong like Bulls horns/ that’s the way we were born / We’re brave/we show love until the grave/if you decide to leave or vacate just remember/ the Durhamite bug never dies/ We fly high/ We fly high

Sure, we aren’t talking about the songwriting acumen of Smokey Robinson or Stevie Wonder. Still, the energy and sentiment of the tune are undeniable, and 13 days after its release, Bull City Anthem has garnered more than 11,000 views on YouTube and enthusiastic praise with its tribute to a city that’s way too often cast in the glaring spotlight of gun violence erupting in struggling communities. 

Along with singing the Bull City’s praises, the video also features some of the city’s current and former elected officials, including current mayor Elaine O’Neal, mayor pro tem Mark-Anthony Middleton and Leonardo Williams. Former mayors Steve Schewel and William “Bill” Bell also appear in the video. So do police chief Patrice Andrews and sheriff Clarence Birkhead, along with N.C. Central University men’s basketball coach, Lavelle Moton. There are also a few pastors in the video, members of Bull City United, business owners, nonprofits, and lots of young people, all bumping clenched fists together, thumbs extended outward to symbolize bull horns.

The video also spotlights a few of the city’s familiar locations, like the bridge that spans Highway 147 and the Hillside Park basketball court. 

One of the music video’s highlights features the voices of children singing the chorus.

I love my city/I love my city/Bull City!/I love my city/We put in work work

It was Mayor O’Neal who first pulled my coat about the music video.

“Enjoy!!!” She texted me. “Bull City Strong!”

After watching the video, I was impressed and asked the mayor if the city council might consider adopting a resolution to recognize the song as the city’s official anthem. She wrote back that she hopes so. 

The creative engine behind the song is “Hezter Boi” (Khedron Mims). When he’s not writing and performing music, he operates Rivals Barbershop in downtown Durham, near the intersection of Mangum and Corporation. 

Mims was born and bred in Durham and told me that he’s been singing since he was five or six. When he was a teenager he sang in the male chorus at Calvary Baptist in the West End, at his great-grandparent’s church on Burton Road, and at Greater Joy Baptist on Hardee Street.

He says the public’s response to the song has been “surprising.”

“So many people enjoy the song,” he says. “They are sharing it on social media because they felt like it was something that Durham needs. A lot of people have been saying it’s uplifting.”

Mims says he wrote Bull City Anthem out of love for the city that raised him.

“I got tired of all the negative publicity over the years,” he says. “I wanted to change the narrative of what Durham means to me. My love for the city does not align with the fear other people may have, and I wanted to sing a song of what Durham means to me.”

Mims added that while Durham is known as “a foodie town, a college town, and an entertainment town,” he also feels positive lyrics about the city might influence young people.

“I want kids to know we live in a great city,” Mim says. “Durham is one of the greatest cities in America. It’s important that we care for each other and show love for each other.”

Mims says he started writing the song on his phone in 2019. After he came up with a melody, he sent it to his producer John McNeill, who added the music. The celebratory feel of the song has a lot to do with the singer and producer’s roots in gospel music. McNeill has run audio for a couple of area churches and has produced songs for several local gospel artists.

“My role was to get all of the music, gather the musicians and bring the idea to life,” McNeill says. “The process after that was to build the song arrangement: verse, chorus, verse, vamp, then I added vocals to make the track pop.”

The duo finished the song in two weeks and then recorded it at Rivals Barbershop. One of the barbers, Choppaboi3—whose given name is Vaondre Mack—finished off the tune with a Durty Durham rap flow:

Southbound coming down 85/ sitting back relaxing/this one for my city so you know that it’s a classic/ Downtown and Main Street/you might see a million places to eat/but honestly in my opinion Dame’s Chicken and Waffles can’t be beat.

Mack, 20, says he has been rapping since 2020, first on his phone before he built up enough of a skillset to record in studio settings. He first met Mims when he was a kid visiting the barbershop to get a haircut.

“Now we work in the barbershop together,” he says. “I’m a barber too. That’s how I ended up getting in on the project with him.”

Mack says the conversations that happen at the barbershop “are all over the place,” with a gathering of both prominent and unsung, multigenerational patrons who live in the city.

“We know there’s a lot of problems, so we talk about solutions,” he says. “There’s nothing positive for kids to do in Durham, and it’s always about the negative. So we talk about the good, and how much has changed in such a short period of time.”

Mack also praised Mims for persevering and working through challenges that threatened to upend the project, including losing about 60 percent of the video’s original footage that was shot over a seven-day period, eight hours a day, at different locations throughout the city.

“We had to reshoot,” Mack says. “There were thousands of dollars on the line. Most people would have let that hold them back, but [Khedron] went over and beyond to get the video done before the New Year.”

Mims wasn’t just mouthing words when he sang, “we put in work.”

He also created sheet music for the anthem and plans to share it with public school students.

“The vision is to go out to the schools and teach the kids a positive song,” he says. 

Support independent local journalismJoin the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle. Follow Durham Staff Writer Thomasi McDonald on Twitter or send an email to tmcdonald@indyweek.com. Comment on this story at backtalk@indyweek.com