Awaken My Love!!! As Da Brat and Jermaine Dupri would say is ‘Sooooo, Funkdafied.” It is the latest album by The Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover) a.k.a. the dude that can’t lose this year, a.k.a. the dude that is playing Lando Calrissian in the new Star Wars (yeah Billy Dee’s role), a.k.a. the dude that created and wrote the best new show of 2016, which is Atlanta.
This album most assuredly brings the Trunk Funk, but it also serves up Rock, Soul, Blues and Gospel all in one beautiful gift. Holding the roots of Black music at it’s foundation, and using creativity as a spoon to feed sophisticated musical palates that are tired of bland music.
Honestly, I have not been more intrigued by an album in years. I have played it at least 10 times all the way through since last Friday. I’ll admit, it may not be a first listen type of album. It has layers and experiments that will grow on you. For me it was a lot like listening to the Love Below by Andre 3000 of Outkast for the first time. I just did not know what to make of it. I was not a Love Below fan at first. Now I think It is one of the best albums ever recorded, but that was 16 years ago. Now my ears were ready for this kind of work.
What is so special about it? Why should you play it on repeat?
First off Gambino is going to shock you with sound, then connect to you as a fan. This album is filled with fuzzy guitars, falsetto vocals, gospel singing, punchy bass, and psychedelic interludes. The album hits over the head with beats that bang, girls that sang, and a styles that clang together to create an unforgettable journey. Not what you would expect from someone who has only put out rap albums. To be truthful I don’t love his other albums. But I do feel like AML combined with Atlanta make me feel connected to him as an artist. I see myself and my friends and family in his writing and characters.
As I was listening I could place people in my life who would be into this music, or the lyrics reminded me of an experience with them. I saw myself in this art, I heard myself is this art, and that means a lot to me. He is making music for “Me and my Folks”
Soooo, next up is my favorite topic. Musical History. I listened to Awaken, on my home system, out for a run on headphones, and off my computer speakers. Each time the funk hit me in a different way, resulting in a screwed face head nod with a “whooooo….. It’s Hot” attached to it. However when I got into the car and played it, everything came together.
No one can tell you what love feels like, you just know. I had a moment going through the Holland Tunnel playing this album and I just knew. How did I know? What did I hear? I heard him using Funkadelic and Sly Stone as a roux to make a delicious pot of Gambino Soul Stew.
1. Maggot Brainby Funkadelic
2. There’s a Riot Going on by Sly and the Family Stone.
These two albums are the sonic foundation of Awaken, My Love.
Want to compare them? Let’s do it.
Have Some Love- Childish Gambino
Can you get to that – Funkadelic
Do you hear the unison voices singing gospel like harmonies on top of the snapping back beat? Gambino perfectly invokes the feeling of “Can you get to that” in a completely original way. It’s like hearing George and Bootsy get busy but with modern recording equipment, just fownk!
Redbone by Childish Gambino
I’d Rather Be With You- Bootsy Collins
Hear that punchy Bootsy Bass, and the chords? It’s what we do. Learn from our ancestors to create something new. While still giving credit to those that taught us.
Baby Boy- Childish Gambino
Just like a Baby- Sly Stone
Just listen to the Bass line… the influence is clear.
The Pharcyde wrote ” I want to kick something that means something” a line on their classic album “Labcabincalifornia” In an era of mumble raps and senseless music that is “Offensive and a threat to us.” (Oddisee) Childish Gambino is bringing us music with a message. Music that tells us to “Stand Tall” and never back down from your dreams. Music that asks us to “Have Some Love.” Music that shows us it is ok to be “Terrified” at times and on Baby boy he croons of a parents love for his/her child. This album, and Atlanta give a glimpse into the life of a real person, allowing you to see yourself in it. This is age appropriate music with meaning. From the talking drum, to the slave field holler, to KRS ONE. We have used our music to send messages. Glover is keeping the tradition strong.
Unfortunately, a musicians credit list has not been released. (digital technology uggh, just give me liner notes please) But whoever it is that played on this record……. I love them, plain and simple. The album is laden with warm funky yet melodic bass lines. Guitar that is sometimes smooth and acoustic like Norah Jones, but gritty and distorted like Jimi Hendrix on the next track. The drums are big and crisp. Intended to keep your head ringing through the whole journey. The Vocals are Prince like with Andre 3000 fused in. The background vocals invoke the Fisk Jubilee singers and En Vouge simultaneously. It’s top notch musicianship throughout.
This record contains a sound palate that is unlike anything you will hear currently. So much movement. Not just Verse, Chorus, Verse, chorus, bridge, chorus and out. No, these are fully imagined, and perfectly executed musical compositions. Compositions with dynamic shifts in rhythm, volume, tempo and style throughout. I even love the way is ends…………………….
Devices, Devices Divisive. Am I the only one who gets into fights with people over the internet? I mean days long battles. Attack, counter attack, air strikes, followed by insults and character judgments.
One of these epic struggles with an old roommate of mine. We basically have opposite views on everything involving social and political issues. It got to a point where we were insulting one another, pretty badly. But we were tight,tight, tight in college. These issues never arose for us. We were teammates on the defensive line. We partied, ate a lot of food, and kicked it hard. I had no idea we were so fundamentally different then, even though we were living in the same house. Now we both have lost just a little respect for one another. There has to be a way to reconcile right? Or has our President-Elect and the avalanche of feelings that stem from this election been too much?
Sometimes we get physically and emotionally consumed writing a response on Facebook. It’s a crazy feeling, and not a healthy one. We put a lot of ourselves into writing these responses, but so much of our point is based on our humanity and emotion. Seeing three dots flash, then reading words will never be the same as sitting in someones living room, favorite drink in hand and having a face to face conversation.
The problem is that race and socio-economic status have segregated how and where we live. These homogenous communities allow stereotypes and ignorance to fester. Lets imagine if folks with different backgrounds and cultures all got a chance to at least meet and interact as humans some minds would change. Some. How often does this happen? When does a Black female film maker from Brooklyn have a conversation with a Miner from West Virginia?
Over this holiday season the topic came up as I was talking with my parents at the table. We were discussing the fact that there are people who have never met a person of color in their entire lives! Yes, this is true. There are citizens in this country who have never met a Black person before, or a Puerto Rican person, or insert any minority. They only know people who look and think just like them. TV shows, movies and mainstream media have built their understanding of who we are.
This conversation brought up a memory for my Father that he had never told me or my Mother.
He was the sophomore at Aurora College in Illionis, and the class president. Two White freshman students from Jacksonville, Florida were on the campus for the start of the year. When they found out that the Sophomore class president was Black, they pretty much lost it. They went to the Dean and said essentially that they were going to leave the school, and there is no way they could go to a school where a Black person was in this position. The Dean calmed their fears and told them to just go hear this man speak.
This is a photo of my father Marvin McMickle and a few of his classmates at Aurora College.
After the speech these two students approached my father for a dialogue. They told him, “We almost left this school and did not attend because of YOU” Baffled, he asked them how he could have that effect on them. The answer is rooted in the segregation we began this piece with.
They said “We had never met a black person who could speak english” Of course even in college my father was extremely eloquent and a master orator. He blew their minds, and completely shattered all their prior experiences. But think about it this way. What would have happened if they just left school and never heard the speech? They would have gone back to the same community in Florida with the same views.
The only reason they came into contact with a Black person like Rev. Dr. Marvin A. McMickle, was because they were engaging in higher education outside of their comfort zone. A majority of people do not get this opportunity. We never get to meet each other, and see the humanity of one another. This happened in 1967, and there are still people today who believe that Black people are stupid and lazy. These beliefs are passed down through the generations based upon myths (myths like, black skin can rub off onto you and make you black, he encountered that one as well)
How do we get to really know people who are not like us, especially in this social media era. The algorithms are set to only show us posts and news in line with our beliefs and “likes”. We don’t even get to read how other people are thinking and feeling, let alone actually talk to them. My President Barack Obama said in his farewell speech. “If you are tired of arguing with strangers on the internet, try talking with one in person”
My same old roommate also said this (Sorry to keep blowing your spot, but you give me so much material)
“If you are going to a black neighborhood you are taking a risk. All black neighborhoods are dangerous.”
He also told me that I have never experienced racism and it’s not as bad as I think. Thanks for telling me about my black experience homie, appreciate that.
This is a person who claims to not be racist. When asked how many black neighboorhood’s he has visited …. radio silence. We know the answer. Now would a face to face conversation change his mind about black communities? That’s a hard battle. Trump is normalizing the belief that all black people live in crumbling inner-cities, that need fixing. Since he doesn’t talk to or interact with any people of color his attitude is not likely to change. Guess he has never heard of Prince George’s county either.
This is not the fault of any individual, and it really isn’t a choice for most Americans. We just do not live in the same places together. It is a systemic problem based upon racist practices in housing like redlining.” Redlining is the practice of denying or limiting financial services to certain neighborhoods based on racial or ethnic composition without regard to the residents’ qualifications or creditworthiness. The term “redlining” refers to the practice of using a red line on a map to delineate the area where financial institutions would not invest”
Below is an example of a housing covenant in Washington D.C.
Sooooo no Blacks, no Jews, and no one from the Middle East. I know this song, heard it somewhere before.
The US government was complicit in this type of discrimination for decades. Complicit in keeping us apart. This is one of the reasons we don’t really live together. We may be in the same city or town, but not truly living a life together.
Until we are sitting down with people who think differently from us, hearing them, and letting them hear us. No stereotypes or myths will be dissolved, and we will continue to grow apart. I am not saying this is easy. It takes patience along with compassion. It has to come from a place of love. We have to be willing to stop saying “Oh he or she is just a stupid redneck” and the other side needs to chill with the thought that people of color are lazy, criminal thug, rapists who only live in inner cities and collect welfare.
Can we do this? I really don’t know. Just like with our environmental problems as a planet. I go through points of hope, and sometimes I think nah we’re too for gone, just forget it.
I really do not know what the next four years will be like. I do know that our President Elect has stoked the fire of hatred and bigotry, and it is now a roaring flame ready to burn and spread. Our country is more divided than ever. The fact that almost half of the voting age population agrees with him really is not sitting well with me right now. As a Black man in America I feel uncertain about my well being and safety. I mean, I already knew my life meant less. But I just did not think America would let White Supremacy win out. I am still processing this so here is a quote that hits it on the head.
“In this election, White people did not vote against their self-interests. They may have voted against a self-interest — a few actually — but not their most important one: The preservation of White supremacy. Retaining the value of a Whiteness they believed to be increasingly devalued superseded everything else. Including their own livelihoods; their own physical and financial well-beings; their own Christianity; their own agency; their own money; their own educations; their own futures; their own children’s futures, their own country’s legacy; their own country’s status with the rest of the world; their own environment; their own food, air, and water; their own rights; and their own lives.”
Damon Young- Very Smart Brothas
America is changing. Or its was, I don’t really know anymore. So what can we use to heal, to reflect. Is there anything that can help us look to the future? For centuries Black people used music to help them get rid of the troubles of this world. Slaves sang work songs to get through, we produce Hip Hop/soul songs to make due.
Common’s latest album BLACK AMERICA AGAIN is at this very moment soothing the pain I am feeling. It is meant to uplift, to inspire, and spread love.
Black America Again flows between Public Enemyesque political rhymes, into pulsating bass kicks that support his vivid descriptions of love, life, and our future. The album is well timed because it seems that we may have to recreate Black America Again. We have to create the America where all PEOPLE are created equal. Where everyone can feel like they matter. You know, the values this country was founded on, the mottos we continually spout but never live up to. This album is therapeutic in its content and sound. I’m channeling my ancestors right now. Letting the beat and the rhythm take hold and heal my soul.
I also want to big up Common for continuing to drop albums that contain age appropriate content and show growth as a man. Common is 44 years old, I am 36 years old. I want to hear music that I can relate to. Music that shows personal reflection, and the ability to channel that onto the track. There are a lot of artists from my formative years whose raps are still the same as they were in 1996. We are not 16 -25 anymore. Our issues and thoughts, and lives have changed. That should be reflected in our music, but to quote Oddisee we are.
“Glorifying music that’s abusive and a threat to us, and if you got a message in your records you collecting dust”
Want Something Done– Oddisee
I have been a common fan since the 90’s. Each album seemed to be able to speak directly to me in some way. This album is particularly special because I am focused on the history of Black music in America and Common helps make some connections for me.
Listening to Negro Spirituals has become a past time of mine. They are crucial to the roots of Black music and I am a Black Preachers Kid so naturally, I love them.
Soona Will be Done With the Troubles of the World. A Slave song that gave us hope, and faith that one day we could leave this troubled world to live with God. Or at least be able get a job, eat healthy food and raise a family in peace here on earth. It is a song that has come into my life recently and meant a lot. Once again Common was right there with me.
Soon Ah Will be Done– The Andrews Gospel Singers
On a track entitled Home featuring Bilal Common raps a modern Negro Spiritual. He spits as kind of a rap superhero. A superhero prophet who was sent down to deliver a message. The microphone is his staff and has been told “In your lyrics use scriptures and passages to make em rise Lazarus” Rhymes that wake the dead, or as we say now. Rhymes to get you “Woke”
Home- Common feat Bilal
As he deflty flows on how to help the state of Black America, you can hear in the chorus ” Soon I will be done with the troubles of this world, going home to live with God” When I heard this, I got the spine chills. The continuity of Black music and how we can reinvent it so it never dies is amazing to me. Not to mention that he is sampling a song I have been currently studying. I have been focused on self improvement and so has he. He has a daughter, I have two. He’s a rapper, I’m a DJ. I mean, this is what music is supposed to do. Connect people, and enrich lives to make humanity better.
So check the recipe,
1.Relevant lyrical content,
2. 100 percent hip hop with beats the knock.
3. Infuses all the elements of Black music, giving new life to our songs of passion and struggle.
Even though we are entering into four years of the unknown, and what seems like 10 steps backwards for social progress. Take a listen to this album. It’s medicinal.
“She had finally gathered in the whole audience with her love chants and work songs, her tearful ballads of love requited and un-. Nina’s voice never overpowering is an even more fragile instrument. As she works more she will get stronger and more in control.
“She still has a sound and presence that sum up the whole epic of human feeling”
Amiri Baraka wrote these words about his friend the great Nina Simone. Though I never met her or heard her perform live, I feel him on that last sentence. “The whole epic of human feeling”
The House of the Rising Sun- Nina Simone
I once fell into a Nina Simone YouTube rabbit hole. Started with her version of House of the Rising Sun then onto Sinnerman, then I just clicked and clicked on more of her music. Happiness, worry, anger, and some two step type dance moves all came out during this session. I awoke from my trance about an hour later. I had to ask myself. How was she able to do this? How does she have the ability to put chills down your spine? Take over your consciousness. What is she doing that sounds so divine? How does she encompass the whole epic of human feeling? Well,
The uniqueness of her voice is paramount. The timbre of her vocal is different from any other singer. The moment the first note vibrates you know exactly who is singing, and as a whole the music she creates invokes the foundations of Black Music.
Nina melded together Work Songs and Gospel with masterful Jazz improv. She possessed the soul of the Black church, the harmonic knowledge of a classical musician, and a burning fire for social justice. Put all these traits together and you have yourself an icon of modern music.
So, let’s talk about the music!
Nina Simone was master of interpretation and ruled the stage with improvisation.
Musical interpretation is the “way” in which Nina decided to perform an already existing piece of music.
Improvisation- Includes all the ill ad-libs, piano runs, shouts, hollers and solos Nina and the band perform on the spot. Taking what may be a pre-arranged piece and adding that brand new flavor in your ear, in real time.
One of the best ways to analyze differences in interpretation is through the art of the cover. Nina was a prolific original songwriter, however some of her most famous songs are covers.
In the Western music scale there are only 12 pitches that can be played. A, A# ,B,C,C#,D,D#,E,F,F#,G,G#, or their corresponding flats. No matter if you are rocking out to Metallica, vibing on King Tubby or bumping some DJ Premier. You are only hearing those 12 pitches. So what makes each style or song different from the next?
I would say the difference is in how the musicians interpret the notes using musical elements, and what instruments are being played.
Let’s listen two very famous Nina Simone songs. Both of these tunes she covered, but killed em in such dramatic fashion that she took possession of the song. You will hear the original and then her version back to back.
As you listen look out for differences in these musical elements. Try to figure out what made her version the seminal one.
Tempo- How fast or slow she plays
Dynamics– How loud or soft she plays
Timbre ( pronounced tambor)- The characteristic sound that an instrument produces. In her case the voice is the most distinctive.
Arrangement– Where sections of music are placed within a composition. Nina does a lot of repeating phrases, section extensions and just straight up improv.
Expression- How Nina talks to our soul with her voice, her playing, and human energy.
Feeling Good is a song originally written by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley for the musical “The Roar of the Greasepaint- The Smell of the Crowd.
Feeling Good– Sung by Cy Grant (Roar of the Greasepaint-The Smell of the Crowd)
Feeling Good- Nina Simone
What did Nina do to this piece to make it rightfully hers? Number one, she added syncopation and improvisation to the vocal. She places accents in the most perfect little rhythmic pockets, and never uses the same pocket twice.
Musically we would say she has more freedom with her “rhythmic phrasing” (Where you place notes within the flow of the meter) as compared to Cy Grant.
He sang the song with a very “Theatre” sounding timbre. Almost like an orator, he pronounced every lyric properly, and sang very straight ahead rhythmically. Nina on the other hand just oozes black church. She say’s “Suuuuun up in the skyyyyy Youknow howi feeeeeel. Slurring words together, letting her feelings and emotions come to the forefront.
She adds some classic ad libs- “Dragonfly out in the sun you know what I mean -Dontcha Know- There is just a sense of honesty and freedom in her delivery that makes the listener want more.
Both versions open up with just a vocal and no instruments. What stands out is the choice of instruments used to bring in the verse. The original piece used some bass, light percussion and a flute, eventually a trumpet does some accompaniment.
But Nina! Whoa, there is a horn section! They come in playing a descending pattern that sets the tone for the whole piece. It’s that part that makes you want to sway your hips and snap your fingers.
A big horn section playing a funky line can make a track. Think about what the horn line did to Spottiottiedopalicious by Outkast.
As soon as you hear Dada dot da daaaa, you know it’s Spottie. When we hear the horns Nina used, we know we are hearing “Feeling good” immediately, no question.
The ability to improvise is a necessity within Black Music. We have been coming up with songs, dances and jokes on the spot since day one. We let our spirit lead, all you gotta do is let the beat ride out and see what happens. What happens is Call and Response, Field Hollers, Ring shouts at Congo Square, chain gang work songs, Jazz soloing, Rap Freestyle battles, Soul Train lines, and Scat singing.
Scat singing is a method where the singer uses the voice to imitate an instrument, usually in a spontaneous fashion. Often times using guttural sounds and combinations of words. Words that are not meant to make sentences. Just to make musical phrases
Nina does a masterful job of scatting at the end of Feeling Good. Around 2:20 she goes into a section that contains no words or lyrics, just sounds. Sounds that not only help build tension as the song ends, but they also shine a light on her originality and willingness to be totally free with her music. Honestly I could listen to her do that ending over and over again. It always stands out to me. That kind of shouting and hollering she does, it’s just pure guts being poured out onto a recording. Dapatidapatiidaaaaaaaaa,baaambadiaaaapaaaninaaaaaa, moaniamoana, neeehaaaaa neeehhaaaa iiiimm feeeeeeling, goooooooood! (that’s how it sounds to me) I get chills just writing it.
In the end I would say that Expression and Timbre were the elements that separate her version from the original.
Listening to Nina’s musical expression is like an amazing piece of marble. Marble has intricate patterns and layers that took a long time to form. It is very smooth but also hard. Let us not forget that marble is extremely beautiful, and every piece is unique. Just like Nina Simone’s music and musical expressions.
Her freedom of expression is what leads and shapes her sound. The Timbre of Nina’s version is more soulful due the prominence of the rhythm section and the horn riff. She also puts more momentum in the tempo, allowing the band swing and drive with a grittier feel.
It’s the feel that makes “Feeling Good” Nina’s song. No question, she owns it now.
This song has incredible DNA. From folk spiritual to, gospel, to barbershop quartets. It just has Black music roots all up in it. Many additions and interpretations came before Nina got to it but continuity of culture keeps this music alive and growing.
Let’s start with the lyricial history.
The lyric “The Rock cried Out” and “Oh Sinnerman” (about 1:48) originated with
“No Hiding Place Down Here” and old Negro Spiritual. Here is a quartet version.
Then The Sensational Nightingales got a hold of it in 1954 and recorded a song called
“On Judgment Day”
They added the “Sinnerman, where you gonna run to” and do a soul infused barbershop quartet version.
On Judgment Day- The Sensational Nightingales (this is a rough recording, apologies)
Leading us to our listening comparison. Try to listen out for the same elements. Tempo, Timbre, arrangement, dynamics, expression.
Les Baxter- Sinnerman
Nina Simone- Sinnerman
In her version Nina alters every element of music we are analyzing. Tempo, Timbre, Dynamics and arrangement are all dramatically shifted. She turns the piece upside down, employing Classical music, Blues, Jazz, and Gospel techniques. She also arranged the song into several extended sections that make this piece truly legendary.
Tempo- The main difference you hear right away is the driving rhythm section. The hi hats and Nina on the Piano set a feel that has more momentum than the original, but is actually slower in tempo. The pace feels like she is taking us somewhere, and you want to present on this trip.
Timbre– The Les Baxter version uses instrumentation that gives the tune a folk/rock sound. The rhythm guitar is leading the feel, where as in Nina’s version it is the drums and piano.
Once again, the voice, it’s own very special instrument. She just gives this tune so much soul “The whole epic of human feeling” all in one song.
Also notice the accents and freedom of expression Nina has with the vocal. Les Baxter sings it like “`Sinnerman Where you gonna run to, Sinnerman. With the emphasis on first syllable. When Nina sings
“Oh, sinnerman…… where you gon run to, sinnerman……where ya gon runto- all on that day.
It is much more laid back and relaxed. The phrases just flow together. Sometimes she leaves a word or phrase out, then picks back up the next time around.
She also is a master of back-phrasing. Back phrasing is when you speed up or slow down a portion of the lyrics to add color and emotion. Being slightly behind or ahead the beat creates a certain feel that draws the listener in. Here is an excellent explanation of back phrasing.
Killing me Softly sung- Straight ahead with no anticipation, then hear how it really sounds with the singer ahead of the beat. Hit the link below to check out the explanation.
Les Baxter– He uses the last 45 seconds or so to really up the volume. They sing and play with more fervor, you can tell the end is nearing, as they build into a clean finish.
This is a 10 min song. With unpredictable changes in dynamics. It starts off at a medium volume with a nice pulse. Nina plays and sings through the verse and chorus steadily getting louder and louder. The Vocal picks up steam as she elevates the volume, and the power of the delivery. Eventually background singers come in helping us to reach an apex. Then they stop short and go into a quiet instrumental portion for a few minutes. Next they pick up speed and tempo again to finish out with the “Get By” Piano sample. The song is a journey. Up and down, loud and soft, funky and smooth. Blues and Jazz, Gospel with soul by pound. So much to listen to.
Arrangement– Lex Baxters version has a simple arrangement that repeats throughout the song. A section where he sings the lyrics with a more dynamic rhythm section, a portion where he kind of talks over the beat, then a bass guitar interlude, back to the top. As it moves on background vocals come in as well as some strings, and it gets a very Hollywood in the 1950’s polished sound. I like the dramatic ending of this arrangement a lot.
Nina just owned the song with her arrangement.
Opening piano and percussion
About three minutes of verse/ chorus
One minute of improvising over Nina belting out – POWEEEEER, POWWEEEEER.
Next we have 2 min of jazz improvisation- that just sounds so sweet. The guitar is playing little blues chords just in the right spot. The bassist is playing some excellent supportive harmony creating several layers of listening. Nina in the background adding hand claps.
You hear Nina come in with a very familiar piano sample. (Talib Kweli- Get By)
Now they build back into the POWER section for 2 min – Each musician playing more and more furiously.
Nina improvises a field holler section that is also used in Get By.
With Her piano sounding like an African Baliphone and the drummer getting out his emotions along with her. They build tension for almost 90 seconds before the song comes to an end.
Talib Kweli- Get By
The Queen of Interpretation, “She’ll take the wackest song, and make it beeeeettterr” How does she encompass the whole epic of human feeling? She has a recipe. “And it goes a little something like this”
2 cups soul of the Black CHUCH! Yes, pronounced Chuch! Let that simmer in a base of Negro Sprituals. After about an hour add a 1 ½ cups of Blues feeling, tone and inflection. Next, two teaspoons of Bach like harmony. When it all starts to blend nicely, add 2 chopped cups of Jazz Improvisation, (must be finely chopped). Now bring the whole pot to a boil, cause you know she serves it up hot. Garnish that joint with field Hollers, hand claps, and heaping teaspoon of political protest, then enjoy!
Nina Simone, thank you for embodying all the beauty of Black Music. You continue to be a benchmark for greatness. Myself and many others are inspired by you daily.
I crafted the beat for this remix using one funky break. Two bass guitar tracks, one clap and couple hi hats. I really love how the harmony fits in with the lyrical cadence. Me, Phife, and Tip rocking together. Enjoy!
” As I walk the streets of Hollywood Blvd, thinking about how hard it was for those who starred. In these movies portraying the roles of butlers and maids, slaves and hoes. Many intelligent black men seemed to look unintelligent on the screen. Like I guess you figure I play some jigaboo, what else can a nigga do.
And for the Black women in this profession, playing a lawyer, out of the question. For what they play Aunt Jemima is the perfect term. Even if now she got a perm. So let’s make our own movies like Spike Lee. Cause the roles they offering don’t strike me as nothing the Black man could use to earn, Burn Hollywood Burn
” Big Daddy Kane (Burn Hollywood Burn- Public Enemy)
Big Daddy Kane gives a nice preface. A solid history lesson on the roles and place of people of color in Hollywood. For decades men and women of color have been forced into stereotypical roles that do not help America to see us as real people with real thoughts and feelings. Guess what, we have interesting lives that could make great stories.
Think about this, even if a role calls for a person of color Hollywood leaves us out. Charlton Heston and Christian Bale played moses who grew up in Egypt. Tom Cruise was the Last Samurai? John Wayne is Ghengis Khan? Elizabeth Taylor is Cleopatra? Jake Gyllenhaal is the Prince of Persia? I mean Don Cheadle could not get the funding for his Miles Davis movie with out the addition of a white lead character. It couldn’t just be about the greatness of Miles Davis.
Because Hollywood refuses to cast people of color in lead roles of substance, we end up playing roles that reinforce negative traits that some possess, but are not a measure of an entire group of people.
Black Man- Drug Dealer, Gangster, rapist
Black or Latin Women- Domestic worker, ho, maybe a teacher
Middle eastern- Terrorist or someone who knows a terrorist.
Asian- Stereotypical accent, store owner.
This cannot be denied. Sure there are a few exceptions. But for the most part you do not see people of color in lead roles possessing positive traits. If you do the show is meant to specifically play on race, i.e Blackish, Fresh off the boat. Or in film Selma, Birth of a Nation, Malcom X.
I must mention Cosby and Different World, Living Single and Fresh Prince of Bel Air. All great shows that showed really upstanding Black people. But they have been off the air for decades. What do we have currently?
What about the lives of real people of color in 2016? Like I said we have interesting lives, great stories to tell, and huge amount of flavor to tell them with. Well my friends it has arrive. The times they are-a changing. Slowly
We now have three new shows that represent Black people specifically. Portraying us as, intelligent, thoughtful, family oriented, career driven, educated people. People who sometimes mess up and get into tough situations. But they handle themselves with dignity, and are shattering those old school mentalities. So Hollywood Step and Fetch this.
Atlanta (Fx- Tuesdays)
Insecure- (HBO- Oct 16th- Preview available now)
Luke Cage- (Netflix)
Am I Black Enough For you? Billy Paul
Atlanta is the brainchild of Donald Glover aka Childish Gambino, aka Troy from Community. Glover is the creator and writer of this excellent work. The show is based around the daily life of Earnest “Earn” Marks, a basically broke but ambitous Princeton dropout. His cousin and up and coming rapper “Paper Boi.” Their friend and esoteric visionary Darius. and Earn’s ex Vanessa, with whom he has a child.
In this show we see the characters navigate having children, job security, gun violence, police corruption, burgeoning stardom, the black market, parental expectations, drug use, and relationships with friends. Glover and his writing staff do an excellent job of making you connect with the characters, and giving them depth. The dialogue is sharp and nuanced, building a world of its own each week for 30 minutes.
One of the things I love about the show is that I see people that reflect me and the people I know. I see characters that visually look like my friends and also have similar behavior. I can put names of people I know onto the characters like “oh man, she looks just like” or “Wow, I would do that too” This is a big deal, it doesn’t happen often.
Black people being portrayed as having substance, lives that matter. Families that hurt and friends who laugh and grow together. It is essential viewing if you like high quality, thought provoking T.V. that is also funny and culturally relevant.
Think the writing and performance style of Louie and Master of none, with Wu-Tang Clan and Boyz N Hood as a side dish.
Kaifa Pt I and II- Karl Hector and Malcouns
For women of color it is even harder to break out of the stereotypical roles and depictions. Rarely do you see a show with a lead Black woman actor. But what creator Issa Rae does with this gem is nothing short of BLACK GOLD. Issa Rae aka (Awkward Black Girl) creates a place for Black women to break away from the constant barrage of Housewives and Love and Hip Hop types.
Rae is the lead. She works for a non- profit, has natural hair, wears alternative clothing and has a sense of humor but also a sense of insecurity about it all, hence the title. Her best friend is also a black woman. She is a master at navigating the corporate world and the domino table simultaneously. She seems to have it all, but still something is missing in her life.
Soundtrack- Drake – Feel No ways
They are educated, forward thinking women of color who make good life decisions overall. They lead an existence of positivity and growth. All while being hilarious, whip smart and very keen on open mic rap battles. Insecure is about real women. The ones we hardly ever get to see represented in movies and TV. Issa Rae has a blog called the Awkward Black girl. Hopefully this show will make her and others who connect feel less Awkward and more loved.
Luke Cage- Produced by Netflix and written by Cheo Hodari Coker (Southland, NCIS, Ray Donavan, Notorious)
Luke Cage is the latest Marvel Comic hero to be released as show or film. After an experiment gone wrong Luke Cage played by Michael Colter emerges as an unbreakable, bulletproof, hero with super human strength. Due to circumstances that unfold between Cage and the villain Cornell “CottonMouth” Stokes played vividly by Mahershala Ali (Remy from House of Cards). Cage is forced to save Harlem from the evil.
I’ll be honest this show is Black. Super Black. All of the lead characters are Black or Latina. The soundtrack includes John Lee Hooker, Marvin Gaye, Epmd and Ghostface. It takes place in a pre gentrified Harlem reminiscent of “Renaissance Harlem”. They discuss Black literature and quote hip hop lyrics consistently. Not to mention every episode is named after a Gangstarr track.
Visually you see us. In Cottonmouth’s office there is a prominent painting of The Notorious B.I.G. wearing a crown. This is significant because he is one of our modern cultural icons. The painting is present often and shown from many outstanding camera angles. When you put a large painting on your wall, it’s part of who you are, it means something to you and shows a lot about you. I know to many of my generation Biggie meant a lot. To have his image shown so many times and in such an artistic manner speaks volumes of his impact. It also speaks to the impact of hip hop as a culture on black art and creativity. I have a painting of OutKast on my studio wall to help me reflect on their work as I do my own. Our cultural greats help us move forward.
The Harlem back drop, the speaking mannerisms and slang use, the music, the clothing. (Even Dapper Dan makes an appearance) All Black Gold of the Sun.
Just like Atlanta and Insecure, Luke Cage is giving a positive representation of Black people and culture. They are also shining a light on Black artistry, writing and creativity and production. They do this while staying true to the Comic book fantasy element. If you are a fan of comics tune in. If you are a fan of Hip hop tune in. If you are a fan of seeing people that look like you shine like the sun, tune in.
Of course there are some who are not to pleased with this changing of the guard. Tweets like,
“The lack of white people in Luke Cage makes me uncomfortable, the show is racist, where is the diversity?”
BUH! I’m floored.
I mean, Seinfeld (Which I think is hilarious) , Sex in the City, Friends? more recently Girls and Transparent all white casts. Hollywood is white, its a fact. Remember #oscarssowhite?
The thing is, this is not just happening on TV. White Anglo Saxon Protestant males are no longer a dominant cultural force. The status quo is shifting. We just had a Black president for 8 years, and we just might have a Female president next. All of the Supreme court justices or either Jewish or Catholic and the far right is dying off slowly. It’s scary for some, but freeing and exciting for me and like minded individuals.
These new shows are a vision of our countries future. A diverse nation with many unique individuals. So much talent is out there. So many amazing people with incredible gifts whose lives are about be illuminated. So thank you Donald Glover, Thank you Issa Rae and Thank you Cheo Hodari Coker for showing “us” in such flattering light, and for hearing the words of Big Daddy Kane and doing something about it.
Well, it’s football season again. I for one am happy. I love the game. I played football from middle school all the way through my college years. What I loved most about the game was what my High School Coach David Sedmak called “Controlled Intensity” You have to be ready to bang heads and be in physical combat with the other team. But at the same time be thinking on your feet and using the cues you learned from film study to play the best game possible. You cannot let your emotions and adrenaline take you for a ride. The Kapernick anthem protest has raised a lot of adrenaline levels, many people have intense feelings about it. When what we really need is the controlled intensity. The ability to think about the issues, not just let emotion lead. We need people to have the strength to look past their own experiences and realize that we do have a problem when it comes to inequality in America. Just because it may not be happening to you does not mean that it is not happening. Kaepernick is forcing us to address these issues head on.
Wether you are football fan or not you have probably heard about Colin Kaepernick. A quarterback for the San Fransisco 49ers. On August 26th the media finally noticed that he was not standing for the national anthem. (He sat for two previous games on August 14th and 20th) Once the media noticed they of course asked him about it. Clearly he was not doing it for attention, so why was he protesting. He said, paraphrased “This stand wasn’t for me it was for those do not have a voice, I’m in a position to do something to effect change and I do not want to stand for song and flag that allows injustice to go unnoticed and unpunished.
The next thing you know, we have two sides. So called “patriots” who think he is disrespecting the flag and the troops. On the other end are those who agree with what he is doing. Those that see the injustice and are not afraid to admit that America may be a great nation, but it has major problems with inequality and the balance of justice.
Americans give Athletes and celebrities a huge amount of status, and we are always badgering them about being a role model. “Kids look up to you” “Do what’s right” “You make all this money, and what do you do for the community” Well, isn’t that what CK is doing ?
I mean, people of color are oppressed in America, police brutality and recklessness is a problem. For the most part people of color in America are not in control of the avenues where their voices can be heard (Do not say “Well we have a Black president). Kaepernick is giving the downtrodden a voice. But he has been met with hatred and disgust.
What are the haters saying?
He is disrespecting the troops– Nope. He said that he has friends and family in law enforcement and the military, and that he is in full support of the troops. In fact it was Nate Boyer former Green Beret officer who helped him come up with the taking a knee strategy. There have been heads of state, people from all branches of the armed forces and law enforcement that have come out in support of him. He is just expressing himself using his rights as an American. You don’t have to like it.
The underlying card here is that there is a black man talking about race during NFL Sunday. This creates a visceral reaction from those who deep down wish he would just shut up and play. CK is forcing millions of Americans to discuss and think about something ugly. Something that touches nerves. Especially for people who think America is 100% equal. Yes, some people believe that we have 100% equality, and all these lazy people are just crying wolf.
Another argument is the use of his salary and status as an NFL player against him. Oppressed? He has a 100 million dollar contract. What does he know about oppression? Let me be clear. You do not have to be experiencing oppression to know that it is wrong and want to do something about it. Look up John Brown, a white man who lead a slave revolt, look up William Lloyd Garrison, or Susan B. Anthony, or John F. Kennedy. The list is large, of people who saw injustice and wanted to use the position they had to make a change, even though they were not the ones being oppressed.
Another way to look at it. If a loved one is ill. Do you say to them, suck it up your fine, I don’t think its that bad. No you do not. You sit and empathize with them, let them know you understand and want to help. The fact that millions of people cannot do this when it comes to racism and unfair treatment shows how deeply ingrained white supremacy is.
Look at these quotes from real Americans about the CK protest.
“The reason there is more blacks on unemployment is because they would rather sell drugs and kill other people then get off there sorry ass and go find work so sorry but don’t talk about its the United States fought put the blame where it really needs to be on yourself if it’s so hard for blacks it’s because it’s your fault you or your mom or your grandma were slaves so do try to bring that up stop with that bullshit”
“So we can’t all agree that CK is a dipshit? Who here hates ‘Merica. SHOW YOURSELF!!!!!!”
“Every race, ethnicity and religion has been oppressed at one time or another. Also been enslaved at one time or another, So the battle is not worth continuing to fight. It’s an imaginary battle.”
“Slavery? At least as a slave, you’re alive. A whole bunch of Jews (white people) while enslaved in biblical times, were simply rounded up and murdered, not very long ago.”
” he’s an overpaid dick.”
Down playing slavery really makes me upset.
I have a friend who told me that going into a black neighborhood is risky and dangerous. This same person also said “I see blacks being treated well” Really? How would you know if you never go into a black community? It is a huge case of
If it is not happening to me it’s not happening.
You see the hate and lack of information. It’s reprehensible.
The art that goes along with this piece is by Jeff Rothberg. A Brooklyn artist who is using his work to make people really think about what CK is doing. It depicts Colin Kaepernick taking a knee with American flag running under him. A sun bursts from his back, shining a light on injustice. The most important part of the piece is the blind fold. It is a play on Lady Justice. An American symbol that depicts a woman with a blind fold, holding two balanced scales. The blindfold is to show the justice should see no color, or religion or lifestyle. It’s supposed to be the same for everyone. But we know it’s not. Her scales are balanced, but what about what actually goes on in courtrooms (Brock Turner)
so big ups to Jeff for the dope piece
Another stance I agree that there is a problem, but this not the way to protest.
So what is the right way? We had an entire civil rights movement where people marched peacefully. They were beaten and sprayed with fire hoses. People performed sit ins at restaurants, and they got food thrown at them, spat on and degraded. Just for using their unalienable rights.
Then we have the opposite. Like Watts, and Chicago, and LA and Baltimore. Rioting. When that happens its – “See, look at those thugs” So there is a catch 22 here. Don’t protest peacefully or violently. Just shut up, you are not slave any more be happy.
Who cares if you live in fear of the police force whose salary you pay. Honestly I am more afraid a police officer than any so called “Thug” You now why. Most human beings that some call thugs are not instinctually afraid of me. It is a fact that police think Black men are more dangerous, this is a problem. Generations upon generations of Americans saw people of color as slaves, or share croppers, or their nanny, or the person who cleans their floors. Never really having to know them, they just work for us. This mentality is not easy to shake, it gets passed down through generations. I mean there are buildings in New York City today with “poor doors” Doors made for the low income housing units to use. While those who live in the upper floors with lots of money get to use the front door with a doorman. Sickening. It says, if you are not like us we don’t even want to have to walk past you. Ugh
Kaepernick is making “Murica” watch and listen to sports commentators and hall of fame athletes not discuss x’s and o’s but instead they are talking about civil rights and history and equality. What is wrong with that? Oh right that song that lyrically supports slavery. Got to pay tribute to it. Even though the department of Defense paid the NFL 10 million dollars to have the players come out and stand for the Anthem. Paid Patriotism.
Where were all these people before 2009? The fact is no one noticed or cared the players were in the locker room. People only care now because a black man is forcing the truth on them during NFL games.
When we really think about it this is nothing new. Jackie Robinson did not stand for the anthem, and came out against it. He was and Army veteran. I do not hear any one bad mouthing him. No one currently would say Muhammad Ali was piece of Sh** for standing up for his values. The fact is a large portion of America thinks free speech is cool, as long as you say things they agree with.
All Kaepernick is saying is that America has problems we need to address so that we can live up to our so called mottos and credos. All people are created equal, and have full protection under the law.
However the same people who say “Make America Great Again” think nothing is wrong. So why do we need to make it great (again). Also when was it great? What year do should we go back to. 1619 when the slaves arrived? Or should be go back colonial America where genocide on Native Americans was all good? Or should we go back to 1955 when Emmitt Till was mutalated for whistling at a white woman?
In this crucial election year, there is no middle ground. You either care about others and believe in equality for all, or you do not. We need to have open uncomfortable conversations. It’s the only way to make this thing work. People with differing view points sitting down and talking honestly and showing compassion for the lives of others.
If you disagree with me on any point I made here. I would love to grab a beer or google hang out or skype anytime to have open conversation.
I take music very seriously and place a lot a value in its meaning. For this topic I say. It’s just a song. Lets talk about the real reasons he his kneeling. Let’s bang heads thoughtfully with”Controlled Insensity” Maybe we can make some progress.
Work songs, Gospel, The Blues and Jazz are the roots that hold up the influential behemoth that is African American music. These roots are buried deep. They are the kind of roots that make your sidewalk uneven and crack your driveway. The roots may lay 20-30 feet under the surface, but the lushness of the tree sits high in the sky spreading its influence into the environment, giving out the breath of life to American music as a whole.
This, is how Work Songs became Gospel, Gospel became Blues and Blues became Jazz.
Roots had to grow up through the ground sprouting branches. Branches like Rhythm and Blues, Rock, Funk, Soul Disco, House, Reggae, Hip Hop, Salsa, Zouk, Son, Soca, Kompa, Rhumba, Samba and countless other styles. These branches have leaves that change color, fall off and grow back in different variations each season. Sometimes branches snap off, leaves come and go. But the trunk and the roots are always there, always present, always holding the foundation strong.
Tree Roots grow best in un-compacted soil. That means soil that has not been compressed, or tampered with. No machines have dug it up, no one has ever turned it over. Work songs, Gospel, Blues and early Jazz grew in this un-compacted soil. Musically they are raw, stripped down and untouched. They grew from the heart of the Black Slave and sharecropper. They grew out of the ground through the pain of bondage.
James Weldon Johnson wrote “Stony the road we trod bitter the chastening rod.” In the Black national anthem for a reason. Black music is the direct reflection of a life filled with rough roads and scarred backs. It can be sad and dark, joyful and free, uplifting and depressing. It’s also trance inducing and full of layers to listen and dance to.
Lift Every Voice and Sing- Women of the Calabash
Work Songs, Gospel, Blues, and Jazz gave life to Black music in the Americas and in turn all of western music. Each branch growing with similar features and DNA, displaying the continuity of African culture. These similarities are ever present throughout generations of growth all the way to Hip Hop.
We can find similarities thematically and sonically, but also in the presentation and performance of Black music. Throughout this series we will breakdown these similarities, connecting the dots within the history of Black music in America. We jump into this cipher with.
Since the plight of the African in America began with chattel slavery we find that getting to freedom or to heaven became a very common theme. Spirituals like Ain’t That Good News and Swing Low Sweet Chariot lyrically show us what was on the minds of the African slave.
Ain’t that good news says “I got a crownup in the kingdom, ain’t that good news, got me a savior in the kingdom, ain’t that good news” Through long hot days in the fields some hope or mental escape was needed. Spirituals helped slaves to KEEP ON PUSHING! (Another song about the plight of Blacks in America)
Aint That Good News- Barbara Hendricks and Moses Hogan Chorale (Audio below)
“Swing Low Sweet Chariot” like “Ain’t that good news” and many other slave songs were most likely passed down orally from generation to generation. Generations of people who needed hope in a strange land. Swing Low and Negro Spirituals in general played an integral role in our spiritual sustenance. That is why spirituals are a part of the roots of the tree. Helped to keep us strong from jump.
“Swing Low Sweet Chariot, comin for to carry me home”. “A Band of Angels coming after me, comin for to carry me home.”
Again shows slaves looking for a home in heaven free from the chains of bondage. However like many songs we will analyze, it has a double meaning. When slaves heard this song being sung he/she knew to get prepared to escape. A “chariot” was coming to bring you north.
Do we still sing of being carried off to another land. A land of freedom and peace and love? Of course.
One of today’s most gifted and most successful emcees Common raps about being able to find that heaven here on earth through the gift of music and love.
Let’s take a look and a listen to a song from Common’s album “Like Water For Chocolate” A song entitled “Ghetto Heaven” The main theme is to try and find heaven in yourself and in the music while on this planet wherever you can.
Although we are not physically slaves. Poverty, racism, self hate, poor health and lack of education still have us in chains. Common grew up on the Southside of Chicago where the whippings and hard labor of our ancestors have manifested into one of the highest murder rates in America. Add in widespread segregation and poverty, fear of the police and lack of education. Black people still live in tough situations with a lot of struggle. Finding heaven and inner peace can be a difficult task.
Within African Culture music and dance play a role in every part of life. There is music for the morning, music for working, music for weddings, music for cleaning, music for worshipping, and a dance associated with it. Hence we also have music for stress relief and overall healing. Common is hoping to have music bring us the bliss of freedom, if only for a few minutes.
Geto Heaven Part Two- Common feat D’Angelo (Quotes 1,2,3)
“I walk through the valley with a life preserver, feeling at times that I just might murder. But that ain’t what I was sent for. I want my folks to say his life it meant more, than any car, any rock, and any broad. He found Geto Heaven in himself and God.” – Common
With some clever word playing off of the 23rd Psalm Common tells us he is not afraid of the valley of Death. He has life preservers to protect him from the chains of racism, and discrimination. His music and God. He is looking for that escape route. The connection between the spirituals “Aint that good news and “Swing Low” is clear.
We still make music about getting to that place of peace and freedom, we probably always will. The roots just grew that way. Work Songs, Gospel, Blues and Jazz made it so.
“But to choose words and be heard across waters. Doing something you like to support daughter’s. Keeping your guys from collecting court orders. Conveying messages that the ancestors brought us.” – Common
This line holds a special place for me because I actually use the music of my ancestors across waters to support my daughters. So does Common, and so do many others. Music has saved a lot of souls.
With this lyric Common is describing to us power of Black music. We can use it to send our message all over the world, and convey the message passed down through generations. It is our voice in a world of pain. We can use it to support our families and our dreams, while at the same time always keeping the roots strong allowing the tree to thrive.
“Thought of things to say to become the in thing for the day. Somehow that didn’t seem the way for me to make it. MUSIC IS A GIFT THAT IS SACRED. Whether serving or a surgeon, you gon go through it. Can’t imagine going through it without soul music. It’s like Donny Hath helped me see Lonnie’s path. On my behalf let’s take whole steps to I mhotep. And show depth as we make people nod. Find HEAVEN IN THIS MUSIC AND GOD.”
This is it! Music is our sacred gift. We can use it to reach heaven spiritually, here on earth, and within ourselves. No matter if you are a drug dealer or a pediatrician. You have struggles and soul music can guide you towards greatness like Imhotep. No matter how much pain, you can find some relief in the vibrations of song.
Common used music to relieve some of the pain of racism and second class citizenship. Just like we sang Swing Low Sweet Chariot, We now sing Common’s lyric “Find heaven in this music and god” The ability to let the music soothe you, let the beat bear the weight of your suffering. Allowing the rhythm to take you to a place of peace.
“Maybe someday I’ll reach that higher goal. I know I can make it…….. with just a little bit a soul. -Curtis Mayfield
“Some say we pro-black, but we professional. We missed a lot of church so the music is our confessional. Big Boi
OutKast! A Hip Hop duo consisting of Antwan “Big Boi” Patton and Andre “3000” Benjamin. On their third album entitled “Aquemeni” They created a song called “Liberation” The song features Erykah Badu, Big Rube and Cee-Lo Green.
Sonically they infuse elements of Work Song, Gospel, Blues and Jazz to create a sound palette that oozes soul. Not to mention on an album with ferocious lyrical prowess there is no rapping. They tap into the roots of the tree, extract the base (bass) and create a musical gift.
Lyrically this song shows another side of what freedom can be.
We are not tied by the neck and feet physically anymore. That treatment however led to economic instability, unfit housing, and systemic racism. Mental liberation is what we need now. To know that we are not second class, or 3/5ths, or a burden.
Big Rube says ” It’s a hard road of hope when the rain don’t fall, and the ground is dry, BUT THE ROOTS ARE STRONG so some survive”
Even though sometimes it feels like all hope is gone, remember those roots are there. Unwavering, allowing the continuity of African culture and its music to sustain us, and bring us to mental liberation. A place where we know we are equal, a place where we accept and expect only the best.
A few quotes from “Liberation”
“Can’t worry about what another Ni**a think, now that liberation and baby I want it”
This kind of mentality was not even a possibility for black people until recently. We had to worry about what our oppressors thought. We did so, or face grave consequences. OutKast is praying and wishing and hoping to be able to have this kind of freedom. Which they do, through the medium of music. But do we?
Even still we have to be more than careful. Remember Amadou Diallo, and Freddie Gray, and Tamir Rice, and Alton Sterling, and Sean Bell. I have never had a positive interaction with an on duty Police Officer. As a matter of fact, I’m afraid of them. What is really sad is that I type those names with so many more that could be listed. This shows we are still searching for that “Liberation” Our freedom to be alive and breathing is not guaranteed.
“Ya have a choice to be who you wants to be its left upa to me, and my Momma dem told me”
First thing I noticed about this lyric is its delivery. Its is spoken in a southern dialect and uses a line you may know. If you grew up around southern black people you have heard someone say “My Mama n dem” with the syllables pushed together. That’s black vernacular handed down through generations.
Now the thematic element. A choice to be who you want to be? A very new freedom for people of color. 50 short years ago which is a blip in history. Discrimination, segregation and Jim Crow were still completely legal and huge part of our society. Black people for the most part did not grow up saying “ I can do whatever I want to do.” Black people lived with struggle, struggle that affects us mentally to this day.
“I’m so tired been so long, struggling, Hopelessly 7 and 40 days”
The timbre with which this line is sung along with its biblical references (Noah and flood) is reminiscent of a Work Song or Field Holler. Envision a native African, on a sugar cane plantation, can’t find his wife, on his knees, both hands to the sky singing for some relief. Now envision Marvin Gaye on his knees singing “Make me wanna Holler, throw up both my hands” It’s the same thing. This however is Cee- Lo Green of the Dungeon Family throwing up both his hands, praying for a better day.
“Shake that load off, Shake that load off, Shake load off, Shake load off, Shake that load off”
With cascading three part harmonies moving behind it, the phrase “Shake that load off” is repeated 32 times. Since Black people arrived here, we have been looking for ways to shake the load off, to escape from the captivity. We used music, religion, dance, anything we could to KEEP ON PUSHING. Leading us right into a quote from the great
“Spend your life trying to numb the pain, You shake that load off and sing your song, liberate the minds then you go on home.”
This is everything we have been discussing. Black people, from slavery into 2016 are still trying to numb the pain. We attempt to shake the load off with, prayer, with drugs, with sex and many other things, but nothing is a strong as our SONG. Songs that liberate the mind, then we go on “home”
“Born under a bad sign, Been down since I began to crawl. If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all” – Albert King
Not only did we sing of a new life in heaven and freedom from the pain. We also used music to tell the story of the daily grind. The everyday struggles. Bills, women, men, relationships, parties, hanging with friends, just the ups and downs that life brings. One of the greatest gifts we get from songs that tell real life stories, is the glimpse into the life and head of the performer.
Let’s compare a Blues song from 1942 by T-Bone Walker and and Hip Hop song that lyrically is a blues song from 1994 by The Notorious B.I.G.
Mean Old World- T. Bone Walker
Everyday Struggle- Notorious B.I.G
T- Bone– “Yes, I drink to keep from worrying, Mama I smile to keep from crying. Just to keep the public from knowing just what I have on my mind.”
Biggie– “They don’t know about your stress filled day, baby on the way, mad bills to pay that’s why you drink tanqueray. So you can reminisce and wish wasn’t living so devilish”
These songs were written 52 years apart. T-Bone Walker is from Linden, Texas and Biggie is from Bed Stuy, Brooklyn. Yet the their lives seem to have similar issues going on. Stresses of life pushing them to drink is the obvious, and that is prevalent in all cultures. What makes this unique to the Black experience is the generational effect White supremacy has had on our progress, opportunities, self fulfillment and expectations.
I’m no “Blame Whitey” kind of dude either. But let’s look at it like this. If you run a race where you are the only healthy contestant and everyone else has a pulled hamstring, you are gonna win most of the time. Sometimes a really strong person who can’t be stopped will get ahead. But for the most part healthy legs win. Generations of Black people have been running with the tweaked hammy, even Biggie and T-bone Walker. They were the strong ones, and they still did not think highly of themselves.
Biggie wishes he wasn’t so devilish and T-Bone hides his emotions in smiles and booze so the world can’t see him. These are mental shackles that come with generations of hate.
For someone as gifted and influential as Biggie to take away from his life that he is nothing but a devil says a lot about our culture.
Sadly that thought process is a daily operation for a black man in America. Living the duality of being Black and trying to exist in a country that hates you. Dubois spoke of the “Double Consciousness”
‘Looking at yourself through the eyes of others. Measuring your soul by the tape of world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. ” The Notorious B.I.G. was a poetic genius. Excellent with the word play, a truly unique delivery, with vivid story telling abilities. He touched millions of people world wide with just two albums. However he was still forced to look at himself through eyes of country who did not truly value him. “Heart throb never, Black and ugly as ever” This is what he thought of himself.
They both go on to say-
“Someday baby I’ll be six feet in the grave, then I won’t be running the streets like a low down dirty slave” T-Bone Walker
“I don’t wanna live no mo, sometimes I hear death knocking at my front door. I’m living everyday like a hustle, and another drug to juggle. Another day another struggle” – Biggie
Both of these men reached the pinnacle of their industry. Yet, the everyday struggle was still real for them. The above lyrics were written in 2 totally different generations by seemingly very different people. Doesn’t it seem like they could have worked together? (whooo, what a dope album). The continuity of theme is so strong because the roots and the trunk are always buried deep, holding strong, allowing the branches to flourish, if only for a brief moment.
Slaves sang coded songs about getting to freedom, T- Bone Walker sang songs about getting through the day in this “Mean old World”. Common helped us find Heaven in ourselves. Marvin Gaye threw up both his hands to the Inner City Blues, Outkast created praise music to help “Shake that load off” and Biggie rapped about his everyday struggle.
We create music to help us shake off the load of oppression, to turn that sore into scab. The basis of this music comes from Work Songs, Gospel, The Blues and Early Jazz. The theme of wanting to be truly free and find peace in this world runs from Work Songs all the way to Hip Hop. Continuity of Culture.
These are only a few of the thematic connections we can make, but the fact is this.
Black music throughout its growth in America has similarities that run deep between styles that are centuries apart. The Roots of the tree will always be there, season after season.
Songs of getting to physical Freedom
Ain’t that Good News– Spritual
Swing Low Sweet Chariot. – Wallis Willis
Song of getting to mental Freedom
Lift Every Voice and Sing- James Weldon Johnson and John Rosamond Johnson
Geto Heaven (pt II)– Common
Keep On Pushing– Curtis Mayfield
Songs of the everyday struggle and self reflection
Hip Hop is a culture that has inspired generations of heads. Emceeing, Breaking, graffiti and of course Djing have given many people a path to a career they love. A career that is built around the vibrancy, love, and passion that is exudes from Hip Hop and it’s music.
DJ Noumenon is one those artists. The word NOUMENON means a state of level or being reached without using the five senses. When you hear him play you will overstated that definition for sure. From his roots in Albany, Ny to building a career in N. Caroliinaaaaaaa! (He keeps his shirt on though) to the National Director of Scratch DJ Academy, to now holding down multiple residencies in New York City, where the quality music rules all. This is a look inside the mind of the Ascot cap wearing, 90’s movies quoting, laughter inducin DJ Noumenon.
Noms trajectory toward a career as a DJ began in Albany with his parents record collection. Three artists that remind him of growing up, and his records from home. STEELY DAN, STEVIE WONDER, PHOEBE SNOW. No one is his family was a musician, but they understood music, and loved it. His Mother taught him about song structure by reading the liner notes of the records. They would read the lyrics together and she would break down Verse, Chorus, Bridge etc. This helped him to build a personal relationship with music, it was never just on in the background, it always meant something. He also used to practice drum cadances with Hit Stixx (WHAAAAT!)
The first time he actually touched the Turntables was in Albany. His friend Geoff Gillis had a set up at his crib. One day Nom’s stepped to the decks, put on “Passin me by“(his favorite song) and mixed it with “Come Clean” by Jeru the Damja. The legend goes that he mixed it perfectly and cleanly the very first time. No mistakes. He just knew how to mix, it was inside him already. Hip Hop was the medium that showed him his gift, from then on he knew his destiny.
He then began to DJ on the underground Hip Hop scene, collect records and scratch as much as possible with his mentor DJ Just Nyce.
Blame Me– A Noumenon production
In 2005 He moved back to NYC and started working for Scratch DJ Academy. He worked his way to the top of the organization quickly. Started out as one of the companies first event DJ’s, moved on to master teacher, and eventually became the national director of the company. Assisting in Curriculum Development, and helping Scratch expand to a national market.
After 9 years at Scratch he moved on to new solo endeavors. Facing a major crossroads for a DJ. This is not a job with a 401k, pension, days off, or any kind of security. As a working dj myself I am interested in other dj’s opinion on longevity in this line of work.
BTL – “Do you think DJ’s like us will ever be able to retire?”
Noms– DJ’s like us probably not. But honestly I don’t want to” ” Guys like Jazzy Jeff and DJ Spinna, maybe they can because they have publishing, but I don’t think they would ever want to stop playing either.
I’m not going to be old dude in the club with the silver beard though. There does come a time, when we need to evolve. That could be internet radio, working for a label, production work. Something that keeps you in music, but not necessarily on the front lines of club life. What ever that evolution is, technology is going to have to be involved and embraced.
BTL- On that note, lets talk about technology. We both came up at an interesting time. A transitional period. We started on strictly vinyl and digging culture. Then all of sudden Final Scratch came out, then Serato and the game changed. What are your thoughts on technology and the Digital DJ.
Noms– The first time I saw Final Scratch I was NAH, No, Not ever.! I never even wanted to use CD’js I was a purist plain and simple.
There are pros and cons. One of main cons is that people come out and try to spin for a crowd way to early. Without having to put in that work. Because of the ability to see the screen and match up the waves, a lot faux DJ’s took that to mean they were good, so did a lot of venue owners. But when it comes down to rocking a crowd of people all night long, impostors will be shown for what they really are. The art of mixing by ear is gone to the newer generation of DJ’s. They simply won’t learn it, I think that’s too bad.
However if you know how to read a crowd, spend time finding dope music, and put the time into your sets and DJ techniques serato can help expand your creativity. You get to your cues so quickly, and pick up steam quickly with out ever having to worry about how much music you have in your crate. Also we are not using sync. A lot of people are. However real DJ’s are selecting, cueing, mixing using the Turntables in the same manner we always did. Now we just have little to no back pain. Those crates were a bitch.
Regardless of serato, traktor whatever, heads are always going to dig. Heads will be scratching on AHHH forever, and flipping breaks. It’s Hip Hop, “We will be here forever”
BTL– Word, lets move on to what you are doing now. So you have started a party called BROOKLYN TOOK IT! with your partner Oh Rouge. Tell us how that got going
Noms– We started the party because we really wanted a grassroots event, where the music reigned supreme. We want to play music that speaks to us, and creates a feel good vibe.
BTL– What is different about Brooklyn Took It?
Noms– The music. We have a “No new shit” policy. We rock, Funk, Soul, Classic hip hop, House, Disco. We even get into some early 2000’s hip hop as long as it has soul.
BTL– So even with modern party goers being tied to the radio and streaming. You are able to get a crowd of people to rock to classic good music.
Noms- Hell yeah! The crowd is so varied. You have music heads, who know every song, 20 somethings who just wandered in, the neighborhood folk who have lived here forever. It’s the music and the vibes that make people have a good time. We try to create a family atmosphere of equality and love, so every one feels welcome and leaves with a memorable experience. Also the sound system at FRIENDS AND LOVERS is on point. So when the bass is hitting your chest, and your sweating and moving. The energy just boils and bubbles until you gotta clean off the top of the stove cause it just spilled over ya know.
BTL- I love it. I cannot wait to rock with you and Oh Rouge on JUNE 3rd at Friends and Lovers. I’ve been pulling some gems together for the occasion.
As we finish up, can you give us a few pieces of music you have been listening to that we should check for?
Noms- For sure,
Ivan Ave and Fred Fades – Dope underground Hip Hop.
Check them out here
Cortex- A French band with a lot of sample material. It is like rare groove/Psych Rock. Essentially Breaks for days.
Drum patterns of Buddy Miles and Clyde Stubblefield.
Them Changes by Buddy Miles
Buddy Miles pictured here with during Band of Gypsies era.
Noms, good looks my dude. Thank you
Be sure to come through FRIENDS AND LOVERS on JUNE 3rd. 10pm, no Cover
This is a look inside my growth as a DJ. I mix through tracks that I used to spin a lot into deeper styles that I am now learning about. I am trying to encompass what music and art really mean to me through the narration. So the music and the vocal interludes are equally important.
Please if you have the time. Listen to the whole mix, identify a theme, connect it to your own life.
This is a link to the scene the narration is based on. This is from an HBO show entitled SIX FEET UNDER. Lauren Ambrose who plays Claire Fisher on the show is getting a lesson on puling art out of yourself, and being original. It really meant something to me and has stayed with me for years. The main piece I take from the show is……
“It’s what happens when exactly what is inside of you connects with what is outside of you. The Eye Inside.