The last few weeks have been exceptionally challenging – from the Kavanaugh hearings and the New York Times’ coverage of the Trump family’s efforts to preserve their family fortune to work related things (it’s fulfilling, but it can be emotionally draining).
Here are some things that have been therapeutic:
Writing: There are few things that I enjoy more than thinking and writing about culture. The only reason that I don’t write about culture more frequently is that the things I love and value more than writing are also pretty time consuming. Over the last few months, I’ve managed to find the time (between family, work and volunteering) to write a few thousand words about a popular superhero movie. I have more to say (I always have more to say), but I think it’s time to branch off in a different direction. I have some ideas related to afro-futurism and black pop culture heroes, but I’m not sure that I’m going to have the time to do the topic justice. I’d love to do some more writing about pop culture, but with a full time job, a slate of volunteer commitments and a family, I’m always going to be behind the ‘discourse’ (is late 2018 too late for a Phantom Thread essay?). I have the beginnings of a comic book post in my head about how modern creators are finding interesting ways to reimagine the origin stories of Golden – Bronze Age superheroes. I have a series of posts about Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton that need to be fleshed out and edited. I also have a bunch of Funnybook Babylon and Between the Stations posts to finish editing/uploading to this site, but that’s not as fun as writing something new.
So what’s next? If I have the time (crosses fingers), a post about Sorry to Bother You and something about why the most meaningful hip-hop (and popular music) in 2018 has been created and performed by women. If I really have the time (e.g., a bout of the flu), I will finally complete the Hamilton posts.
Music: I’ve spent the last few weeks listening to Aretha Franklin concert mixes and Teyana Taylor’s recently released K.T.S.E. They are very different artists, but both lack artifice and can convey the feeling of finding joy in pain and chaos. Aretha was a genius in every way that a music artist can be one – a brilliant technician and arranger whose ability to evoke raw emotion was unmatched. Teyana doesn’t have Aretha’s gifts, but there was something unflinchingly honest about her performances on this album, from songs like Issues/Hold On to WTP. On Issues/Hold On, Taylor explores the intertwined anger, passion and uncertainty present in a tempestuous romance. She doesn’t just share the suspicion and other ugly emotions that can come when one feels vulnerable in a romantic relationship, she suggests that her uncertainty is rooted in her past experiences. She is self-aware, but the pain is still raw.
WTP is a very different kind of song (as you might guess after you listen to the hypnotic ‘work this pussy’ refrain), but there’s something deeply honest about her demand that a lover give her pleasure. The song is inspired by the Harlem underground ballroom scene created by black gay men, trans men and women, drag performers of all identities and orientations and other members of the LGBTQ community in the 1960’s. I always associated that scene with a heightened sense of fantasy, but Taylor’s assured delivery reminds me that the underlying desires and emotions can be very real.
During the last two
decades weeks of the Kavanaugh nomination, I found myself turning to hip-hop. During other ‘our political landscape is enraging and terrifying’ moments over the last few years, I fell into the habit of adding more hip-hop tracks and playlists to my rotation. I usually added a mix of songs that were made when I was a young man or which sounded as if they were inspired by that music (my go to is one that shares the title of this post with tracks from Black Star, Yasiin Bey, Common, Lauryn Hill, Chance, Otis Redding, Amy Winehouse and Me’Shell Ndegeocello). This time I found myself listening to Tierra Whack’s Wack World, Noname’s Room 25 and Lil’ Wayne’s Carter 5.
I don’t know why I downloaded Tierra Whack’s debut album. It may have been a recommendation from a friend online or an admiring tweet that floated by on my timeline. It’s a delightfully strange album filled with unexpected rhythms and exceptional rapping. Tierra’s songs contain some hard truths, but there’s a sense of joy and optimism at the core of her music that feels necessary in this political climate. We deserve to feel joy and “if you love somebody I promise that you should tell ’em”. I know exactly why I rushed to get Noname’s Room 25 when it became available – I’ve loved her work since I was introduced to her on Lost, from Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap mixtape. Her verse was brief but powerful – the closing line “the only time he loves me is naked in my dreams” was heartbreaking. Her debut is assured and brilliant. I loved her two collaborations with Chance the Rapper (Lost and Israel (Sparring)), but she sounds even more confident on this album. The verses are packed with meaning, but Noname is comfortable with adjusting the density of her rhymes to ensure the maximum impact on the listener – contrast the melancholic Don’t Forget About Me with the high energy playful vibe on Self. I haven’t seriously thought about Lil’ Wayne for years, since I was disappointed by the Carter 3 about a decade ago. I downloaded his album on a lark – I wanted to listen to some new music and saw that Wayne had finally released the Carter 5. I was surprised to hear an artist who had rediscovered his voice. Wayne is scattered (as he always is), but his flow is still incredible on songs like Dedicate and Mona Lisa. His rhymes are dense, profane and inappropriate, but they are also compelling. Sometimes. He’s still Lil Wayne, so we still get verses that are just terrible or feel exceptionally lazy, but even the less inspired verses are backed by impeccable production from Mannie Fresh (man, was it refreshing to hear some new Mannie!) and the team of R!o and Kamo. I found myself turning to a playlist with my favorite tracks from all three albums to help cope with all the dark and dour news of the day on a increasingly regular basis over the last few weeks.
I’ve also been doing some reading, but more on that later. Here are some highlights:
- Giant Days – John Allison, Max Sarin
- Immortal Hulk – Joe Bennett, Al Ewing
- The Black Monday Murders – Tomm Coker, Jonathan Hickman
- The Rise of the Black Panther – Evan Narcisse, Javier Pina
- The Seeds – Ann Nocenti, David Aja
- Twisted Romance (Red Medusa on the Road to Hell) – Sarah Horrocks
- Black Bolt – Saladin Ahmed, Christian Ward
- Twisted Romance (Treasured) – Trungles, Alex de Campi
- Batman – Jim Aparo, Jim Starlin
- Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles – Mark Russell, Mike Feehan, Mark Morales
- Twisted Romance (Invincible Heart) – Alex de Campi, Carla Speed McNeil
See you next time.