ESSAY// VIEWS: Album of the Year Edition

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“But unlike his earlier solo efforts, Sign “O” the Times wasn’t a record by an ambitious kid trying to make impression. At 28, Prince had already made himself into a pop superstar  (and movie star too), and he easily sold out arenas. In one sense, he had nothing to prove. Yet Sign “O” the Times is the most varied, accomplished record of his prime 1980s period, a testament to the range of his gifts and the bold artistic ambition that gave his music shape.” ~ Pitchfork

Previously.

The reason why it’s not STARBOY is because Drake isn’t sounding like Michael Jackson in the future, he’s sounding like Drake in the future. The reason why it’s not The Life of Pablo is because Views is easier to listen to. The reason why it’s not LEMONADE is because Views is easier to listen to. Drake is, if you want to listen to it that way, furious throughout for sure. Just like Pablo and Bey, Drake is terrified and at the end of his rope and fighting for his fucking life and the lives of his family and friends.

But he never screams his heart out or has a multi-part breakdown. He and his collaborators stay ice cold~ even the warmest, most bounciest beats have a grim determination undergirding them. There’s an unshakeable momentum to the music, a timely airtight-ness. VIEWS is the album that got humanity through this year, it’s the sound of the biggest star in the world on the eve of revolution.

The reason why it’s not Coloring Book is Drake doesn’t sound like Kanye anymore. I mean, everybody sounds like Kanye but Chance the Rapper REALLY sounds like Kanye; he sanded the edges off Graduation and brought it to the present. However, candy-coated Christianity can only take one so far in the real world and Lord knows it’s taken us far enough, thank you but please no thank you! Drake keeps it real. Chance’s “Blessings” aren’t actually coming for you: you’re not as handsome as he is and your dad isn’t friends with Obama. You’re not going to blow up without a record deal! But you might be able to get your ex back if you can grit your teeth for long enough through all of life’s beat changes and let da riddim guide you through the God-less, gunshotted summer. Better yet, you might even find someone new. Imagine that.

The reason why it’s not Solange is because that album is too slow. The reason why it’s not Blonde is because that album is too sad! The reason why it’s not your album is because your album isn’t this sexy or well-produced and it doesn’t have “Hotline Bling” as a bonus track.

More Life is on the way.

a life of meaning vol. 2 is now available

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THE SICK MUSE is a semi-monthly zine featuring lyrics, paintings, poetry, and musings from the underground scene in Chicago. Find them in stock at Quimby’s Bookstore, Permanent Records, Bucket O’Blood Records, Saki Records, Reckless Records, ECO, and a (not) DIY show near you!!

This is +’s essay from The Sick Muse vol. 5, released this week, accompanying a revolutionary sticker collection, part of +’s ongoing a life of meaning multimedia project.

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U.S. Presidents have said a lot of nice things about art over the years~ perhaps most famous is John F. Kennedy’s speech at Amherst College in 1963, a partial eulogy for the poet Robert Frost, where Kennedy says “I see little of more importance to the future of our country and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist.” In 2014, current president Barack Obama stated that “the arts are central to who we are as a people.” And a few years ago, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton wrote to Vanity Fair:

“In my line of work, we often talk about the art of diplomacy as we try to make people’s lives a little better around the world. But, in fact, art is also a tool of diplomacy. It reaches beyond governments, past the conference rooms and presidential palaces, to help us connect with more people in more places. It is a universal language in our search for common ground, an expression of our shared humanity.”

She’s kind of talking about art as “soft power”: a persuasive approach to international relations, typically involving the use of economic or cultural influence. However, I’ve been fascinated lately with thinking of what art might be like as “hard” power. What if we could, to paraphrase singer Frank Ocean, actually draw on fantasy to make things hyperreal? When I watched Hillary’s husband, former president Bill Clinton, talk about her political career during a speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, a major theme was her existence as a Change Maker. She would pick up a phone or go to someone’s office building or sign off on a bill and suddenly thousands of parents would be able to take their child to preschool or a hundred clinics would stay open. It made me think of how I can’t do that; no matter what I put in a song, my words are just words that you’ll soon forget.

The purpose of a life of meaning is to empower a new connection between real life and popular art ~*~*~*

There’s an imaginary land of freedom and peace that music often refers to- think John Lennon’s “Imagine,” or The Staple Singers’ “I’ll Take You There.” I believe that place exists as a physical reality right on the other side of the political condition that we live in. The Staples family can’t actually take you through that looking glass the way a politician can but placing these stickers on plants, walls, on bedroom doors and bathroom stalls works to realize the potential of our greatest art and our purest selves.

In past writing, I’ve defined love as “a state of mutual vulnerability.” I meant it both emotionally and as a political definition. That’s how it appears, too, in Beyoncé’s new visual album LEMONADE as the personal reconciliation of Bey x Jay gives way to images of mothers of young black men killed by law enforcement. Beyoncé’s happy ending for these mothers – their “Freedom” – portrays black women growing food together in a boundary-less community. Here, class isn’t a factor: literally everyone has a seat at the table. There are no prisons. I feel like it’s my responsibility to state without ambiguity that there is only one political concept that encompasses LEMONADE’s perfect reality. It’s already championed by millions of people all over the world and it’s called Anarchism.

ESSAY// #LEMONADE is Anarchist

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“Justice is what love looks like in public,” – Cornell West

In past writing, I’ve defined love as “a state of mutual vulnerability.” I meant it both emotionally and as a political definition. That’s how it appears, too, in Beyoncé’s new album LEMONADE as the personal reconciliation of Bey x Jay gives way to images of mothers of young black men killed by law enforcement.  Beyoncé’s happy ending for these mothers – their “Freedom” – portrays black women growing food together in a boundary-less community. Here, class isn’t a factor: literally everyone has a seat at the table. There are no prisons. I feel like it’s my responsibility to state without ambiguity that there is only one political concept that encompasses LEMONADE’s perfect reality. It’s already championed by millions of people all over the world and it’s called Anarchism.

Beyoncé’s self-titled album from 2013 is not an anarchist work. It’s feminist, yes, as Bey examines unfair gender expectations and fights to express her full spectrum of emotions.  However, the Beyoncé of that album also brags from penthouses (“Jealous”) and limousines (“Partition”) while staging many of her videos in lavish isolation (“Haunted,” “Drunk in Love”). It was a milestone, but compared to this year’s LEMONADE it feels selfish, unsophisticated, wanting for (any) acknowledgement of economic inequality’s impact on women in the real world. I believe the same way Bey affirmed the risky term “feminist” leading up to that project (solidifying the movement’s entrance back into the mainstream), it is even more essential for her more recent work to be explicitly named.  Until Bey claims her radical politics, the dream of LEMONADE will remained unfulfilled.  

Beyoncé (and Kendrick Lamar and any of all of their powerful peers) have to say “I am a prison abolitionist, I do not support borders; I advocate classless communities where people of all backgrounds and abilities can find housing, education, and be as gay as they want to be.” She has to conceptually reject the system of money ruling her artistry in “6 Inch” to get to the relaxed truth of “All Night Long.” This is an election year, after all, when influential people argue 24/7 over their plans to continue in this broken history whilst unable to conceive the revolutionary vision of community & love that  Beyoncé Knowles-Carter suggests throughout LEMONADE. Enough with the metaphors, Bey: we’re with you.  Hurry up, get brave, and save the world!

ESSAY // “Beyoncé is not an actual artist.” – A Response to Radical Faggot

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There’s a phrase coined by Sigmund Freud, “the narcissism of small differences.” – “the phenomenon that it is precisely communities with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and ridiculing each other.” I felt challenged and enriched by reading Radical Faggot‘s piece on Beyoncé’s “Formation” video, and by responding to it I hope to add to a complex, perpetually relevant discussion, rather than detract from dialogue by attempting to destroy or ignore the points I am struggling the most with.

I didn’t type that sentence in passive-aggression, but I do want to start by saying I think this response is necessary because I feel that Rad Fag, in their piece, is minimizing and ignoring parts of Beyoncé’s work and identity in ways that are unfair and sadly ironic. It genuinely makes me sad because people dehumanize* artists all the time, and it’s ironic because it’s happening in response to a piece of work that’s specifically about the dissonance Beyoncé Knowles feels as a black woman who is struggling on-and-off-camera to be seen as a full, real (Black, female) human.

Oh, yes, you besta believe it

1.  Big Freedia is not a trans woman. This leads to my disagreement with the points in general on cis, female pop stars “appropriating” queer and trans culture. It’s a sometimes ambiguous, but overwhelmingly symbiotic relationship. When Madonna or FKA twigs seemingly co-opt vogue in the middle of successful professional careers, they are already undeniably in a conversation with a large queer and trans audience who is supporting them and adopting their mannerisms, language, and iconography, too. Not to mention their collaborators, staff, and friends. Of course, not every cis-female entertainer is known to be especially beloved in the queer and trans community, but Bey is. Her using language like “slay” or sampling the voice and images of queer people is, at the very least, showing love and giving visibility to people who adore, mimic, and exalt her expression as a cis female.

Furthermore, what is the operative difference between Big Freedia (positively described by Rad Fag as “a force”) and Beyoncé? Freedia is a black, feminine, Southern entrepreneur and entertainer with hyper-sexualized (and empowerment-themed) music, corporate sponsors, and big-name producers and collaborators. Beyoncé operates at a larger scale than Freedia but if you put their actual work side-by-side they do the same thing. If Big Freedia puts out a Black Lives Matter-themed video, is she also responsible for deflecting the attention away from the racist mayor of Chicago, the people of Flint, and the police state, too? Or is Freedia not famous enough (yet)?

2. Beyoncé has a black child, a black husband, a black mother, father, sister. Beyoncé is black. No amount of money erases that, and the idea that it ever could, or that having a lot of money makes someone able to un-feel or express their blackness does not sit right with me. A little boy roughly her daughter’s age is still facing down a line of police, and her Southern family (“Momma Lousiana;”) are still suffering from Katrina – are we assuming Beyoncé has no loved ones in New Orleans?  As stated earlier, this is what “Formation” and its video are explicitly in response to. Beyoncé is wearing modern “sexy” clothing like a rich pop star and she’s dressed like a classic Southern Belle and she’s wearing a “modest” dress that covers up everything and yet she still drowns. She uses the mechanics of a pop video to draw a line through time, space, and class.  Which brings me to the subject of #3:

Bitch, I’m back by popular demand

3. RF‘s first point expresses sincere frustration at constantly being asked to respond to the “Formation” video. Without attempting to invalidate, I object to the implication that people are primarily talking about “Formation” because Beyoncé is popular or they’re being somehow fooled; people are talking about it because they believe it is an exceptional piece of work, first and foremost. People talk incessantly about Beyoncé because we believe she is an exceptional artist. Not always. But very often, whether she’s singing acapella in a dressing room, making a song about the joy of having a daughter or one about going down on her famous husband in a limousine.

4.  There’s a JAY Z line, “Heard niggas saying they made Hov, made Hov say ‘OK, make another HOV.'” If a corporation “making” Beyoncé or any pop star was as easy and effortless as it is made to seem, every pop star would be Beyoncé, you know? But they’re not. Taylor Swift isn’t, Britney Spears wasn’t, even Rihanna isn’t. Justin Timberlake, her closest pop peer, clearly pales in esteem as well.  Outside of the pop landscape, I, and we, truly believe that Beyoncé is a uniquely powerful creator – she’s a once-in-a-lifetime creative genius and “Formation” carries any To Pimp A Butterfly, “Missippi Goddam” I could name. Beyoncé is in conversation with bell hooks, not to be talked down to, is to be celebrated and studied alongside Hurston, Brooks, & Angelou.

5. I am an anarchist. I believe that capitalism fucks up this world in a bad way. I do not idolize Bill Gates (or Steve Jobs or Beyoncé) as capitalists. We have political differences; Beyoncé believes that participating in capitalism in the way she does, at the scale she does, results in a net benefit enough to keep doing it. So does my mom. To treat an ideological difference as a chance to minimize someone’s struggles is not any less destructive when someone has a lot of money.

Slay trick, or you get eliminated

6. I also believe that no matter where you are in this system, you are going to suffer, consciously or unconsciously. I do not believe that Beyoncé or any rich artist is happier than I am just because they are “successful.” In fact, most celebrities, most rich people, will tell you all the time about the tolls being rich and famous takes on them. A lot of large scale art is explicitly about that. JAY Z’s most recent album Magna Carta Holy Grail is about that; in fact, all JAY Z is about that. Bey and JAY’s On the Run tour was about that. That “Formation” projects superhuman confidence, and that because of our current condition this confidence is both what endears Yoncé and her peers to their audience and enrages onlookers is one of the central tragedies of the piece. Making explicit the parallels to and, roots in, black, queer, & class struggles (with a swag rap cadence) is one of the deft, masterful things about the work. And then she gave it to the biggest audience on Earth.

*7. I used the word “dehumanizing” earlier: “Beyoncé is a logo. Beyoncé is a commodity. Beyoncé is a production. Beyoncé is a distraction. Beyoncé is a ruse. Beyoncé does not actually exist.” I stand by my use of the word.

I encourage you, if you are reading this piece, to read Radical Faggot‘s piece, multiple times. It is full of important information and your eyes and mind will do a better job of processing its value than I ever could as I am writing in “opposition” to it. I am grateful for it.

Always stay gracious