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// If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late: Album of the Year Edition

DRAKE ~ JUNGLE from October’s Very Own on Vimeo.

Of all the loosies Drake put out last year, from “Trophies” and “We Made It” to “0 to 100” and “How Bout Now,” the searching power ballad “Heat of the Moment” stood out from all others in its promise of the man Aubrey Graham might be about to become.  “Heat” Drake sings about global warming, muses on the power of the soul, and tells the kids to stop having so much darn unprotected sex. Graham, approaching thirty, had reached a new plateau of cultural power and creative excellence in the wake of 2013’s Nothing Was The Same and was syncing up with the “conscious” wave the mainstream was then tuning into. Alongside Kanye West’s “Only One,” Kendrick’s bubbly “i” and Chance the Rapper’s emerging gospel pop rap persona, “Heat” promised 2015 as the year corporation-friendly rap would take its “moral” responsibilities seriously in a way it hadn’t in decades, if ever.  I couldn’t wait: after Soulja Boy, swag, and the “I Don’t Like (Remix)” the millennials were finally coming of age, bro.

 

Then, in early February ‘15, Drake dropped the short film Jungle and something was off. The young man of the people I expected to see was conspicuously absent. The film starts with an exhausted guy diving into an all-black luxury vehicle and being shuttled out of a city in the dead of night. Away from people. He’s got this heavy beard, the lines under his eyes are starting to look like bags for the first time. He sounds bitter about fame in a way he hasn’t in years and is completely unsure of who in his personal life can be trusted. Well yeah, Drake! You know, that’s the system! Making black men hate each other and disrespect our fe-males, dude, yeah, totally, we’re about to go tear it down with D’Angelo and the cast of Selma – come with us! It’s time to go unify! Except Drake doesn’t go anywhere. He builds higher walls. The first lines of If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late are about making N-words back up. The last ones concern taking your girl while covered head-to-toe in Prada. Somewhere in all that darkness and ice emerges my favorite project the rapper has released to date.

If You’re Reading…  is the album-long culmination of JAY Z’s prophetic letter to A. Graham on “Light Up,” from the latter’s Cash Money debut Thank Me Later (2010): the harder you appear, the more you become a study in loss and sadness. Accordingly, both Jungle and IYRTITL are overloaded with subterranean emotion. During the Travi$ Scott-assisted “Company,” dogs woof and synths moan ominously. Even when Drizzy isn’t spelling his pain out to mom on “You & The 6” or to a lover on the Eric Dingus-produced slow jam “Now & Forever,” the production flourishes tell the story of a mind drifting through war. The lyric “I don’t deserve her,” is cut by a woman on the phone saying “at least you fucking know.” On “Star67” the bass seethes like a brooding child while Drake goes from telling off models to a heart-breaking story of selling drugs in his teens.

Throughout, Drake achieves the most effective rapping I’ve heard since JAY’s The Black Album (2003). “Energy” is punchline after punchline, like some uproarious, highly concentrated form of stand-up comedy. The entire album is hilarious aside from the embarrassingly sincere “Now & Forever;” even “You & The 6” is pitched perfectly, replete with a quiet, immaculate irony. Sonically, Drake is Jackie Chan catching the beat by the scruff and flipping over its head while winking at the listener – “You was popping back when Usher wore a U chaaaaaain!” Each couplet holds a unique voice modulation and every phrasing sparkles with creativity as Drake takes unfamiliar routes through places we’ve all been before.

Back in Jungle, the 6 God falls asleep and awakens at an OVO party on his Donnie Darko ish. Our boy wanders through the dramatically lit dream compound seeing everyone there for what they truly are: cold, calculating, alone. Elsewhere, in real life, he watches a female dancer walk past a cafe window and imagines her practicing in an empty studio, ever drawn to the idea of solitary passion in an unforgiving landscape. Some teens go by in the other direction, we “see” them dipping off to do hard drugs with their hard friends as the chimes of IYR’s “Know Yourself” fade-in and the movie transitions to footage of Drake and his own crew of homies.

Despite, or perhaps because of, success Drake remains trapped in a slick, hypermasculine exterior. His woes are locked up for real for real while Toronto kids rule over playgrounds littered with paraphernalia.  True to its scrawled album cover, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late is a crime mystery of sorts. Someone or something has taken hope from us. Drake is not a Civil Rights icon floating through the air, but he’s another young human trying to figure it all out and he is a very thorough artist.

#WATTBA.