We Bumped Our Heads Against the Clouds
The 2010 Believer Music Issue CD
Compiled by Chuck Lightning
CD enclosed with the July/August print issue
1. “SELF!,” DEEP COTTON
My uncle Steve hates Barack Obama. There, I’ve said it: I’ve relayed in public the secret that we hush at family gatherings, the reason why our family cannot openly celebrate and discuss the Obamas at Christmastime the way other black families do. Let me be explicit about what I am saying. When I use the word hate, I mean that my uncle—an African American man in his fifties who grew up in the segregated South, in Arkansas, a hundred miles from the National Guard’s 1957 standoff with nine black students outside an all-white school—this man, who ate at segregated diners, played in all-black athletic leagues, and went to all-black schools—despises the first black president of the United States.
The reasons why are varied: sometimes he seems simply jealous: envious that a brother has come around in his lifetime who is—how can I put it?—superbadder than he will ever be. But my uncle, who works in Springfield, Illinois, believes that Obama is just another politician with questionable ethics. He claims if the walls could talk about the real goings-on behind closed doors, Barack Obama would be in jail, and not in the White House.
I must admit that I see most of the mysterious alliances or inconsistencies that pundits, scholars, and my uncle cite as Obama’s failures as signs that Obama decided to go to Washington to get things done. I have no delusions about American politics. I need Obama to be a complex freedom fighter, not a saint.
That said, black folks everywhere are still figuring out what to make of this new era. In the midst of all this, I’ve set out to compile a musical State of the Union address for the 2010 Believer Music Issue that embodies the spirit of these times we’re living in. We’re huddled around the TV, watching The Boondocks, and wondering what to make of a song (from season three) called “Dick Riding Obama.” Some of us certainly laugh, and afterward we talk. Some of us really do feel that gross sections of the black community, and black artists in particular, are ill-informed and exploiting Obama’s platform—they are, in essence, dick-riding Obama—while others in the community are pissed-off, wondering what white folks think, and imagine them happily whistling that little ditty. Perhaps, most important, some of us find it totally irresponsible for a black artist to make art that insinuates anything bad, dark, or untoward about Obama and his legacy, while others feel it’s the black artist’s role to share his true feelings, to tell the truth to the world—right now!—precisely as he sees it, politics and niceties be damned.
What this new era means to the black artist is a particularly complex and powerful question. But suffice it to say that in the black fine arts there’s a lot of joy and optimism, good ol’ sex and love, as well as pain and anger, along with bickering and confusion. Post-racial joy v. black nationalist aggression? Check! “Hip hop is dead!” diatribes? Claims that “hip hop is alive and well and in the White House”? Check and check! Post-black scholarship? The dismal reality of the “State of the Dream” report? Check and check again! Which all takes us back to one of the age-old debates of any artistic community: art for art’s sake v. Art as Propaganda. Check!
To read the rest of this piece, please purchase this issue of the Believer online or at your local bookseller.
Chuck Lightning is the creative director of the Wondaland Arts Society, as well as a co-producer and co-writer on Janelle Monáe’s debut LP The ArchAndroid. I Have a Scream, the debut album by his band Deep Cotton, is coming soon.
CD mastered at Wondaland Arts Society, Atlanta. A&R by Mitch Mitchowski. Final editing by Larry Anthony.
I woke up this morning with 50 matrillion things on my mind as always. I thought about all of the things I have to do today; the work i need to get done, the people whose calls I have to return, what I want to eat, the meaning of life, etc.
My mind settled on a conversation I had with a friend a couple of weeks ago about how tired I am of hearing people talk about how “busy” they are, and how tired I am myself of telling people how “busy” I am.
It’s seems that as of late, and maybe it’s just my peer/age group, everyone I talk to loves to mention how “busy” they are. I mean, it kinda makes sense that post-graduate twenty-somethings and early thirty-somethings are fervently chasing their dreams and goals, it’s just the constant mention of “being busy” that is played out.
Therefore, may this serve as my official petition to outlaw the mention of how “busy” you’ve been in casual conversation.
What I concluded was that the constant mention of “being busy” serves many purposes:
-A defense mechanism/deflector: Either you’re not really doing much and this is a way to divert any further inquiry into your “business” from whoever you’re speaking too, or you just don’t feel like going into detail at the time about what you have or haven’t been doing. Real small-talkish.
-A gateway to bragging: You say “I’ve been so busy man…” followed by all of the awesome things you’ve been doing. Hearing yourself say out loud all of the things you’re doing and talking about how busy you’ve been may boost your self-esteem momentarily. This is that self-validating “I’ve been busy” This is very common. This response is often given even when the question is “how have you been/how are you doing?” rather than “what have you been up to?” If I ask “how are you/how have you been?” I want to hear “fine,” “good,” “ok,” “not so great,” or “fantastic!” not everything that you’ve been doing…unless I specifically ask. Let’s hear how you feel, or what’s on your mind, rather than what you’ve been doing. I’m not interested in blackberry-ish/iphone-ish conversation.
-An excuse for not hitting someone back: This pertains to friends, family, business, and that girl/dude you’re trying to holler at. You just don’t have enough time!… However, this application of mentioning”being busy” is total bull$#!+. You’re not too busy to hit up your mom, or get back with that person who’s trying to get a meeting with you, and that girl/guy you’re calling isn’t too busy to return your texts and calls. People make time for what they deem important. You don’t have time to call your mom, but you stay on the phone with that girl (or those girls.) You’ve been too busy for that meeting, but you have time for somebody’s meeting. And that girl you’re chasing is gonna keep hitting you with the “I’m sorry, I’ve just so been busy,” but let’s be real, she’s returning somebody’s text and calls, just not yours. The whole beginning of trying to “holler” at someone is convincing him or her that you’re someone they should make time for.
Now, I have been both victim and culprit to each and every one of these scenarios, but I’m just so very over it. I’m just bored both of telling people how busy I am and hearing how busy they are. I’m for real. So let this serve as an official petition to outlaw talking about being “busy” in ’08 and beyond. Also outlawed are the phrases “grinding,” “on my grind,” “workin’ hard,” “hustlin,’” “gettin’ money,” or any variation of the above… BORING!!!
Your response will be greatly appreciated, and will serve as an official signature for this petition…
Unless you’re just too busy.
Mitchell, a Martian
Kent, Parker, Wayne, Banner, & Martin, Inc.
*Please pray for the earthquake victims in China
*Please Vote Janelle Monáe for the NewNowNext award on http://www.arjanwrites.com
*Please listen to Funkadelic’s “Good Thoughts, Bad Thoughts” It’s over 12 minutes long, but find it and listen to it. Besides it being one of my favorite songs, It keeps coming up on my shuffle (out of thousands of songs) so I figured that meant something.