Kendrick Lamar’s win proves black lives matter to the Pulitzer board
Or at the very least, the concept of black lives
6:57 PMKendrick Lamar, on Monday, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his 2017 DAMN. It is but rather the first nonclassical or jazz work to win the award. The Pulitzer board’s reasoning? DAMN., they said, “captured the complexity of African-American life.” History, made.
Since 2012, with the release of his good kid, m.A.A.d city — and even before then, with a series of acclaimed mixtapes — Lamar has cemented himself as rap’s foremost cultural critic. His music is a palette of relevant topics such as gang violence, police brutality, systemic inequality, mental health and depression, women’s rights and survivor’s remorse. DAMN.’s running theme is Kendrick lamenting upon the idea that no one prayed for him, and that he, a young black man from Compton, California, was left to fend for himself in a world that yielded no other result but early death. We can’t know which songs in particular pushed the Pulitzer judges, but “FEAR.” likely played a part.
If I could smoke fear away I’d roll that m—–f—– up / And then I’d take two puffs, he says on the record (co-written by The Alchemist). Focusing on the specific ages of 7, 17 and 27, Lamar deeply explores the concept of fear and how it dictates decision-making processes. The terror of upsetting his strict mother is the first verse. The second verse takes on the terror of possibly losing his life via gang violence, or at the hands of police. And the third verse delves into self-doubt — the fear of losing the reputation he’s built for himself. The song’s calling card is hopelessness.
I’m talkin’ fear, fear that humbleness is gone/ I’m talkin’ fear, fear that love ain’t livin’ here no more, he opines with a tidal wave of anguish pouring out. I’m talkin’ fear, fear that it’s wickedness or weakness/ Fear, whatever it is, both is distinctive. “FEAR.” is Kendrick’s finest song, according to the Pulitzer winner and 2018 Summer Jam headliner himself: “These verses are completely honest.”
Pulitzer cited “vernacular authenticity” as a determining factor in awarding a Pulitzer to DAMN. That’s simply another way of saying, “Damn, I didn’t know it was like that?” Lamar’s music — much like James Baldwin’s words, Marvin Gaye’s harmonies, Angela Davis’ valor, Maya Angelou’s poems, or Muhammad Ali’s swagger — is representative of the generation in which he is a leader. Speaking of Baldwin, he of course said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” That rage in Lamar was certainly too much for the Pulitzer board to overlook.
All hail King Bey, queen of the desert and mistress of the internet
#Beychella served up a panoply of blackness, from HBCUs to Wakanda and Fela Kuti to Nina Simone
11:37 AMThe internet has been taking a hammering lately, especially from people who don’t quite understand it.
Earlier this week, a good portion of the chattering classes tuned their televisions to cable news to watch congressmen grill a tech billionaire using a booster seat about his creation, and how it and Vladimir Putin together might be responsible for the downfall of Western democracy. Or something. Earlier this month, the federal government seized the online classified site Backpage.com, shutting it down and putting sex workers at risk by moving their work further into the shadows, many argued. And the Cannes film festival banned Netflix from entering films in its competition, in part because French film purists argue that Netflix is destroying the communal aspect of consuming film.
If you pay attention to the news, the overwhelming conclusion is that the internet is a dangerous place full of lies, conspiracy theories, hate speech, free porn, and Russian trolls and it’s making us worse as human beings. And there’s some truth to that.
But it’s not the whole story of the internet. Leave it to Beyoncé to remind us.
The first lady of Tidal, Houston, fish fries, and — let’s just say the modern African diaspora — made history (again) late Saturday night as the first black woman to headline Coachella, the oovy-groovy, hippie-dippie, psychedelic-infused annual music festival in the California desert. Naturally, she used it to serve up a panoply of blackness, from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to Zamunda to Wakanda to Egypt to Fela Kuti to Nefertiti to Malcolm X to James Weldon Johnson to Nina Simone. But her decision to livestream her entire two-hour performance is what makes Beyoncé as astute as any tech billionaire about the power and possibility of the internet.
It’s not the first time she’s used the internet to vault herself into international conversation. She did it with the surprise release of BEYONCÉ, with the HBO debut of Lemonade, with the launch of her expertly curated website and Instagram account. Beyoncé knows how to create a moment.
But choosing to livestream her Coachella performance signals something more. Rather than limiting her audience to the tens of thousands of ticket-buying festival attendees in Indio, California, Beyoncé created an internet community around #Beychella, harnessing a Southern-fried When and Where I Enter moment to be exported, dissected, and re-created.
This was something everyone with an internet connection got to witness, too. For free.
"When and Where I Enter," but make it HBCU-flavored and in the California desert.
Beyoncé: Say no more. https://t.co/fK6A3KZFOg
— Soraya Nadia McDonald (@SorayaMcDonald) April 15, 2018
It’s exactly the sort of democratizing act that used to give us hope in the internet. Because what is the simultaneous clattering of keyboards about #Beychella if not a moment of community, a mechanism for sharing our amens together as we all visit the sanctuary of Beysus?
Fully aware of her dual status as greatest living entertainer and black American woman, Beyoncé didn’t go to Indio to assimilate to the typical Coachella drag of crop-top fringe, ripped denim, and muddy boots. Instead, she brought an HBCU-style halftime show and a probate exhibition, complete with a marching band and dancing dolls. She aggregates elements of black culture, high and low, American, African, Creole, and everything in between, and spits them back out into something new, craveable, and instantly consumable.
Honestly, how many people knew who the orisha Oshun was before Lemonade dropped? Don’t lie, either.
Ever since she released “Formation,” Beyoncé has been exploring ways to carry black people on her back via a series of high-profile, unapologetic salvos in the culture wars. There was the Super Bowl. There was the Grammys. And now there’s Beychella. Forget about Stokely Carmichael in a designer dress. We got Beyoncé in go-go boots.
Thanks to the internet, we bear witness to the way police are weaponized against innocent black people waiting for a friend in a Philadelphia Starbucks. And thanks to the internet, we can rightfully raise hell about it, too. And then, because the nonstop reminders of how black people aren’t fully recognized as people is exhausting and depressing, we can have a much-deserved moment to celebrate ourselves, even if that moment happens to be at 2 o’clock in the morning on the East Coast.
Some will skip over the art and jump straight to arguing that Beyoncé has commodified black liberation.
But I’d say Beyoncé has assessed her power in the world, the possibilities of the internet, and combined the two to march on as an evangelist of black feminism.
Wyatt Cenac can’t fix the world, but he’s sure going to try
The comedian’s new HBO show, ‘Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas’ isn’t about identifying everything wrong with the world. It’s about finding solutions.
12:46 PMThe most unusual thing about Wyatt Cenac’s Problem Areas, the comedian and Daily Show alum’s new late-night show for HBO, is its startling focus on finding solutions to complex, scary, seemingly impossible problems.
This approach to late night, to comedy and to, well, life on earth is, frankly, surprising. After all, Cenac, 41, is a self-proclaimed nihilist. And his show, which premieres Friday night, joins a field of late-night comedy shows that, to one degree or another, are about all the ways our hair should be on fire because of nutjobs with too much power. They’re all influenced by the OG of this model, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which called out hypocrisy and incompetence. Now we have:
- Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: calls out corruption and incompetence
- Full Frontal with Samantha Bee: calls out sexism and incompetence
- The Rundown with Robin Thede: calls out racism and incompetence
The Late Show with Stephen Colbert: offers a nightly summation of all these things while making us laugh before we’re all vaporized in a nuclear Holocaust.
Perhaps sensing that there’s only so much ha-ha-hair-on-fire programming an audience can take, Cenac has steered Problem Areas in the other direction. While billionaires such as Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson may be looking for ways to bail on Earth, the vast majority of humans can’t afford to do that. The pragmatic approach, Cenac suggests, would be to make Earth work — you know, while it’s still here. This is particularly amusing given that Cenac’s last show, People of Earth, was a fictional comedy for TBS about a journalist investigating an alien invasion. Apparently the aliens aren’t going to save us.
And so, through 10 episodes, Cenac is taking a look at police violence and what can be done to curb it. His studio audience is composed not of other humans but of Siri and Alexa, and Cenac takes his television audience through his “problem areas” in the comfort of a ’70s news set appointed with lots of wood and earth tones. The show re-examines the death of Philando Castile with expert interviews, including of police officers.
The result is a show unlike anything else on late night, a mix of mirth, seriousness and palpable sensitivity. Problem Areas, whose executive producers include Oliver, Cenac and Oscar-winning documentary director Ezra Edelman, feels like a cross between 60 Minutes and Last Week Tonight, but hosted by a guy whose affect suggests he’s just taken couple of hits off a really good vape pen.
Perhaps most importantly, it’s interested in answering questions that too often are ignored. After showing a clip of the daughter of Castile’s girlfriend attempting to comfort her mother, Diamond Reynolds, while she’s handcuffed in the back of a police car, Cenac asks, “For the people of Philando Castile’s community around St. Paul, what needs to happen for them to feel safer? How do they get a different outcome?”
Can another late-night comedy news show change the world? Probably not. But maybe it can inspire us to think differently. And that’s a start.
Taylor Swift’s cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s ‘September’ is the bland potato salad Chadwick Boseman warned us about
Seriously, no one thought to suggest another song?
11:14 AMLet’s get the facts out of the way first. Country megastar Taylor Swift’s cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1978 landmark cookout classic “September” is the latest in the Spotify Singles series. Previous installments include Miley Cyrus covering Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” and Demi Lovato doing Aretha Franklin’s “Ain’t No Way.” There are several other examples, but you get the gist of the blueprint. To be fair, covers are a staple in music dating back before Swift or the internet itself were even born. There’s no denying Swift’s song will introduce the original to an entirely new audience in her massive fan base. And if EWF can get some coins off this on the back end, it quite simply is what it is.
But all that being said, this — this, my friends — is the “bland a– potato salad” King T’Challa was telling us about last week during Black Jeopardy on Saturday Night Live. (Seriously, watch the skit and tell me it doesn’t fit this to a tee.) Swift might very well be a huge fan of the record. Millions of people have a sentimental attachment to “September.” It’s a classic in quite literally every sense of the musical definition. You can’t go to a black family reunion and not hear “September.” You can’t go to a black family’s house over the holidays and not hear the song at some point. And you absolutely can’t go to a wedding reception and not hear it — the first half of the reception because we all know the back half of the reception is when the open bar and twerking commence. This isn’t even hyperbole when categorizing the record as one of the most important of a decade that produced a plethora of timeless anthems and albums. You can’t strip the soul and groove away from a song and expect it to fly. That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.
To keep it a buck with you, I’m not even mad at Taylor. She’s obviously connected to the song enough to want to pay homage. I’m more so mad at everyone else who was in the studio session. Like no one thought to say, “Maybe ‘September’ doesn’t need a banjo in it.” Like no one suggested, “What do you think about [insert another song]?” True story — one time I purposely moved in the barber’s chair when I was 8 or 9. I wanted to get a bald head like Michael Jordan and I had a basketball game that weekend, so in my mind this would all work perfectly. Nevertheless, my mom cursed me out, telling me I “looked more like a bright a– light bulb” than my favorite player. I played horribly that weekend, and it’s all because I went rogue in the barber’s chair. In my mind, that’s what happened on this cover of “September.”
Last but not least, though, R.I.P. Maurice White. And since we’re all gathered here today, we might as well listen to the original.