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Remembering 2005:  A Year of Living with The Music

Mark Anthony Neal | @NewBlackMan | with thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)

Sunday, January 17, 2016.

I’ve come to despise end-of-the-year music list.

Conglomerates using their record labels to maximize fourth-quarter profits flood the market with music (and mediocre in most cases), usually rushed to consumers, and expected to adorn the “best of” lists from noted arbiters of culture. Doesn’t quite make sense to laud recordings that maybe you’ve spent three weeks with; the beauty of the music, is when you can live with it, and more importantly, it lives with you, in the day-to-day of our lives.

Below is the music I lived with most of 2005, drawn mostly from songs released in that calendar year, with a few exceptions.

Kamasi Washington -- Leroy and Lanisha

Kamasi Washington, a LA-based, thirtysomething saxophonist benefitted from what could be called the Kendrick effect, in the spirit of the many fabulous musicians that came to the forefront because of their participation in Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly.  I personally have to go back at least twenty-years to that moment of another generation of Young Lions like Marc Cary, Mark Whitfield, Antonio Hart, Joshua Redman and Roy Hargrove to think of the last time I was so enamoured a young jazz musician playing in the relative straight-ahead tradition.  

Washington's three-disc, thirty-song opus The Epic, curated from the work with the collective West Coast Get Down.  “Leroy and Lanisha” was among the standouts for me, hearing echoes of the Vince Guaraldi Trio’s “My Little Drum,” which of course places the song in close proximity with Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy,” and suddenly the references are made clear. Yet in the moment of #BlackLivesmatter Leroy and Lanisha’s playtime is fraught with the on-going threat of sudden death at various hands--a point that Flying Lotus, another Kendrick collaborator made the year before (with Lamar’s help), with “Never Catch Me.”  The seamless, improvisational cacophony that marks “Leroy and Lanisha” three-minutes into the nine-minute deluge, speaks profoundly to the stakes of Black childhood in America: Bold, Creative, Dangerous, and Under Siege.

Robert Glaspar -- Got Over w/ Harry Belafonte

“I’m not dead...yet”--Mr. Belafonte here dropping a deadpan humor that both acknowledges how we fail to honor those who stay on the battlefield--while they are still on the battlefield--and the reality that he still has shit to do.  What you learn in this brilliant, though oh-too-short musical collaboration between the Robert Glaspar Trio and the legendary Harry Belafonte, from the trio’s stellar Covered project, is that Mr. Belafonte achieved against all the odds that so many might feel are insurmountable now.  That a high school dropout and dyslexic son of early 20th century Black immigrants, would go on to earn 34 honorary degrees is only part of the story.  It is a boast to be sure, but one couched with the humility of one who also acknowledges that he’s “one of the ones that the bullets missed.” Eighty-Eight years, Mr. Belafonte might the most hopeful among us.

Kendrick Lamar -- “Alright”

Maybe my favorite moment of 2015: a hella bunch Afropolitans up in the hills over Firenze celebrating the birthday of a Jamerican Princess--and it is the Brother Fanon, who rolls up with two visual artists of some note, with the Pill in hand, bumping Kendrick’s “Alright” just in time for the #turnup.  Look marching music don’t work if you can’t march to it, and if you can march to it, damn sure you might shake your ass to it a few times (put on PE”s Fight the Power or JB’s “Say It Loud…” for the ass test).   The movement needed a theme song, and Kendrick delivered, not so much out of a need for it to be a theme song, but out the realities that define lives on the margins, and run over by those who dictate those margins.  Didn’t need a #hashtag to remind you that your kids might be hungry tonight if you don’t get that money, and that shit might be the biggest obstacle,  even before the (not-so) rogue cop walks minus an indictment.

Twinkie Clark -- “There is a Word” (2013)

The homie Guthrie Ramsey has been chatting up Twinkie Clark for a bit, and it wasn’t until Ramsey and his collective performed a rendition of the song at the close of Everybody’s Protest Music,  that fell under the sway of Clark.  Featured on 2013’s Live & Unplugged, Clark’s “There is a Word” (with nephew Larry) has become a staple; not unusual for me to hit repeat 3-4 times in row, before I pull out the driveway. We need to be armed with something, and Twinkie Clark works just fine.  At its core, “There is a Word” is a “get over” song--as in getting over a bad day, a bad moment, a bad loss, that kind of “make a way out of no way” music that remains timeless, at least in the tradition I feed on.

Drake “Legend”

So the oldest Dawta and I share a Google Play Music account, the move I had to make with F.P.’s advice, after the last ipod classic crashed (#5, long story), and I realized that Apple wasn’t making the shits no more. So it was the Dawta who told me about the surprise Drake album, and since the joint was technically already paid for, gave it the rhetorical spin. A year later, I ain’t really stopped playing the opening track, “Legend,”  cause the joint is what I call a “put in work song,” like if I’m a writer, I can’t really be in the game if I don’t believe, like Drake, that “I'm too good with these words, watch a nigga backtrack.’ If you passing by the shed and you hear Drake singing “If I die, all I know is I'm a mothafuckin' legend,” rest assured that’s me inside.

James Blake --”The Wilhelm Scream”

So my two guilty television pleasures this past year were Showtime’s The Affair and Happyish-- two very different views of married people trying to figure shit out. It was on Happyish that I heard James Blake “The Wilhelm Scream.”  I confess, I had never heard of Blake and had to consult the 21st Century British Soul archivist I. Augustus Durham, and I’m still wondering how the White British bloke is doing Black male interiority as well as any Black men in this part of the earth.  Sam Smith who?  And it’s hard not to be reflective these days--I’m a 50-year-old man approaching the killing grounds (50-60), going on year 28 of a long term relationship (forever, ever), with two daughters who already got their own lives; I find myself coming back to Blake often.

Victor Taiwo -- “Digital Kids”

This is the one about the the Nigerian Wedding Photographer, who gave up one form of expression (perhaps) for another. Came across Vicktor Taiwò after the good folk at OkayPlayer posted his cover of Badu’s  “On and On,” and I frankly, couldn’t remember how the song was supposed to sound. “Digital Kids” is like the future of the form.  When dude quivers “You know kids like you / Ain't supposed to feel / Like the earth is caving /And the world ain't spinning for you, you, you” you realize that he’s singing a metaphor for a generation trying to find a voice--and who don’t know what the hell love looks like (on any level), while  connected to the spider, as Umar Bin Hassan might say.

Rapsody -- “Hard to Choose”

“Loyal to all, but when I look at these Black girls faces / I understand why I chose to be better, not basic / So it's not, not (hard to choose)”--and I’m pointing the Dawtas to the mac air screen, ‘cause they ain’t really seen nobody like Rapsody before.  Proud that I knew Sis beforeTo Pimp a Butterfly and that she, like the Tall Slim Homie, just calls me “Neal.”  Criminal that more ain’t feeling this heat, but as Rap says, “Cause I know the scale tipped ain't in no black girl's favor.”

Jazmine Sullivan “Forever Don’t Last”

Let me just be straight wit’ it, Ms. Sullivan got that thickness that I kinda favor. That the voice of an angel goes with it…well, look I just want to give Sis a hug, and let her know that She and her music are loved.  And I hate to get all essential with the tradition, and I don’t quite know what the hell these awards shows be talking about when they talking this “Traditional” R&B category shit, but I know that for a sometimey purist--cause we got to acknowledge the foundational before the abstract, or else the swerve don’t make no damn sense--it don’t get much better than Ms. Sullivan singing “Forever Don’t Last.”

Jodeci -- “Those Things”

That second Jodeci album--Diary of a Mad Band, the most ambitious of their efforts remains on the digital shortlist. I would have been fine never hearing a new Jodeci song again, and then I heard that DeVante-bop playing on the XM station, and a nigga is thirty-again, taking a break from the dissertation, and playing a little two-guard for the championship intramural team, and Biggie and Pac still alive, and their ain’t a Dawta in sight, and me and the Woman are....well, doing those things. Whatever, Jodeci wins with a little nostalgic turn called “Those Things.”

D’Angelo -- “Another Life”

If you remember waiting for that second D’Angelo album, than you can be excused if you thought that “In Another Life” might have been in reference to when you might hear another D’Angelo. The carefully curated mess that was Black Messiah (reflective of so many of our messes, perhaps?) was a gift, not because it changed any games, but because it highlighted the stakes of the game, where it’s all too easy to lose your soul and lose your mind. “Another Life” was just some afrofuturistic shit, that gave us the permission to dream and imagine the best for that Soul and that Mind.

Mark Anthony Neal is the author of five books including the forthcoming Looking For Leroy: (Il)Legible Black Masculinities (New York University Press). He is professor of Black Popular Culture in the Department of African & African-American Studies at Duke University and the host of the Weekly Webcast Left of Black. Follow him on Twitter @NewBlackMan.

Remembering 2005: A Year of Living with The Music

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