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“5 Minutes Ago”: R&B Interiorities & Realities of Domestic Terror

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

Wednesday, August 10, 2016.

On the surface, Sy Ari Da Kid’s “5 Minutes Ago” might be read as another hand-held mediated relationship drama; dudes be all caught up in their technology when a partner sitting across them at the dinner table or a few inches away on the couch  (“anytime I’m with you that phone stay in your face”) but decidedly unavailable when physical proximity is compromised (“I know you got your phone with you”).   

When Sy Ari Da Kid chimes back in song, “a whole lot has changed in five minutes” -- likely five minutes after the check-in call, intended to alleviate the very drama that ensued when he went silent -- he reveals more than just the challenges of trust, devotion, and betrayal in the digital age; in those five minutes, Rekia Boyd, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Aiyanna Stanley-Jones, Tamir Rice, Tarika Wilson, Tanisha Anderson and Miriam Carey would have all been killed.  Those five minutes are, in part, a metaphor for the realities of domestic terror in the lives of those embodied Black and Brown.

Thus Sy Ari Da Kid’s offering that “We”-- as in Brothers -- “only want to hit the scene when you tripping at home; so stop tripping at home,”  the audience gets a glimpse into some of the stakes (still high, as The Plugs told us a score ago), as a generation Black Men reimagine the value of the domestic sphere, where professional commitments to those “corners” and even the improvisational social rhythm of just being with your niggas, will in fact get you killed.

Sy Ari Da Kid’s B4 the Heartbreak and BJ the Chicago Kid’s In My Mind voice this tethering to home in their respective music -- both recordings literally have songs that reflect the significance of home in their titles -- but also an excavation of interiorities, an emotiveness, in both form and content, and  not quite akin to introspection, that serves as filters for a more profound aesthetic investment in the domestic.

If there is a guiding principle here, besides the natural inclination towards survival, it is perhaps not to be found in the world of contemporary R&B, but rather Hip-Hop, which despite popular opinion has historically been grounded in the practices of introspection even when its affect  might suggest a something different.

Sy Ari Da Kid and BJ the Chicago Kid’s trajectories are instructive: Sy Ari Da Kid’s previous recording S.O.O.N. (2015) feels like rank-and-file street bop, whereas BJ the Chicago Kid first came to prominence collaborating with Top Dawg artist Schoolboy Q on “Studio.”  Indeed the same post-World War II street corners that incubated the harmonies of Doo-Wop and early Rhythm & Blues, were the same terrain that housed Hip-Hop ciphers a generation later, so no surprises here with regards a shared aesthetic ethos.  

Yet, where introspection suggest something more textual -- what we might think of as content -- the more palpable interiority suggest something more ephemeral, and in excess, as in form or sound. And if there’s a quick scan of this room, all eyes or rather sounds, are on Aubrey.

Another Drake album, the stellar Views, and yet more questions about whether the Canadian artist, and his band of fellow outliers, like The Weeknd, are turning Hip-Hop soft. The hard vs. soft dichotomy -- a fissure that some of us might claim was played out even when we thought it mattered for something -- is largely the performance of ever fraught ideals associated with Black masculinity.

That such criticisms of Drake arise at a moment when some are ambivalent about the diversity of The Nation Black -- witness the general silence around Black Transgender deaths and  trust that Rev. Dr. William Barber is close to the only Negro clergy in North Carolina standing on that bathroom wall -- when the projection of Black masculinity is supposed to be projecting forward towards enemies clearly seen, duly named, and intrinsically present, should surprise little.  

Yet Drake proves prescient; as part of the Afropolitan wing that Negroes only seem to love if  their names are Lupita or Oyelowo (and perhaps still Elba), all of Aubrey’s emotionality, filtered as lyrical microaggressions, is above all a simple desire for a home; or perhaps more concretely the domestic, as the physical landscape of interiority, which is why “Marvin’s Room” is just that.

In an era, largely defined by a singular pragmatic Negro -- whose name, as we know, would never suggest as much -- this turn to domestic interiorities, if that is not too much on the nose, is likely born out of pragmatic realities; shit is dangerous and deadly on them streets, and mufuhs need some place to come home to -- even if it might not be an ideal refuge.

And rest assured that less idealized visions of the domestic have much to do with the violence -- emotional, rhetorical and criminal -- that some Black men have long been unable to negotiate and that Black women, because of their literal domestication -- as Wahneema Lubiano opined a decade ago, to leave home for a woman is to lose the protection of God and Nation -- tragically are  unable to extricate themselves from.  Indeed as Brittney Cooper recently connected the dots of patriarchy, misogyny and anti-Black State violence, it should not be lost that Joyce Quaweay and Korryn Gaines died in their homes or that Marissa Alexander was jailed for firing a protective warning shot in her home.  

In this regard what distinguishes 4 the Heartbreak from  In My Mind, is the latter’s romanticized notions of home, and the former’s brutal honesty about the pitfalls of home, recalling what Gil Scott Heron and Esther Phillips both acknowledged more than two-generations ago, “Home is Where the Hatred Is.”

BJ the Chicago Kid’s domestic idealism is the likely by-product of his reformed church boy ethos, where  home, like “Church,” is multi-layered, multi-generic, and invested in nurturing the talents of a young brotha.  Indeed when home, as in Chicago, is literally invoked by BJ the Chicago Kid, it is as an idealized feeling of stability (“Home is all we got / home is where the heart is--and my mind is home”).  

Yet the stability of what we might describe as the built-environment of home is contrasted to the instability of the domestic in the music of Sy Ari -- where home is hypertext -- layered fictions of hyper masculinity that reveal deep insecurities and the the need for safety and intimacy.  For his part Sy Ari da Kid is reflective with the album’s clear standout  “Priorities” (joined by Bryson Tiller): “I feel I could've been a better man for you” which at the very least, lays foundation for the necessary redeeming of home in a moment of crisis and terror.


Mark Anthony Neal is the author of several books including Looking for Leroy: Illegible Black Masculinities (NYU Press, 2016).  He is the host of the weekly video podcast Left of Black and curator of NewBlackMan (In Exile).  Neal is Professor of African + African-American Studies and Professor of English at Duke University.

Posted 6 days ago by CADCE

“5 Minutes Ago”: R&B Interiorities & Realities of Domestic Terror

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