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Review: Half A Man

By Mtume ya Salaam of Kalamu.com


There’s nothing like divorce to let you know what kind of person you really are.


You can have all kinds of high opinions of yourself, things like ‘if it was me and I was in that situation, I would do this or I would do that.’ You can say a lot about the choices other people make, but it’s not until you have to choose between your home and your sanity that you find out who you really are and what you’re really made of.

Marc Anthony Thompson has been there, I can tell. Hell, anybody could tell. Thompson is the main songwriter and frontman for the
New York
band Chocolate Genius. Their 1998 CD Black Music is one of those invisible triumphs (by American pop music standards anyway).


Maybe one hundred thousand or so people have ever heard Black Music, but judging by the ecstatic listener reviews at various online CD retailers, nearly all of them seem to agree that it’s a great album.


If there was any justice in the world, Black Music would be triple platinum and Thompson would be so rich he’d have to figure out something other than his small personal issues to sing about. As it is, I don’t think he’s going to have that problem.

Thompson sings in a mumble and writes lyrics that make you want to cry despite not understanding what the hell he’s talking about:


 “Tell my tree, sorry I went soft,” he murmurs midway through “Half A Man,” “For each new leaf falls like a cough.” You’re sitting there trying to figure out what he’s getting at when he follows that up with, “I was almost your Dad / But I turned and I ran / I ran half of the way home / Like half of a man.”


Which pretty much speaks for itself.


Marc Thompson: The Chocolate Genius on stage


If you look at it from a certain point of view, there’s something kind of funny—or at least messed up and ironic—about a prodigiously talented and rapidly-aging singer-songwriter laboring in near-obscurity while self-parodying teenagers rule the public airwaves.


Maybe that’s why Thompson named his band Chocolate Genius. Maybe that’s why he named the band’s first album Black Music. And after that one flopped, named the second one Godmusic.


Like: “Oh, an album whose title promises to encapsulate a wide swath of the last 200 years of recording history isn’t enough for you? Try this.” Or maybe Thompson was just referring to the fact that his band’s music sounds anything but ‘black.’ More like Lou Reed or Leonard Cohen, I guess…except with a real rhythm section. And if you don’t get the sarcasm (Thompson’s, not mine), you might want to turn down that Justin Timberlake record and think about it again.

Thompson writes love songs too. Sort of. Except his idea of a love song is something like “A Cheap Excuse,” a ballad that consists mainly of Thompson crooning vicious little nothings in an unfortunate young lady’s ear.


Stuff like: “Your new man took your picture / …And every time I see it, I find a new way to crawl” and “If you break my heart / I will reach for your throat.”


There is also “Hangover Five” (which comes right before “Hangover Nine”—I’m dying to hear 1 - 4 and 6 - 8 ) where Thompson drops this one on his ex:


“I lifted a glass and it kicked my black ass down to the sidewalk / The last thing I heard before my lunch hit the curb was your name.”


But if all Thompson were was a bitter, hard-hearted cynic, Black Music wouldn’t be nearly as good an album as it is. Through tunes like “My Mom” (in which he simultaneously consecrates and excoriates his parents and his childhood) and “Hangover Nine” (“Oh, my God / I will never do this again”) Thompson shows another side of himself, a very real, very human side.

By the end of Black Music, you’ll feel like you’ve just been visited by a fiercely intelligent, darkly comic semi-misfit—a man whose once-outsized ego has been beaten and battered to the point that he now accepts that he, like the rest of us, is no better (or worse) than the rest of us.


Thompson’s lyrics can be harsh and damning, both of himself and others, but they can also be unexpectedly comic and surprisingly sentimental. “They got five televisions in a house full of three,” Thompson begins “My Mom.” “Look up on the fake fireplace, you know the bucktoothed boy’s me.” I know it’s possible to hear ridicule in those lines, but it’s just as possible to hear the love.

Mtume ya Salaam is a published writer and an expert on contemporary Black music. He lives in New Orleans, USA and can be reached at mtume_s@yahoo.com.

For more information on Chocolate Genius you can visit his official website: http://www.chocolategeniusinc.com/

Please e-mail comments to comments@thenewblackmagazine.com


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