Album Review: Can Beyoncé’s Eponymous Apolcalyptic Album Bring Melody Back To The Mainstream?

The world must be about to end because Beyoncé just made a great album. And I don’t mean that as a slight, but if you’re like me, this is the album you’ve been waiting for Beyoncé to make since her debut as a solo artist. I admit to my opening sentence being hyperbolic, but I think this recording does signify an end to the types of albums she’s made thus far and could be a sign of a new beginning for her.

I’m just going to make the disclaimer right now that this is an opinion piece and I don’t strive for objective album reviews. For one thing, they don’t exist, no matter how hard the writer may try. Perception of music is always subjective unless we’re in the realm of theoretical analysis and that’s not nearly as fun as approaching a project with all of your tastes and biases. Otherwise, what’s the point? And this can be done without indulging in personal attacks, although to the artist, any negative critique has the propensity to be taken as a personal attack.

I remember watching an interview before B’Day came out about how she sequestered herself from everyone for 3 weeks to make it and how much heart and soul went into the process. I was really looking forward to the release. I went to the record store on release day and after hearing it, I felt B’Day failed to live up to her promises. But this new album sounds to me like that one should have. This work is lived in. She has nothing to prove at this point. Beyoncé went for it. No one can criticize her for pandering to the Pop aesthetic on this one. Very sincere album.

Save for a couple of standouts on Dangerously In Love (“Me, Myself and I” and “Speechless”), “Kitty Kat” on B’Day, or “Party” and “Rather Die Young” from 4, the bulk of her albums have been fluff. She’s built her career on primarily being a singles artist. What I find interesting is that while her husband and their friend Kanye seem to be phoning it in as of late, she seems to be stepping her album game up. Watch the throne, fellas, King Bey has arrived. Bow down!


Beyoncé didn’t make any stank about this album coming out. Not even her stans knew. And she was savvy enough as to release it on the day to throw Taylor Swift a little birthday shade. The marketing of no marketing. The Internet has been all hers post-midnight this morning. It worked in a way only she could pull off. I dropped two albums this year with no publicity campaign or marketing strategy and no one gave a shit. Ha! What’s most impressive is that she chose this point in her career to have no pretense about an album that has elements that are most certainly boast worthy.

As of now, the album is only available for download on iTunes with the physical disc being forthcoming. Each title is accompanied by a video, which quite frankly, some of the songs need. The album leads off with one of its weaker joints, “Pretty Hurts,” and is certainly assisted by the visual component as it’s not strong enough to stand alone as a composition. Next we get to “Haunted,” which is one of several records that is reminiscent of classic Prince, especially in its sonic landscape and drum programming. In the video sequence, “Ghost” is the following track — also Prince-esque — but oddly doesn’t appear on the album.

She recreates herself on every song and that’s no easy feat to pull on one album without coming off contrived. She even makes me like songs I don’t like, except for “XO,” which besides the first song is the album’s only other skippable track. Be forewarned: I was afraid I was going to go into epileptic shock watching the end of “Heaven.”

I kinda hate comparisons, but I’d be remiss not to acknowledge how much “Rocket” sounds like D’Angelo’s “Untitled,” and even harkens back to her own “Speechless,” which also references “Untitled.” The timpani on “Superpower” reminds me of Shirley Murdock’s “As We Lay.” “Rocket” and “Superpower” are gospel-tinged and in 3/4 time, which is a weak spot for me. I was pleased at the inclusion of both as I never get enough of these.

My absolute favorite track is “Blow.” I was hooked from the start with its usage of SUS chords, and I’m a sucker for SUS chords. Put a couple of SUS chords on a track like this with a nice beat and I’m sold. For non-musicians, SUS chords are the type of chords that are played in the opening guitar riff on the Ramsey Lewis/Earth, Wind and Fire collaboration, “Sun Goddess.” The other standout is “Mine.” The way she uses her voice throughout the album is astonishing, particularly on “Mine.” She’s always been a strong singer with a great range but obviously still spends a lot of time practicing and developing where she could easily rest on laurels at this point in her career. And her lower register is becoming richer and more supple than before.

Two types of songs I always hate on albums are songs about “Mamas” and songs with people’s children on them. She somehow finds a way to feature her daughter to make “Blue” work in a way even Stevie couldn’t with “Isn’t She Lovely,” Songs in the Key of Life‘s only skippable track.

Finally a Beyoncé album I could fuck to with only having to take a few songs out of my playlist. I ain’t mad at her. Very curious to see what she does next. The beautiful thing is if she goes back to making mediocre albums there’s no love lost. She’s matured to the point that as the premiere stadium performer of our time, she surprisingly included only two stadium anthems, “Pretty Hurts” and “XO,” and even they work in the context of the visual element. It appears as if Sasha Fierce took a break from the studio for the majority of the time this go round. In an era where it’s become cliché for artists to claim they’re bringing “real” music back to the mainstream, she may quietly be one that can.

And thanks Bey for leaving “Grown Woman” off of the album. The last thing your album needed is a spoof of a spoof like “Blurred Lines.” Hey, hey, hey!


— Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop

Duking It Out with Teachout and Other Racist Assailants

Has anyone ever noticed that “biographers” like Terry Teachout always attempt to tear down great Black legends in the spirit of “making the subject more human”? This actually comes closer to dehumanizing them. They always go after the guys for whom there can never be enough praise, like Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong. Who they should go after is overrated White musicians like Nick LaRocca, Frankie Trumbauer or Bix Beiderbecke.

Their time would be better served bringing their great White Ancestors down a peg or two. Oh yeah, that’s right, there is no such thing as a White Ancestor because the White race is an imaginary construct that was designed by the elite solely for the purpose of creating a race of people to promote the false idea that the whiter your skin, the better you are. The elite don’t want to do the dirty work so they dole out free passes called “White Privilege” to their subjects and to the peasants.

I think the fact that there is no such thing as White Ancestry is the base of the problem for most of these types. Whites have no culture of their own besides colonization. It must be hard to be White and to look around at a world of people with a deep heritage and a connection to their community and feel empty inside because you have none. Ah, the perils of White Privilege. I guess you can’t have everything.

To be Italian, Spanish, Jewish, or Polish, now that means something, but what does it mean to be White? It means that the basis of your history starts with a lie. Black is synonymous with being African, but being White is synonymous with no nation or culture in particular. To be White is to align yourself with centuries of violence and oppression. To be White is to say that you’re a part of those who went into Africa and told them your White Jesus is more powerful than their Black Ancestors. You came into our villages and told us we would go to hell if we didn’t serve your God. You separated children from their families, you emasculated and effeminated our boys and men, you raped our girls and women — and on top of it all — had the hubris to tell us you were doing this in our best interests. I suppose it’s not called a White Lie for nothing.

This is not just the domain of white-skinned people, though. Plenty of so-called Brothas and Sistas vying to get a stamp on their White Supremacy card will quickly sellout their colored constituents for a few pieces of silver. Manning Marable did the same to Malcolm X in his book, A Life of Reinvention. Even his title speaks to the revisionist edict of these academy folk. He likewise defended his work by saying he was attempting to make Brother Malcolm more “human.”

These biographies are problematic and are indicative of a Western way of thinking. “Human” to these types means separating one’s spiritual nature from the physical. They separate intellect from intuition, which is counter to African and ancient thought. They are one. It’s the same kind of thinking that suggests one needs to dissect an animal to understand what makes it work within. The problem is when you separate “God” from man, you engender an incomplete narrative. The result is a dualistic split that creates a conundrum for which there is no mathematical solution.


The binary nature of American politics is another example of this. Democrat and Republican are two evils; a point between Scylla and Charybdis, two equally harmful entities who serve the same White Porcelain God. Either choice leads to the same end. The creation of this dualistic dilemma yields a distortion of truth, thus, fundamentally flawed and the only cure is to make the subject whole again by a reconnection to ancestry and the supernatural.

The latest in these shenanigans is the recent piece in the New York Times by James Gavin called, Big Band, where he makes more than a few racist assertions about Ellington. He starts by calling him a “black jazz titan in a racist age.” So, Black jazz as opposed to what? White jazz? And when did this Racist Age end? Then he continues by saying Duke’s mission was to “lift jazz to the level of concert music and to win respect for his race.” This statement alone makes the rest of the piece lose any shred of credibility. It’s another way of him saying that Nigger music is beneath the European standard.

Now granted, Gavin said Ellington did triumph on both accounts of lifting jazz to the White standard and that he won respect for his race, which I find curious because not only is it an admission that Blacks were not respected but it presupposes that the race is over and that we Blacks have won. It reminds me of a tweet from a couple of days ago where the GOP shouted out Rosa Parks for ending racism.

“Well, how come we overcame and nobody told me?”

— Marla Gibbs as “Florence Johnston”

I have a hard time even dignifying these guys by making reference to them, but I can’t just sit here and let these White dudes disrespect our masters without saying anything. That would be unconscionable. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it.” One of the most egregious things Gavin said was that “Ellington was no great melodist.” Really, dude? Thelonious Monk patterned a part of his melodic style on Duke Ellington. thelonious_monk-thelonious_monk_plays_duke_ellington(2)There are few musicians of any era that had the ability to conjure and interpret a melody like Duke Ellington. He is a central part of the 20th century melodic landscape. Music today would not be what it is were it not for Ellington. If Duke had never written a note after 1940, his place would still be solidified as one of the greatest melodists of any time in history.

What gets me about dudes like Marable, Teachout, and Gavin is that they pose themselves as objective biographers, but they use every bit of information they can to substantiate their hidden, self-serving agendas. They’ll use words of the masters themselves or others who were close to them to paint them in the most unflattering light possible. I won’t bother going into the rest of the details of this dishonorable review of Teachout’s biography. But once again the New York Times has shown itself to be a proponent of institutional racism. This is what happens when Black people don’t have ultimate control over the narrative mainstream media is intent on perpetuating.


“You can’t stay in the conservatory and play Negro music… Negro music is what we’re working on. Not as a component of jazz, but as a definite unadulterated musical entity. Conservatory theories can’t be applied to the Negro idiom. You’ve got to realize that the Negro is emotionally different.”

— Duke Ellington

Articles and biographies like these are one of the reasons why Duke Ellington shunned the word “jazz.” It allows people to overlook the fact that this music is a cultural contribution from a people who are forced to live and be in servitude to a system that is designed for them to fail. The very existence of White Privilege and Supremacy is predicated upon a slave class of people for its survival. People like Teachout and Gavin have been brainwashed to see the Black American as nothing more than lazy and shiftless thieves who are incapable of contributing anything more than entertainment or being a nuisance to society. And they’ve made it their job to convince you of the same. But what significant contributions are they making to the world besides treading on others’ legacies?

The White Critical Establishment is not a mouthpiece for Black American culture — never has been, never will be. What you say made hold some weight in the racist publications that indulge your ignorance, but you know nothing of what we do in our community.

It’s really simple: Constructs like the NYT are not in the business of serving the greater good of the Black community, and because they get it right every now and then doesn’t excuse them for attacking one of the greatest exponents of Black American art that ever lived. Even plantation masters were kindhearted to those they enslaved every now and then; doesn’t make them any less racist.

They wouldn’t give Duke his full due while he was here, and now that he’s in another dimension they still won’t let him rest. They don’t respect us alive and even less in our ancestry.

Anyone can be a conduit of racism — Black, White, or other — but there is only one ruling class and no matter the messenger’s race, either your humanity serves justice or racism. When I speak of the Black Narrative, I speak of the authorship of our people in our language, and just because a writer may be Black doesn’t mean his or her words are in service to our community. There are plenty of Black writers who are just as brainwashed by colonialism as these racists Gavin and Teachout who pose themselves as authorities of the Black aesthetic.

It is clear from their words that not only do they lack respect for Black life, but they know nothing of it, and it is only because of White Supremacy and Privilege that they even have a platform.

These Racial Assailants do not speak for the Black Ancestors.


— Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop

Negromancing The Stone: A Tale of Mainstream Morbidity

The American Negro glorifies everyone else’s struggle over his or her own. I hesitate to write this in the wake of the departure of Nelson Mandela for being misunderstood as being disrespectful of such an icon, but perhaps now is the perfect time. If people have been holding their obituaries in anticipation of the immanent passing of Mandela, I can certainly stop holding my tongue and unleash a side of this story rarely spoken.

I don’t like to play the “Who’s More Oppressed?” game, but the Black American takes a back seat to no one when it comes to the holocaust and genocide perpetrated upon us. Not only were we uprooted from Africa and subjugated to centuries of the worst kind of chattel slavery that has ever existed anywhere, we faced the type of cultural and spiritual annihilation that continues to this very day. During the ’80s, Negroes in America had the nerve to be fighting for freedom of South Africans, when we were barely out of the woods and just as apartheid as our brothers and sisters in the Motherland. Because we are occasionally allowed to sip the secondhand drops that fall to the ground from the gourd of White Supremacy don’t make us any closer to liberation than our African counterparts. In fact, we have become punch-drunk from too many cups of post-Civil Rights Kool-Aid to the point that we actually believe that we’re better off now than we were pre-integration.

Word of the day: “RIPressure” – fear of being ridiculed for not making mention of the recently departed on your page.

The intent in this piece is not to throw any posthumous shade towards Mandela, but to shed light on the staggering hypocrisy surrounding his passing. People who didn’t even know who “Mandiba” was until yesterday are memorializing and memefying an image of a man — and by doing so — creating an illusion which stands in direct conflict to what made him be the celebrated figure he is. Now if his transition can inspire someone to dig a bit deeper into his mission, great, but this faux interest in cultural figures that fades when the next new fad comes along has got to stop. He wasn’t important enough for most folks to do any homework outside of a cursory acknowledgement until he died. I mean, people act like they forgot what it was to be sorrowful before the Internet. And must everyone make another’s death about them? Self-aggrandizing grief is the new bona fide bereavement.

Social media has turned folks into “Wanda” from Good Times; she might not know the deceased, but she was def gonna be the loudest one at the funeral.

Whereas I do find it important for the Black American to see itself as a part of the larger Pan-African community, it must not be at the expense of losing one’s self-identity. We must also remember that though the clutches of colonization reach far and wide, to celebrate another’s struggle over your own is to deprecate your standing in the world. There is enough room in the human spirit to feel compassion for others without throwing yourself off course.

Black Americans are more likely to support a cause for starving children in Africa than to feed the needy children right in their own neighborhoods. This is reflective of a kind of cultural shortsightedness that is particular to the American “White Privileged” Negro. Yeah, that’s right! It’s indicative of the type of mindset that American Blacks possess that romanticizes foreign causes on one hand, yet disses domestic affairs with the other.

I used to think that Blacks couldn’t be racist, but when we allow our oppressor’s narrative to become our own, we indeed take a seat at the Supremacy table.

I read a piece that said something along the lines that people will fail at their attempts to make a minstrel out of Mandela. This is true, but not for the reasons the author suggested. By the real definition of a minstrel, Mandela wouldn’t fit the bill anyway. The subject of the dramatization is not the minstrel, but those who make a parody of Mandela are the minstrels themselves. This also applies to all of the politicians who pretend to show love for Mandela now, when not so long ago they labeled him a terrorist.

But instead of worrying about that, people should devote their time living the values they espouse. That would be the best way to pay tribute to Mandela. Give yourself in service to the greater good.


— Nicholas Payton aka The Creator of the #BAM Movement