— Nicholas Payton aka The Creator of #BAM™
DISCLAIMER: By “White” I mean race, not people with white skin.
“Letters breathe life.”
I don’t care what White people think. I don’t care about their flags. And when the current crop of “Black Activists” get tired of shaking their fists in the air, they still have to come home. But come home to what? Railing against White Supremacy is futile. And I don’t care how many retweets you get, how many Confederate monuments you deface, or flags you take down, you cannot change a racist heart. There’s no point in tearing down somebody else’s stuff when it builds nothing for you.
I say leave the Confederate monuments up, but erect monuments to great Black Americans in close proximity.
America represents slavery regardless of how many Confederate symbols you attempt to eradicate. The Confederacy is America, too. America is based on racism and all flags that represent America are racist — it doesn’t matter how many stars or what direction the stripes are in. You can’t change a racist heart. People have the right to hate you and you have the right not to care. When you shame your enemy into hiding their disdain for you, you only create a more stealthy and crafty opponent. That’s what caused some of y’all to forget you were Black in the first place. Most of what we see is a reaction, not action. You see, Niggas need to stay Black 24/7. A short historical memory is what got us preaching “Black Lives Matter.” Who are you telling it to — the White man or yourselves? If you already know your life matters, there’s no reason for you to proselytize about it.
I get that this may be cathartic for some of you. Well, go ahead and get it all out of your system, but when you’re done, you still have to come home. You will never be acknowledged under the banner of White Supremacy, nor should you want to be. White people are not the arbiters of humanity. They can’t bring you justice, because justice is not any man’s domain, thank God.
Instead of wasting time and energy destroying symbols of White ancestry, we should be building our own. Time spent being angry at White people for being themselves is time away from loving our community. And a movement without Black culture at the center is dead — which is what I see wrong with Black Lives Matter. Holding up signs and chanting you can’t breathe is problematic. Breath is the bridge that connects the body, mind, and soul. Words have power and the mantra you repeat to the universe is exactly what you get back.
This current Black movement is pretty much all histrionics. It is more concerned with social media hits and the coveted CNN appearance than real community groundwork. Forget what racists think about you. Stop wasting your time trying to explain what’s wrong with how they treat you to someone who doesn’t care. Build. Erect. Celebrate. Sure, it’s okay to be angry that we’re still here in this way, but channel that anger to make a contribution towards your people. Attempting to persuade those who seek to oppress you brings you no closer to the truth of who you are.
White Supremacy gave us their religion so when they harm us we are quick to forgive and pray for them. Well, their God is answering your prayers. When I was a child, my aunt taught me if someone hits you, hit them back. So go ahead and hit back, but waging a war against their construct is for the birds. Invest in your heritage. Defend your house. Letter by letter…
So with that, I leave you with a poem I wrote in 2006:
brick by brick
black builders create
structures that defy
what those without
color conceive not
fear doesn’t allow
them to believe
or us to accept
how we are
bound by shackles
but mind is free
smooth as a tsunami
quiet as thunder
slow as the blink of an eye
the pharoah needs no mirror
to shave her face in the night
remember we are lynched
by the same ropes
we used to lift the pyramids
it is our mournful bliss
as we square dance around the prism
passersby in our own land lost
as a pig blindfolded in a bull ring
sleeping with the tell-a-vision
my dreams are fed to me
rendering my subconscience
out of earshot
the hands of the clock stand still
dali watches my every move
diseased mind migrates
while my body jitterbugs
possesed by jungle ghosts
behind the other side of the door
my true self awaits me to answer
you who enslaves yourself
in order to find freedom
— Nicholas Payton aka The Creator of #BAM
Remember that name: Riley Curry. She’s going to be somebody, someday. Her father letting her into his world reminds me of how my dad let me play onstage as a toddler. 41 years later, I’m still playing onstage.
Mentorship is key to mastery.
Thank you, Dad. I love you.
— Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop
The culture of entitlement is as American as apple pie. And like almost everything of worth in America, apple pie came from somewhere else. Of course before pie came to America, the English, Dutch, Belgians, and Swedes had a tradition of baking pies, and likewise, they have a shared history of colonization. But we can’t even give ultimate credit for modern colonization to the aforementioned European countries. Portugal and Spain were the mother and father of colonization, and they had a tradition of pies called “empanadas.”
Bible — Buy Bull
On June 18, 1452, Pope Nicholas V published the bull Dum Diversas to give King Alfonso V the right to force any non-Christian people to serve in perpetual slavery. This document was followed three years later by another papal bull called the Romanus Pontifex, which gave dominion over all of Africa south of Cape Bojador to Alfonso, thus setting in motion the capture and colonization of Africans and opening the door for Christopher Columbus, whom some historians think was a pseudonym for Salvador Fernandes Zarco.
Fast forward to 1865, the date many believe to be when slavery was abolished in the United States. Only one thing: Slavery was never formally abolished.
Section 1. Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Section 2. Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.
—13th Amendment to the United States Constitution
This amendment was an extension of the ideas brought forth in the Dum Diversas, except now we see that “criminals” are substituted for “non-Christians.” But who determines what is a crime and who are the criminals? Statistically, Blacks and non-Blacks are incarcerated at a rate disproportionally higher than Whites. The penitentiaries are the new plantations.
They say the pen is mightier than the sword, and from a Western worldview, this is very true. We live in a world of words, and those words create thoughts and ideas. Texts such as the Holy Bible or the U.S. Constitution have historically been used as tools to justify some of the most vicious atrocities ever committed against humanity. Words are a primary tool of oppression. From changing the name of God, or renaming the natives’ land “America,” to calling Africans “Niggers,” the power of words has been one of the most effective means of enslavement known to man.
That said, words can also be used for good in the form of chanting, singing, prayer or praise.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Americans place a lot of stock in the legality or illegality of certain acts, but most laws are written by unrighteous men. Who are they to be the arbiters of justice? What may or may not be legal is shrouded in legalese, which gives those in authority loopholes to manipulate the system. Any act can be both legal or illegal depending on your resources and/or connections.
Just because something is legal, doesn’t make it right, and because something is illegal doesn’t make it wrong.
America is an imperialist state and it inherited this trait from its mother, Europe. In an imperialist empire, the object is to exert control and obtain dominion over others by force. European Classical music has strong ties to imperialism. During the height of European world domination, Classical music was the soundtrack. Many notable Classical works were commissioned either by the church or royalty — the pillars of colonization. Naturally the music would reflect those societal views. If we look at how the European Classical orchestra is set up, it is a body of musicians controlled by one conductor, much like the king of a monarchy. There’s little to no room for any dialogue amongst the players. They must conform to the concept of the conductor and/or the composer. Now there’s more room for interpretation for soloists or solo works, but even then the musician is typically bound by what is on the page.
Hegemony, Mony, Mony, Mony…
Patriarchal hegemony is a key factor in colonialism and imperialism. In order to control others, one must do so by force or domination, both typically being male-centric energy. This idea of male dominance is a mindset that has become the standard in modern society. Most ancient and native societies respected both male and female energies, as evidenced by the fact that many of them were matriarchies.
The fact that European Classical music is written down suggests male dominance, as men have a propensity towards stimulation through sight. Because the more feminine aspects of music — like feel, vibe, and intuition — can’t be written down, they tend to be undervalued. Things that can’t be seen are often disregarded as invalid through the Western/European lens. Whereas in African and other ancient musics, there is often no notation. The music is passed down from master to pupil by ear in the same way breast milk is fed to a child by its mother.
Because America is still a child of her European mother, she has adopted the same patriarchal hegemonic rules that govern European Classical music. This is reflected in U.S. copyright law. In order for a work to be created it must be written down or on a phonorecord of some sort. The writing down or recording of certain creative processes is not necessarily an idea embraced by ancient societies. In fact, many natives have been known to be afraid to have their pictures taken or have their music recorded because they feared it would steal their soul.
Give It Up
Black music is an oral and aural tradition in that most of its fundamentals cannot be written down. All Black dance music is groove-based, which means the most essential components of Black music are not copyrightable by law. All Black American music is based in the Blues, which again, can’t be written down. It is in the realm of feel, and feel is a non-visual feminine energy. Blues, feel, vibe, and groove are not a part of the Western lexicon, which de facto says that according to American copyright law, Black music isn’t real music. It’s the same as the papal bull that declared Africans savages and not human.
What’s important about the recent verdict in the “Blurred Lines” case is that it’s a victory for Black thought. Coming off the heels of the judicial decisions in the cases of Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, and Eric Garner, it is a ray of hope that we may be approaching a return to ancient aesthetic values.
The things stolen from “Got To Give It Up” are not part of a genre or some ’70s style as the plaintiffs suggest. They are specific compositional elements that are distinctive to the tune. Anyone with ears can hear it. There are not a bunch of tunes that sound like it of any era. The masters don’t owe some producer anything because said producer pilfered their work and “introduced” the master to a younger audience. You’re not entitled to take an artist’s creation in the spirit of Hiphop, a papal bull, the Constitution, copyright law or anything else. Respect is due, props should be given, and if there’s money to be made, give up a piece of the pie.
Sheet music, shmeet music.
A Peace of the Pi
There is being inspired by someone and there is theft, and the line between the two is often blurry. The law is intentionally ambiguous and biased against creative, intuitive types. Copyright law does not work in favor of Black music. What many see as a dangerous precedent in the “Blurred Lines” case, I see as a chance for the ancestors and their heirs to get credit and compensation. The whole point of building an empire is to make a better life for those around you and those who come after you, particularly your children.
Black music is communal music and it’s about everyone contributing to the baking and sharing a slice of the pie. No one starves. Famine is a manmade construct. It’s the result of imperialism and robbing resources from a people and their land — domination through force. When music is used as a tool to promote a parasitic culture where it’s okay to leech off of another’s contribution without sharing the profits in return, it’s become an instrument of war, not love.
And though you may think of it as American, pie is a modern form of an ancient galette which can be found inscribed on the walls in the tomb of Ramses II, pharaoh of Egypt. The Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt is said by some to be based on the principles of pi. Pi is the value of dividing the circumference of a circle by its diameter. If you divide the perimeter of the Great Pyramid by its height, you will get very close to 2π.
The fundamental argument here is one that has been in the air since the development of the New World: linear versus circular thought. Lines are more suggestive of male energy, patriarchy and dualism, whereas circles are more feminine, inclusive, and social.
No matter which way you slice it, the circle always goes back to one.
— Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop
Black syncopated rhythm, African Tribal DNA is becoming a lost art. With each passing day, it’s more and more irrelevant. Not useful. Obsolete. And it’s sad. Being Black used to mean something. What was at one time a commodity is now a liability. Black people live through the drum, through song. Without the Blues, Black life means nothing. The Blues is our collective Black language. Developed out of our resistance to the global dehumanization of colored people, we established a new way to commune with our ancestry. Any freedoms we’ve been able to craft post-Columbus has been due to the music. And it’s through the music that any future salvation is to be found.
It used to be clear who was within the Black tradition and who wasn’t. The rhythmic code embedded in the music makes it apparent which artists are linked to the lineage. As we head deeper into the post-racial era, Blackness becomes less important and the tribal DNA within the music gets shoved to the side. This started happening at a faster rate within Black music post-integration, when musicians had a desire to assimilate into White culture to garner crossover appeal and acceptance by the mainstream.
The “Reverend” Milt Jackson prophesied years ago, “Ain’t But A Few Of Us Left.” He could see that fewer and fewer musicians were embodying the values that make Black music what it is. I feel that those of us who have a sound, who are soulful, who have a pocket, can swing, and who are funky, and can play the Blues have a greater responsibility than ever to represent those attributes in their music. Michael “D’Angelo” Archer is one of those cats. Though greatly influenced by UK soul musician, Omar, his first album Brown Sugar signaled an antidote to how commercial and syrupy R&B had become by the mid-’90s. What followed was a renaissance of young Black artists who championed and embraced the sounds of classic soul and funk records of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Their heroes were cats like Miles, Donald Byrd, Nina Simone, James Brown, Aretha, Hendrix, Roy Ayers, Marvin Gaye, Sly, Stevie Wonder, and Prince.
The aftermath seemed to spawn one artist after another: Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, Bilal, Musiq Soulchild, Sunshine Anderson, Jaguar Wright and many others. At the time, I wasn’t a big fan of Brown Sugar. I had more faith in the UK based artists like The Brand New Heavies. The moment I began to believe in R&B again was with Erykah’s Baduism. When I heard that, I was like, “Yes, this is what I’ve been waiting for.” My next moment of awakening was the duet of Lauryn Hill and D’Angelo doing “Nothing Even Matters.” It was also then when I began to reawaken to Hiphop. The album that did it for me was Fantastic Vol. 2, produced by the legendary beatmaker from Detroit, James Dewitt Yancey, then known as Jay Dee, now commonly referred to as “Dilla.” Also of note was another producer, Madlib who was doing important things with the group, Lootpack.
The culmination of all these elements led up to one of the most important and influential albums of the last 25 years, D’Angelo’s Voodoo. I will never forget where I was and how I felt the first moment I heard “Playa Playa” on the car stereo. I had never heard anything in my life that sounded like it. Many of us felt that way. The quarter note had once again been changed in Black American music and that has only happened a handful of times in the first century of recorded music. Louis Armstrong did it, Charlie “Yardbird” Parker, Ahmad Jamal, Miles Davis, James Brown, and Sly Stone. Though D’Angelo had the benefit of having the concept refined on his second album, a chief influence in the sound was Jay Dee. Jay Dee’s primary instrument of choice was an MPC. D’Angelo and his group adopted that sound for live instruments and changed the scope of how several generations of musicians would interpret the beat. In the 1920s and ’30s, Louis Armstrong had a way he could lay back and stretch over the beat to create the sonic illusion that he was manipulating the space-time continuum against the steady backdrop of the ensemble. But we hadn’t really heard a rhythm section apply that concept collectively until Voodoo. The second great Miles Davis Quintet (with Ron Carter, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Tony Williams) experimented with metric modulations and time stretching, but what Dilla and D’Angelo were doing was in another orbit.
This was the Golden Age of what was known as Neo Soul, though most of the artists rejected that categorization, and understandably so. I was also a part of a generation of musicians that embraced tradition who were labeled “Young Lions,” a title which many of us shunned. A lot of us felt a kinship with the so-called Neo Soul artists. We were mostly Black 20, 30-something-year-old musicians who were the last generation of kids raised on their parents’ music — before the glorification and permeation of youth-centered thought in Pop culture. As a result of this simpatico, many of us worked together. Mark Whitfield, Larry Grenadier, Charlie Hunter, Christian McBride and Roy Hargrove worked with D’Angelo. Karriem Riggins worked with Erykah and Common. I was doing stuff with Jill Scott, Common, and Will Downing. It was a very fertile and promising period in Black music. We were restoring and rebuilding the chasm in Black music that decades of “Jazz” destroyed. We were picking up where CTI records and cats like Freddie Hubbard and George Benson left off. We were shaking off the shackles of the purist mentality adopted and perpetuated by the likes of Wynton, and now Branford Marsalis. It’s interesting that Branford has become so conservative in his old age as he was amongst the first to embrace this concept by his work with Miles Davis on Decoy, Sting, Spike Lee, The Grateful Dead, Shanice, and his electric band, Buckshot LeFonque.
Voodoo was a commercial and critical success as an album, but the tour proved to be quite challenging, largely due to D’Angelo’s growing appeal as a sex symbol. His video for “Untitled” had women across the globe wanting D to take it off as he had done on screen. I won’t get deep into this, mostly because I don’t know the details and it’s none of my business. What I do know is that D’Angelo took a long hiatus. And the only thing we would hear about him was either through Questlove or some media scandal. Over the years we’d hear rumors on a solo project from D’Angelo with an Internet leak of a track here and there. With several release dates given and no album ultimately delivered, it looked less likely with each passing year that another D’Angelo album would ever see an official release.
In the post-Voodoo era, many of the so-called young lions who had only done acoustic albums began electric experiments. I had Sonic Trance, Roy Hargrove had the RH Factor, Joshua Redman had Elastic, and Christian McBride had the CMB. Made sense since we grew up in the era when Hiphop was born and we were reared during the Golden Age of R&B. We had all had our lives changed by Michael Jackson’s moonwalk from the legendary Motown 25 concert. Most of us also witnessed Wynton Marsalis on the 1984 Grammys be the first artist to get awards in both Jazz and Classical categories. He let us know it was possible to have a viable career playing straight-ahead acoustic music.
Fast-forward to 2014… It’s finally here and it’s called “Black Messiah.” When I first heard the title it struck me because my favorite Cannonball Adderley album is The Black Messiah, so I was curious. Will it be a tribute to Cannonball? Is the title track a cover of the George Duke tune of the same name? As I listened I found no overt references to Cannonball or Duke whatsoever, nor did I see any in the liner notes. Jive, but okay.
Took 14 years to make 12 songs. Had to sit through 11 of them to get to one classic. Not really funky, overall. Not worth the hold ups. Many of my contemporaries disagree, but I am extremely disappointed in this album. I had a feeling I would be and was, quite honestly, predisposed to disliking the album before its release. With all the false alarms, stops and starts, I began to question if he would be able to capture the same magic as he had on Voodoo. 14 years out of the game is a long time, and unlike riding a bike, you can lose your gifts and talents if you don’t use them. I’m not saying he’s lost it, but the things that made him such a force 14 years ago are not apparent on this album.
I have a problem with these artists either making mediocre albums or living off of the reputation of one or two albums made decades ago, and I’m not sure what’s worse. Whereas Stevie Wonder and Prince have continued to give us new material, neither has given us a great album in 25 years. Both artists have become parodies of themselves. Both Stevie and Prince began sounding like bad versions of people they influenced, and from repeated listens of Black Messiah, D’Angelo has now joined their ranks.
Many of my colleagues who were making electric albums have now gone back to jazz, and by some strange twist of fate, D’Angelo’s Black Messiah is a jazz album. For all the hype Questlove made about how innovative and groundbreaking this album was supposed to be, I find it to be D’Angelo’s most derivative work to date. There’s nothing on the album that doesn’t sound like something else. In fact, Black Messiah sounds like a bad version of Bilal’s Love Surreal. I don’t remember folks giving this amount of love to Bilal when it was a far more creative effort than D’Angelo’s latest. Meanwhile, an artist like Van Hunt has been in the trenches giving us album after album of great music. His album Popular, which was deep-sixed by Blue Note is a little known gem that is every bit as great as Voodoo. While folks have been waiting 14 years for one guy to do an album, other cats have been busting their asses giving us great music the whole while.
D’Angelo gets to be the deadbeat dad who gets all the love by showing up bearing gifts at Christmas every couple of years, while mom is busting her ass every day taking care of you and you ungrateful children could give a shit. I don’t get why it’s acceptable for him to take 14 years to deliver this okay album. And okay for him is so not okay. I expect more from what was at one time one of the most soulful, grooving multi-instrumentalists on the scene. And with a title like Black Messiah, I want nothing short of my mind blown.
Dude had 14 years to make it, a crew of the best musicians and engineers, and limitless studio time and after all of the hullabaloo it’s not that funky. How many hungry Black mouths could be fed with the studio time he’s squandered over the past decade? Such a waste of resources. He needs to be held to a higher standard of excellence. I guess when you cock tease your fans for 14 years, the least effort makes them nut in their bloomers. It reminds me of that skit Eddie Murphy did in Raw about waiting for pussy so long makes you think it’s the best pussy ever when you finally get it is akin to a hungry man thinking a cracker is a gourmet meal.
A central rhythmic theme throughout the album is the heavy four-on-the-floor that was a trademark of Sly’s work with The Family Stone. The problem with it on Black Messiah is that when Sly did it there was an undercurrent of syncopated ghost notes that made it groove. The way the quarter note is presented here, it’s subdivided by straight eights, which makes it come off stiff. Sounds like the typical non-swinging jazz album of today. Ironically, the message is Black Power, but the Black part is overshadowed by a barrage of sterile sixteenth notes. This sets the tone for the first quarter of the album — “Ain’t That Easy,” “The Charade” (which sounds like a nod to Prince’s “Raspberry Beret”) and “1000 Deaths.” And the same holds true for virtually every tune on the album.
When we do get to the first tune with a funk feel in “Sugah Daddy,” the pulse is delivered in a cutesy and corny way. It’s almost like I can see Betty Boop doing Jazz Hands to this. I don’t get it. Why? D had one of the dopest pockets in the business. Let the unfunky people hide behind wack rhythms. I dug this tune in the live versions, so I’m inclined to believe it’s not the material itself, but perhaps the album suffers from over production. Maybe it’s been nursed way too much to be organic. Whatever it is makes it not as sexy as people are claiming it to be. Voodoo made me want to fuck. I’m not saying he should revel in the past, but an emphasis on pocket would have been nice. Like what they did on the vamp out of “Till It’s Done,” but the shit only lasts a few seconds before it fades out. The strongest groove on the album, done too quickly, in my opinion.
A lot of folks are complaining about not being able to understand lyrics. It doesn’t bother me at all. And if you’re familiar with his work, it’s been a signature of his from jump. Makes sense as many of his idols — like James Brown and Marvin Gaye — mumbled through many records. I just wish more of that grit and negroidery was imbued in the urgency of the rhythm instruments. The lilt is often forced and contrived, even when they’re laying back. Like on “Betray My Heart,” if the drummer had just played the cross-stick flam on the backbeats instead of on all 4 it would have felt more danceable. Yes, it’s obvious, but some things don’t need to be innovative.
I also think the vocal effects, and effects at large, are overdone. It’s like he’s singing through a toy walkie-talkie the whole time. If you do it to all the instruments, all the time, on every track, it ceases to be an effect and becomes overkill. A great meal with too much salt is inedible.
And there is a huge Rock component throughout the album I take issue with. I can’t get with Black people who play Rock. Rock is the White appropriation of the Blues. The Blues didn’t need another name. There is no need to mimic the voice of the oppressor back to him.
The last tune, “Another Life,” is the most soulful song by far. Though reminiscent of “Shoot ‘Em Up Movies,” by The Deele and Rick James’ “Ebony Eyes,” it’s what I expect to hear a D’Angelo record sound like in 2014. Now if he could have just started the album here and went beyond, then we would’ve heard something. For a man to have reshaped the quarter note in Black music, he seems to have regressed into a ricky-tick style that is reminiscent of less sophisticated times.
He’s been out of the album business for a while and Black Messiah sounds like it. A lot has happened in music since he’s drifted off the scene. All of us weren’t waiting for him. Many continue to evolve. As he said in the liner notes, “Black Messiah is not one man. It is the feeling that, collectively, we are all that leader.”
Marvin Gaye wrote through the pain, Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker… It’s what artists do. Sometimes you triumph. Sometimes you fall short. But you stay in the game.
I get why a lot of y’all think Black Messiah is a masterpiece. It ain’t because it’s great or you love it. It’s because you need something to believe in. It’s not because this album makes you want to dance or make love, and if it does, I shudder to think what type of spastic tango it elicits. You’ve been mindfucked for over a decade that this record would change your life, and now that it’s here you don’t care how it sounds. You’ve been deprived for 14 years and brainwashed to think you’re having the best sex of your life, but when the hype dies down, all you’ll be left with is a bunch of crackers.
— Nicholas Payton aka The Savior of Archaic Pop