The controversy involving the conflict between the achievement of a culturally-specific dance and the white supremacist practice of “adapting” material really comes down to this: if people of color could really name themselves, when would this ever be a possible conflict? The irony, perhaps, is that the original Filthy Frank video has no leader but an alternation between an extremely excited Bernie/Berne dance and the Butthead hump; the meme: all iterations require a leader or, more directly, motivation to break from alienated movement. Purportedly a riffing off of Dutch House/Dirty Dutch (among other genres/techniques) with a repeated bipartite structure alternating rooted and mobile (within the measures) bass patterns. Baauer himself claims ownership of the song, which ironically backs into with the imperative sample’s source critique: an attempted indictment of black rappers who sign endorsement deals. How about a way below this? If we are foreach other, then even a citation is unfaithful to the original.
The Booker T. Washingtonian vision to complement Reaganesque politics: hygiene, positive thinking, and the elision of the social become keys to Black success. Status (being “new”) ablates the spatial (“hell”/ghettoes) and is mirrored by clean, tight, concise funk: shimmering synths and ultra-high crescendos. The “positive tip” loves subjugation.
The sell-out, be it the “black girl” who wants slimming down or the white one’s desire for excess, supposedly can’t claim those “responsibilities” necessary for “race and community.” Apart from these “carnival exhibit[s],” Humpty Hump can only become brown through tanning (despite the wish to “change it”). Doctor skit pulls at the argument, demonstrating how the nature/science relationship is one of collusion, a “sedative” and a “scalpel.” Race politics, like corporate musics, still stuck in exhibit mode.
“Overriding” all communicative/sharing technologies, the interstellar pirate surgeon delivers “cosmophonic[ally],” submerged in the “same data same system” and translatable across all contexts. More of a trax dealing with movement, articulation, and strategy; talking trash and mocking localization, specialization, and knowledge production. Afronaut move to excise brain cancer, focusing on the “earth planet” where “nothing’s aware.” System indebted to its outside. Less of an embrace of one’s nemesis, more of a diagnosis of potentiality awkwardly trained inward. Race technology overload.
Kweli is in the middle of “e-Kweli-ty”; likewise, equality is constituted between points (in relation) and not at them (as the nodes of an economy). Being “without a history” within the “industry” is embraced because we’re always “live from somewhere.” The complication arises when the promise of an afterlife is offered as motivation for becoming a “visionary.” “Vocab” bombing’s victory of substitution.
Astrofuturism, as described by De Witt Douglas Kilgore, is a 1950s configuration that manifests American destiny in the intellectual space between a dying colonialism and the utopian promise of a raceless future. It is fundamentally a White discourse. Afrofuturism also takes root in the 50s (the key founding figure is almost always Sun Ra) and explores the (outer) space between a certain afrocentrism and its total ironization (Underground Resistance, for instance). It is fundamentally an African American discourse. Recorded in 1951, “Rocket 88” is both astrofuturist and afrofuturist in orientation. It emphasizes the derangement of the senses, motion, speed, and an open space for “cruisin’” as preconditions for achieving escape velocity (“joy”). It further figures the “futuramic” Olds car/rocket as a techno-prosthesis, and the backing track sounds the soul of the machine (think of Brenston’s horn as the car horn, and the blown-out guitar distortion as the V8 engine). Old jalopies make funny “noise,” the singer insists, but this. . . . this is a flat out racket.
The coverage of the Michael Brown and George Floyd protests were almost breathless. What’s new with this iteration of popular uproar? Is it the “bottoming out” that finally leads to racial progress? The further militarization of the police? Rather than seek out an event in today’s headlines, the contiguities are more sobering. Toddy Tee’s grudging 1985 homage to Daryl Gates’ police tank—“it’s coming”—could be taken as both a warning to crack dealers and a protest over police violence and the suspension of the fourth amendment in black and brown neighborhoods. And it would be just fine as that. But there’s also the mayor’s decision to “legalize something that works like that.” Operating during the early height of the War on Drugs, the Batterram was used to strike in indiscriminate discriminatory ways. The police are like “F Troop,” knocking on random doors trying to entrap residents. But these circumstances are a dime a dozen with law-and-order governors and police departments inheriting equipment used during recent wars. According to one protestor from Ferguson, Missouri, the city “could be any town in the world.” Absolutely true, but more often not. As the places add up—Dearborn Heights, Sanford, Los Angeles, etc.—the patience wears thin. Both the media’s hopeful exhaustion and a healthy dose of neighborhood utopianism.
Plea for white self-reflection on color question vacillates between advocacy of colorblindness and Black pride (there-is-no-difference versus get-out-of-my-way). Given this uncertainty, overly optimistic assessment of the struggle’s endpoint: “The laws of society were made for both you and me.” Correction: the laws are designed to designate you and me, citizen and subject. Always, in liberalism, a foundational distinction, remaining.
In memory of Charlie Haden, written on 14 July 2014.
The Not in Our Name Project (NION) diagnosed the American imperial order in 2002 as a spatiotemporal problem: Afghanistan-Iraq-the West Bank in a continuum of U.S.-inflected terror/policy decisions and Japanese American internment alongside the detainment and interrogation of Arab Americans post-9/11. And a similar strategy shaped the project’s self-definition and the enumeration of role models: abolitionists, the Underground Railroad, Vietnam War draft resisters, and the refusal of Israeli reservists to serve in the Occupied Territories. The Saul Williams-penned “Pledge of Resistance” commits “to make common cause with the people of the world” and stops short of calling for a general strike by refusing, as a group, to “supply weapons and funding” for foreign wars. Yet this all came to an end in 2008 with the disbanding of the project’s “national office and related infrastructure.” In some ways, everything here was on the verge of getting it on. (George Clinton, by the way, would have your “funky mind” freed “out into another reality.” And as Clinton knew, other realities have been and are already here as one continually imagines (and practices) being the “people.”) Charlie Haden’s and Carla Bley’s Liberation Music Orchestra deals with the NOIN’s central bifurcation problem—(dis)owning one’s nation-state—through difference. A Latin-inflected tune involving passages with synchronized horns, the key sonic decision is to allow each instrument a solo. The duration of each solo sometimes runs against type, and the instruments involved straddle the (non-) traditional, with the tuba solo as the most extreme example. Much like the album’s cover photograph, we can be both under the banner and at the helm of an organization’s varying structure through time. Haden, then, knew this as well: the Liberation Music Orchestra’s personnel may change, but it’s an inclination requiring stamina, adjustment, multiple voicings, and perpetual practice/praxis.
Perpetual/purposeful motion as response to determination from without. The “within” as potential and aimless travel as condition of the future. Absolutely confronting Jim Crow but also pleading for giving apart from economy of generosity. “My company” as something to be “kept” by another: the only possible retreat for now.