Listening to songs off Mos Def’s pretty good new album “The Ecstatic” I wonder what he learnt playing Chuck Berry in the movie “Cadillac Ranch”.? Berry never rested on his ethnic identity, he roared through it. Maybe he had no choice but he sure had every reason. The social effect of Berry’s blackness is much closer to Dred Scott than Mos Def -the discriminations he had against him lead to jail and could have lead to much worse.
Even Public Enemy had a valid reason to place themselves in the public arena as a victim and advocate of black rights. But it isn’t true of today’s succesful enetertainers and the only thing left for middle class blacks (as opposed to poor blacks who, like poor whites, have a different problem) to do is take a victory lap.
This is about President Obama but it isn’t only about President Obama. It is about Richard Parsons and Jay Z; it is about Denzel Washington and Al Sharpton:it is about the end of a war. And at the end of the war soldiers lay down their arms and go back to civilian life but this generation of black people can’t let go -it’s all they have ever known.
I realize that when 50% of all black males have been to prison it is hard to call victory. But it is truer to accept the change has indeed come than to refuse to give up a fight that is over. The result is wrong minded albums like “The Ecstatic”. The result is a refussal to accept that the responsibility for black successes and failures lies with individuals. I never thought white success (or Lebanese or English) success was a reflection on my abilities. They aren’t. Cultural empathy is notsocial empathy, it is one thing to see the Knicks successes as your own, wuite another to see the Presidents success as your own to the detriment of an acccurate assessment of your own life.
All over Def’s “Supermagic” is a call towards a super black vibe defined by skin pigmentation: same as it ever was. I wrote about WW2 propaganda the other day, but this is a different type of propaganda. Perhaps there was a time when Oprah and Angelou’s artisitically iffy but culturally barrier breaking black pride was neccessary. There was a time when Mos’s work with the Roots needed to be heard by some people. But is this that?
What’s important is always is the new music and how it is said and both are OK here but neither are great and without an edge of greatness their political brightness lose its deft. If your gonna live and die by ethnic bally hoo even smart word play like ” Testin’ your ate in the delirium, sounding fate booming all over your eminence, skin on skin again, put it all, get it all, get in then… ‘ has to paid off sooner or later by “there it is, boogieman”.
Compare to Cam’ron’s “Crime Pays” -he is still too gangsta for his own good but the concern here is fiscal more then visceral.
Or compare it to the hedonism of dance-hop or Colson Whitehead’s color neutral novel “Sag Harbor”. In an interview on NY1 the black upper middle class man went out of his way to say the struggle continued but he simply had no choice: he might have meant it if he thought about it, but he shouldn’t have had to think about it.
Well, “Supermagic” is a very good song and Def has a point but perhaps next he can take his victory lap and get back to living again.