And have an uppity new year!
And have an uppity new year!
It was twenty years ago today…
THE SCENE: I’m in shock. The happy, goosepimply kind of shock, like finding cash in a forgotten pair of pants. A LOT of cash.
The last time I felt this dizzying state of crumbling racial intolerance was in 1988. I was in an all-Black rock band at the time, which by definition meant our band were in it for the love, because there were no successful mainstream Black rock bands. Ever. Fishbone was the only group that was currently on major label, and outside of the modern rock ghetto they never made an impact equal to their talent.
And then came Living Colour. An all-Black rock band on Epic Records? That was Michael Jackson’s label! I bought their CD, Vivid, on sale for $8.99 from The Wherehouse and was blown away with how great it was. Pop songs with clever social commentary and non-stop metal riffs with hints of jazz, African highlife, and hip-hop. In short, an unabashedly rock album, and one that wasn’t selling.
I saw them perform at the Berkeley Square later that year, in front of 85 mostly Black college students – and not even close to a sellout. But they put on one of the most energetic, musical and transcendental concerts I’ve ever witnessed. Every word, every note hit the audience like an Level 5 hurricane. They gave hope to all Black rock musicians that you could at least rise to a college-radio level of acceptance.
And then MTV started playing “Cult of Personality”.
Featuring speech extracts from Malcolm X and John Kennedy, the rifftastic song climbed into the Billboard Top 20, pushing Vivid into the Top 10. Seemingly overnight four intelligent brothers had shattered the Black rock ceiling, sliding through the gauntlet of xenophobia and pain and indifference into a freaking double platinum album. They wrote rock songs about the Black experience and sold them non-Black audience all over America, all over the world! I saw them again during this ascension, at a sold-out concert complete with white rocker chicks in stilettos and beefy rockers dudes in trucker hats.
Without precedent, Living Colour had become cooler than racism. For my band, the nationwide acceptance of Living Colour challenged how high we allowed ourselves to dream.
After watching our country vote in a Black president, I think America believes the concepts of hope and change are also cooler than racism. Finally.
How high can you dream now?
See you next Wednesday.
NEXT WEEK: Back the usual reviews!
I’m still on vacation (thanks), so Uppity Music will return next week. I have a question for you though. I’m considering starting a Uppity Music forum, so all you UM fans have a place to congregate and enlighten. Would you have a use for a forum, and if so, for what?
Well, I’ll tell you.
For the entire time I’ve been writing Uppity Music I’ve been working on a music show. In conjunction with The Vinyl Exchange website, my production company Plus Sign Films has released VETV (Vinyl Exchange TV), a new online interview series for hip-hop vinyl junkies.
Each 15 minute episode is viewable online and downloadable for iPods and PSPs. The first episode is live now at with Season One starting in the fall.
As you can imagine, getting the show up and running has taken some time, so Uppity has been a lil’ barren, But we are back in business starting next week so until then enjoy the free show. Shout out if you like it.
NEXT WEEK: Carl Hancock Rux travels the globe.
It’s been a whole year, and I’ve been keeping score.
Most Hard Luck Uppity Music Artist:
Q-Tip had the indignity of having not only his second album shelved (Arista Records’ Kamaal The Abstract) but his third one as well (Dreamworks’ Records Open. Has anybody even heard this one?) His fourth album is due from Motown this year but even Tip’s accountant thinks its release is iffy.
Most Popular Uppity Music Review:
By an extremely wide margin the most popular review has been (ta-da!) Q-Tip’s Kamaal The Abstract. Shockingly I’ve received several emails thanking me personally for sharing this album. At this point I can’t see Arista Records ever releasing it unless:
A) Q-Tip bites the big one, or
B) they think they can sell half a million MP3s of it in the iTunes Music Store.
Neither scenario is very likely.
Richard Pryor’s Craps and Divine Styler’s Spiral Walls Containing Autumns of Light were also quite popular. Hey that’s interesting, these albums aren’t in print either.
Best Uppity Music Label:
V2 Records bravely signed both New Kingdom and Chocolate Genius to multi-album deals, although all their albums have since been deleted Stateside, unlike Little Axe-soundalike Moby and retro-blues duo The White Stripes. Nothing says “fortune” like aping Black music.
Most Prolific Uppity Music Producer:
When pop producers The Neptunes aren’t creating hit songs for Snoop Dogg and Britney Spears, they’re having their feeling hurt by shepherding excellent but low-selling tracks for Cee-Lo, Common, and Kenna.
Best Uppity Music comeback:
Cee-Lo’s Soul Machine flopped silently like a ninja in the marketplace, but as one-half of Gnarls Barkley he scored a #1 single in England this year with “Crazy”, a song that’s poised to become the overplayed song of the summer.
Most Public Uppity Music Supporter:
Trent Reznor, aka Nine Inch Nails, slotted both TV On The Radio and Saul Williams as support acts on his recent tour. Maybe Trent wears black on the outside cause that’s how he feels on the inside.
In closing, I’m humbled that you come back every week to read my rantings. The first month of Uppity Music garnered 82 page views, and last month had over 20,000 page views, which is a helluva lot more. And since I have you, the audience, let me know what you’d like to see. Want an Uppity Music forum? Want to wear an UM T-Shirt? Drop me a line.
See you next Wednesday.
Miles Davis’ wife exorcises some demons.
Hi there, one of my thousands of readers. After eighteen straight weeks of bringing you the finest in unsung Black departure albums I’m taking the week off. Feel free to peruse the previous entries at your leisure. The most popular review so far has been Q-Tip’s Kamaal the Abstract perhaps because it contains audio files to his unreleased album. What do you think? A brilliant masterwork or a cry for help?
See you next Wednesday.
Why this site?
One day while reorganizing my CDs for the nth time I realized that many of my most-cherished recordings flew under the radar of nearly all my music-loving friends. Many of these recordings are Black departure albums. Since I love to share, a site was born.
OK, so what’s a departure album?
An album that either expanded the vocabulary of music (like The Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band), or expanded the musical vocabulary of its audience (like Paul Simon’s Graceland). But while the engine of Rock Music Criticism is designed to pump up oddball-yet-great albums from White musicians, albums from Black artists who push the musical envelope are frequently marginalized and forgotten. At least until now.
But aren’t there any famous Black departure albums?
Sure. Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. Stevie Wonder’s Songs in the Key of Life. Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. All albums that brought the listener somewhere they’d never been before and also sold a lot of units. There’s a few more but really, it’s a criminally short list.
So, any genre-busting album from a Black musician could get a review?
Not quite. It still has to be a great album, or else it’s just a justifiably forgotten record.