Simple, Great Pop: Review of Lady Gaga’s “Stupid Love”

There is something quite mesmerizing about a simple, great Pop song. That is, of course, the kind born not out of necessity and calculation, yet of total respect and appreciation, of absolute love and adoration for the craft and the genre. Although most radio fare appears identical and interchangeable in its origins and inhabitants, simple, great Pop thrives on its recognizability and connection to the creator, feeling as if a direct extension of their soul in the midst of commonplace tropes and styles.

In truth, it is that kind of Pop which seems easiest to envision yet is perhaps hardest in execution, forcing whomever is at the helm of its ship to cut through monotony and sameness with genuine, remarkable spark. One cannot merely fade into the production and soundscape, expecting magic to occur on its own; truly simple, great Pop only works when the singer has enough charisma and individuality to make you feel as if they are speaking directly into your ear.

And it is “Stupid Love,” Lady Gaga’s Technicolored ode to irresponsible romance, which embodies all of these qualities in a delicious, celebratory rush. Coming off the sepia-toned uber-despair of her Oscar-winning torch-ballad “Shallow,” there seems almost a perverse deviance within this latest single’s sizzling, bludgeoning Moroder-flavored bass, as if one has stumbled out of black-and-white sobriety into a hedonistic hub of neon and pastel.

Such vibrancy is only enhanced by stuttering house-flavored cries and Gaga’s own lush, buoyant trademark coos of soul, bubblegum, and theater as she seamlessly switches from one tone to another, even melding them together with effortless dexterity. Whilst she pleads for her lover’s stupid love as if a triumph of the will, one senses an immense catharsis and release, allowing any remaining torture and madness to dissipate and disappear. It is not pain and suffering this starry-eyed romantic is immersed in, but that naïve yet daring notion that merely embarking on a relationship is battle in and of itself.

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Joy, desire, enchantment, release—these are the hallmarks of simple, great Pop. That is not to say that anger or sadness are excluded from achieving similar results; it is merely that that anger and sadness must be carefully coated in brighter, prettier, and sometimes even sillier hues. With “Stupid Love,” Lady Gaga has mixed these properties dutifully together, managing to hark back not only to her own discography of effortless dance gems, but also to the bedazzlement of Pop antiquity.

Amidst the marvelous chirps, dramatic shouts, and impossibly gorgeous harmony (“Look at me noww-owwww” may be what Pop is all about), one can grasp the torrid amour-volcanos of 1960’s girl groups colliding with the sensuality of disco’s tainted rapture; a ruthless, passionate pervasion of pure pleasure, reckless abandon, and good vibes. Here exists a lightness and delicacy, unconcerned by pursuits of complexity in a way that feels refreshing and defiant in the current musical landscape.

And that is not to say that “Stupid Love” is immaculate nor perfect. It could easily have been birthed from supermarkets and drugstores, shimmering with its elusive, commercial majesty as if fully aware of the potentially banal purpose of which its serves. However, it is that knowledge, along with the outer-space artifice of its video clip, which makes “Stupid Love” so entirely illuminating. It does not provoke nor challenge nor shatter like many of her revolutionary singles and deep-cuts; yet it marinates in its simple, great Pop magnificence, reminding us that sometimes the purest and most obvious statements about love can, in fact, be quite invigorating and electrifying, can cut to the core and soothe our senses.

In anyone else’s hands, this all might feel trite and trivial and completely lose its power. Though, in the shining, expert palms of Gaga, “Stupid Love” feels like a precursor to something more sprawling, more endearing, and, of course, more fun.

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Born Tomorrow: Rina Sawayama’s Radical Triple Play

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It is quite hard not to be marveled by Rina Sawayama. With a keen sense of Pop knowledge and an impenetrable insight on millennial madness, she has emerged as one of the most astute and exciting chroniclers of our new yet volcanic century, utilizing nostalgic productions to evoke contemporary dread. Through her careful, perceptive lens, modern life is a tapestry of digital ennui and anxious splendor—a cold, chaotic universe inundated with bright, beautiful illusions and distractions.

This first came to fore on her masterful mini-album, RINA, which seamlessly fused Max Martin melodies of the late 90s with taut lyricism about online avatars and cell phone co-dependency. Then came “Cherry,” a blissed-out paean to pansexuality and “Flicker,” a bouncy ballad in praise of heritage, a pair of delicious stop-gap gems reflecting the sundry backdrop of youth culture. Yet, since November of last year, she has been steadily releasing content for her debut album Sawayama, each further analyzing our most complex, sociopolitical structures in ways that no other Pop star seems capable.

With “STFU,” a rollicking, neck-breaking torpedo of rage, Rina confronts the persistent and inexplicable horror of racial intolerance against a sonic backdrop that is every bit Korn as it is Britney Spears. There is a cool innovation here, melding the sour and sweet so gently the union feels unlike anything heard before. Alternating between typhoon aggression within the verses and breezy tranquility within the chorus, one cannot help but feel the encroaching, pulsating disgust toward her ignorant lovers and acquaintances, reaching a mind-bending fever pitch as the two emotions collide with an intensity that is both cathartic and fearsome.

Off the heels of that nu-metal melancholia arrived “Comme des Garçons (Like the Boys),” a decidedly millennial recreation of lavish, libidinous fin-de-siècle club anthems. Here is where the academic invention and playfulness of Rina becomes most apparent: using delicious house beats over lampoons of patriarchy and its associated pomposity, she creates a brilliant alignment of social commentary and endless groove that rests comfortably between Blur’s sardonic satire “Girls and Boys” and Crystal Waters’ concrete-coated classic “Gypsy Woman.” As with those disparate tracks, “Like the Boys” is so irresistible and tantalizing that one nearly forgets they are dancing to depth, igniting senseless, carefree fun even as its profundity hangs over with a pernicious bite.

And then, barely twenty-four hours ago, we were gifted with “XS,” yet another effortless slice of pop perfection. As if buried in an enchanted tomb under Jive Records for the last 20 years, its Rodney Jerkins hues gleam marvelous as Rina jubilantly rhapsodizes on endless excess and conspicuous consumption. Yet what initially appears to be another celebration of shameless wealth is in fact a subtly-drawn study on climate control and capitalism’s tightening grip on the global populace. By focusing on the perplexing duality of peace and materialism—perhaps the two most prized of millennial values—Rina paints an environment too obsessed with artifice to forego the ugliness that keeps it glimmering, as if holding a mirror up to our vanity in hopes that we may learn to break the cycle.

With these three disparate, remarkable tracks alone, Rina Sawayama has already set the tone for what is shaping to be a truly incredible and breathtaking album. Although her previous work embodied the same expertise and craftsmanship, it is here where she seems to be fully growing into a truly impeccable Pop entity, smoothly injecting past and personal experiences with a touch that is undeniably alive and universal. That ability to be both introspective and wildly accessible is already a tremendous feat; yet, by celebrating both her history and her identity, Rina pushes the atmosphere further, forcing many to confront why her presence is so invaluable and why her perspective can never be erased.

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“Radio Say Speed It Up”: Top 25 Songs of the Teens (2010-2019)

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It is never easy to define a decade. Our personal experiences and individual perspectives shape which events matter, which stories deserve to be told, which memories deserve to be preserved. They shape our faith in society and culture, in the people we know and encounter. They shape our trust in beauty, they shape our belief in art. Yet perhaps, in truth, art is and will always be the most polarizing of subjects when recalling the last 10 years, as we all have our own beliefs of what truly revealed a particular, spectacular importance.

The songs we heard at parties, in the car. The songs we heard on dates, or during breakups. The songs we heard during the harsh winter or the blazing summer. The songs we heard in the privacy of our bedroom or walking down crowded streets. They are all personal, they are all individual, they are all our own.

So, as this most mesmerizing and terrifying decade draws to its inevitable close, I would like to look back, in no particular order, at the 25 songs that changed my life. Some may be popular, some may be obscure, and some may even be missing.  But each of these encapsulate what it felt like from 2010-2019, what it felt like to live within a time when everything changed and nothing was the same.

  1. Government Hooker by Lady Gaga (2011)

Erstwhile the club-kid darling brandishing disco sticks and brooding in bubbles, Lady Gaga dove headfirst into the steel-plated political sphere with this cold, nightmarish vision of late-capitalist ideals. Amidst an assembly of operatic trills and mechanized grunts, our ambitious Dada-flavored narrator carefully announces their ability to be whatever one desires “as long as you pay me,” a sentiment that appeared playfully provocative and incredibly audacious during the cheery, go-go optimism of the Obama Age yet now epitomizes the lush vulgarities of decade’s end with unyielding potency.

2. The Less I Know the Better (2015)

Shimmying somberly under a cracked glittered ball, Tame Impala drag us into their intricate web of surprise and self-delusion eternally vulnerable and anchorless. As the peyote-laden groove sweetly clouds any remaining senses, we fall prey to the troubadours’ freakishly accurate recall of that startling moment of witnessing a former lover with another and realizing all past memories and emotions are not as dead as once imagined. “I was doing fine without you,” that every-voice drawls with the pain of a thousand thorns, and we wince. “Is this what you want? Is this who you are?” that every-voice snaps with the chill of a thousand winters, and we cry.

3. Diet Coke Head (2018)

Cloaked in radiance, bombast, and a coolness entirely free of effort, Miss World’s rollicking sonic mixture of Phil Spector’s malt-shop blues and the vampish ferocity of post-riot grrl is both delightfully familiar and astonishingly refreshing, concocting an ode to indecision and uncertainty that perfectly encapsulates the brazenly superficial woes of a generation raised by popular culture and chronically stuck within adolescence and adulthood.

4. Video Games (2011)

Although Lana Del Rey has undoubtedly made more fascinating and enrapturing puzzles for us to solve, this glittering, siren-soaked slice of millennial melancholy undoubtedly remains one of the foremost Classical texts of our young century. So delicate it feels it may break upon your ears and so romantic it feels it may break your heart, there is an Olympian otherworldliness about this rhapsody on tech-hungry boytoys, mourning our mundane modern existence as if already covered in dust and gauze.

5. Pyramids (2012)

Frank Ocean’s wondrously sensuous sense of storytelling reaches epic heights amidst this spellbinding two-part suite of radical experimentation. As he takes the perspective of a motel-boarding pimp with Dickensian wit, we cruise on a manic magic carpet ride from the miraculous, sumptuous life of Queen Cleopatra to the outrageous deglamorization of strip club culture, the former exemplified by frightening futurism whilst the latter barrels through a sizzling haze of downbeat, hangover-induced rhythm & blues. Wait for that shocking second when both bleed into each other; see if you don’t melt.

6. Same Ol Mistakes (2016)

Rihanna may not have written or even originally recorded this mesmeric dewdrop of psychedelia, yet within her signature drawl, it carefully morphs into a bone-chilling, blood-curdling explosion of intoxicating love. Surpassing its predecessor with bittersweet diva opulence, it reimagines one of the most powerful and independent pop stars of our time as a colossally doe-eyed romantic, foolishly crafting a cozy nest for her new partner even if disaster and danger may be lurking right around the corner – a concept so absurd it feels intensely alive.

7. Space Bootz (2015)

Perhaps one of the greatest and most disturbing ruminations on lost love, this stream-of-conscious intergalactic hymn spirals through one’s freshly bruised and broken-up psyche with groundbreaking, earth-shattering accuracy. Startling and miserable in its candor (“I get so high because you’re not here smoking my weed/and I get so bored”), poignant and glorious in its faith (“We’re both vegan/It makes it easy to think you’d never hurt anything/Living intentionally”), there is no room to catch one’s breath within this beautiful maze of hurt and distress; it is the sonic embodiment of balling one’s eyes out in the fetal position and we are so much better for it.

8. The Light is Coming (2018)

The aberrant screams of a political official. Nicki Minaj rapping in zero-gravity excess. Ariana Grande crooning like a mutated cartoon. This is what happens when one of the most contemporary creators of music drifts down a rabbit hole of Surrealist fantasies sans parachute: amidst a bevy of bounces and bleeps and fragments of Frankensteinian glam, a luxurious, shapeshifting netherworld emerges, looking toward a perplexing future in which nothing makes sense and everything is permissible.

9. Ima Read (2012)

As if created for the mere, extraordinary purpose of voguing behind the gates of Hell, Zebra Katz lords imperious over thudding, thumping drones of thunderous bass, casting incantations of vengeance and disgust with satanic glee. Joined by the equally vicious and delicious Njena Reddd Foxxx, there is a demonic convergence of malice, venom, and evil as the two conspire to expire yet it is so serenely drenched in humor and intellect one welcomes their encroaching, unflinching madness with open arms and legs.

10. Truth (2016)

A masterful display of metamorphosis, this sun-drenched, spot-lit summertime tone poem reincarnates teenybopper extraordinaire Zayn Malik into a seasoned crooner, allowing him to lusciously pout, sneer, and throw shade with a dosage of sensuality and soul not too dissimilar to what one may find within a relative’s yellowed vinyl collection.

11. Backseat Freestyle (2012)

Never has the sound of youth been so massive. Never has the sound of arrogance been so intoxicating. But, more than anything, never has the sound of the black male teenager been so urgent and so evocative, so free and so detached, igniting that breezy, single-minded aimlessness of adolescence amidst bass so heavy and colossal it sounds as if it will collapse at your feet.

12. Take Care (2011)

Between the many, multiple musical duets of Rihanna and Drake, none have been as majestic, sophisticated, and downright tragic as this slow-burning slice of harrowing house. Though entranced by its own dancefloor modernity, it has the calming, meditative atmosphere of a noirish, smoke-filled café, exacting the wounded, gauzelike fears and torments of 21st century dating culture (“I’ve loved and I’ve lost”!!!) with a sharpness and severity that cuts straight to the bone, and then some.

13. Warm Blood (2015)

Awash in aquatic, ethereal vocals suggesting a curfew-skipping Disney princess and a pummeling, barreling production reminiscent to a discordant heartbeat, Carly Rae Jepsen’s tantalizing ode to the swollen raptures of new romance delights in its cat-eyed claustrophobia, building a thick, echoing wall of sound that envelopes every fiber of our being in comfort and care beyond recognition.

14. Kerosene (2012)

Forget that you can’t understand a word Alice Glass is saying. Forget that the production sounds as if it’s being played in reverse. Instead, bask in the madness. Instead, bathe in the oddity. Instead, marinate in the machines. This is what would happen if Luigi Russolo grew up with a computer and a hip-hop compilation: a glittering, glossy, yet ultimately anarchic mess, a clue of what will be when humans are no longer making music.

15. Freak Hoe (2014)

Though easily read as an abhorring celebration of the ill-gotten riches and rule-makings of pimp culture, there lies within this rapid ricochet something of greater depth and quality, analyzing and dissecting the primordial necessity of control and shame with rewarding illustration (“My Cuban link bigger than a Wu-Tang’s/Lil nigga take your head off for a new chain”) that seamlessly veers from pure popcorn into pure poetry.

16. Venus Fly (2015)

Rambunctious in nature and epic in scale, Grimes and Janelle Monae’s outrageous 31st century fever dream transports us in the midst of an intergalactic space battle, backed with bass too divine for its own good and vocals too supreme for their own mania. A crystalline vision of matriarchal domination and postmodern pop, it is the finest, most complete synthesis of the heady years of now and those of latteryear, as if one is twerking on Neptune, popping on Pluto, dipping it low on Saturn’s rings.

17. Nada (2018)

This is where hip-hop culture has led. This is the natural extension of forty years of crossing the vast globe, latching onto unsuspecting eardrums, and engulfing eager brains. This: a succulent and breathtaking wonder fueled by Lexie Liu’s prodigious pendulum-rapping from English to Mandarin, taking the typical trope of flexing and flaunting one’s wealth and turning it upon its head, bridging countries and coastlines, ideals and ideologies, culture and conflict without once even trying.

18. Everything Is Embarrassing (2012)

There was perhaps no producer more prolific and diverse in the Teens than Dev Hynes and it was his brief, endearing encounter with dream-punk priestess Sky Ferreira which birthed one of his most dazzling, mind-altering works. “I believe in everything, everything that could’ve been,” Sky coldly recalls a failed relationship with bubblegum remorse, the tinkering, foreboding echoes of the production somewhere between Debbie Gibson and The Cure. There is an innate sweetness within this dignified sorrow, and the deeper we fall for its emptied, music-box serenity, the harsher and darker it feels.

19. Heaven Or Las Vegas (2011)

Sounding as if a codeine-fueled Frank Sinatra crooning atop a supersonic train, this remains the consummate exhibit of the Weeknd’s alluring, impossible mixture of beauty and damnation. He is never quiet and calm within this hurried, pressured milieu – only in mystical shouts, cries, and howls does he communicate, coming off like a saint seeking redemption or a sinner seeking validation, he appears to reach neither, forever stuck in a purgatorial nightmare.

20. Truffle Butter (2015)

The appeal was irresistible: over a narcotic, neck-breaking house sample, three of hip-hop’s most creative, colorful, and charismatic artists wax poetic about their undeniable power, lavish sensibilities, and carnal perversions without a moment to breathe or reflect. Yet, what truly elevates this marvelous monster to unmatchable heights is the sheer excess and luxury dripping from every single crevice, effortlessly emitting an aura of gild and glamour that feels our own.

21. 212 (2011)

What remains so incredibly stunning is the simplicity: the tinny Belgian backbeat; Azealia’s ruthless, relentless schoolyard chants and come-ons (“I’ma ruin you cunt”); the vague yet careful recalls of Caribbean Patois; the playful vulgarity coddled by attitude and confidence. Though it remains decidedly prophetic in its doom-laden lyricism, one is pressed to imagine a more vital, charming, and immediate representation of the halcyon, genre-busting days of the early 2010s.

22. Betty Rubble (2012)

“I wouldn’t try to do the things that I do,” the incomparable Mykki Blanco snarls through a ten-foot bullhorn against macabre Hitchcockian swirls and whirls, happily holding court with a dangerous, exhilarating mixture of bile and sincerity, “You should pray to God and not play with false idols.” This is a raw, rugged entity emerging fully-realized, enlarged and amplified before our very eyes, unleashed without restriction, unbothered with convention, unfazed by order, and unchallenged by time.

23. 10-20-40 (2017)

Has depression ever sounded so euphoric? Has loneliness ever seemed so intoxicating? Has ennui ever seemed so inviting? As Rina Sawayama scales through her tormented, damaged psyche in the way a climber scales vast mountainous peaks, comparing her own degree of madness to the speed of a car, she reveals a cold-hearted, synthesized world of strange hyperrealism, a world where it is much easier to numb one’s suffering in silence than it is to reveal one’s truth.

24. Who Will Survive in America? (2010)

As the finale on Kanye West’s immaculate paean to the cult of celebrity, there exists within these unstoppable barriers a radical, apocalyptic flair, transforming Gil Scott-Heron’s Black Power bars on the injustices of a nation drunk on its own glory into the stuff of total fact and foundation. Have things really changed in 40 years? In 10? Will we still be asking “Who will survive in America?” come 2030? Will we already know the answer? That is the magnificence here, that is the power.

25. Partition (2013)

Nothing is more compelling than a superstar letting themselves loose and upon this bewitching two-part masterpiece, one could not imagine witnessing a more ecstatic liberation. First, against a minimalist bounce with more elasticity than a pack of rubber bands, the once-perfect Beyoncé extols her artistic and financial might through a ravenous hip-hop growl only to rapidly switch gears over a pulsating, heart-stopping throb as she details demigod decadence in lavish limousines. In anyone else’s hands, this may have turned into a puzzling footnote, yet with Beyoncé, we are treated to a groundbreaking, mystifying mosaic of sonic innovation and classical mythos.

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Poptrospective: Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814

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Picture this: Michigan 1994, my older sister and I, eleven and five respectively, sitting in our family room, watching a videotape.  It is called Rhythm Nation 1814 and tells the tale of two impressionable inner-city youth caught between a life of music and a life of crime.  Although perfectly packaged as a new jack fable for children of the video age, my attention lingers not on the storyline of the two boys but on their apparent guardian angel—a cool, confident woman, clad in all black, billowed hair high to the heavens.  She is surrounded by a carass of chic friends, cackling at cartoons, utterly attractive in her bliss.  Yet, suddenly, she halts: she senses something is happening far from her safety, and with rapid-fire speed, we watch in shock as one of the boys is gunned down whilst shining shoes, his once-cherished harmonica soaking in the pouring rain.

Before I can muster up enough courage to scream or cry from witnessing such brutality, the film flashes to a rough rooftop.  “The knowledge,” a cold, mechanized voice drones, and then appears that cool, confident woman once more, strutting with severity.  She breaks for a second, her smoothly toughened voice asking, “Prejudice?” only to be met by a corral of disembodied spirits answering back, “NO!”  She smashes a window with her foot!  Putting a finger to her head, gun-like, she then asks, “Ignorance?” and when another “NO!” strikes, this groove-laden giant throws her body in a tired fit, frustration and anger abound.  As she wonders “Bigotry?” she punches down an overstuffed jug—its contents spilling across the grubby ground—and then, after contemplating, “Illiteracy?” she settles into a meditative pose, as if wishing or praying, allowing the final “NO!” to soothe her restless soul, bring her to a sudden peace.

For what it’s worth, I’d no idea what any of these words yet meant, but what I did know was that I’d never seen anything so marvelous, magnificent, and miraculous.  This cool, confident woman—a woman whose name I’d learned to be Janet Jackson in the same tone and reverence one learns the names of Christian disciples—appeared heroic, otherworldly, superhuman.  Not of my galaxy or universe, yet somehow existing within all the same, somehow tangible and real, somehow there.  The more she writhed, the more glowed my eyes; my mind racing with desires and wishes previously unknown – I want to be there, I want to smash things, I want to dance!  A light seemed to brighten, blaze within; I felt transcendent.  And from that day forward, as often as possible, I’d feel transcendent, jamming that venerated videotape into our RCA VCR and disappearing into that gritty and glorious world, as if believing that one day I’d be granted actual access into this nation of rhythm.

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In truth, Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 is not your typical follow-up to a blockbuster breakthrough album.  While any other Pop starlet blessed with the success of a funk-laden, floor-filling tour de force like Control would rush to replicate anything brimming in its vein, Janet chose a path of dutiful defiance, imagining a way to manipulate her rising powers as a tool for discovery and change.  At 23 years of age, this princess of musical royalty saw the world on fire and knew she could not continue to create club classics without acknowledging her political epiphanies first, setting forth with a journalistic eye to capture the terrors and injustices occurring in her wake.  Surely, there were major risks with embarking on such a project at the beginning of one’s career; yet Janet knew that if she captured her anguish carefully, it would be easily understood.  And the only way she knew she would be easily understood was through her most prized possession: the gift of groove.

With Control, Janet established herself as a leading proponent, popularizer, and prophet of New Jack Swing.  Though the genre is often credited as the sole invention of Harlem wunderkind Teddy Riley, it was on her first commercial masterwork where Minnesotan impresarios Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis originally concocted that incredibly lush, lethal combination of R&B, funk, rap, and jazz and wrapped it in masterful, digestible bites.  The industrial heaviness which erupted from these experiments gave the starlet bullet-proof aggression and, on the towering, monolithic Rhythm Nation, she and her chief co-conspirators found themselves doubling down on attitude and anger, creating, amidst the socially-conscious lyricism and cinematic interludes, a wider, clearer soundscape at once frightening and frivolous, startling and serene, audacious and airy, terrifying and triumphant.

Consider the monstrous titular track: a colossal call-to-arms barricaded by a bassline so bombastic it pummels us into majestic submission.  Accompanied by mirages of music-box tinkers and a series of samples which range the scope of Pop music including Janet’s own previous hits, this treaty-as-jam-session comes off less as a contemporary wonder and more like the earth-shattering template for a frenzied future in which all sounds and vibes converge into something loud yet sublime.  This progressive pull extends cheerfully on “State of the World,” a harsh, manic barrage of police sirens, barking dogs, and haunting, distorted doo-wop vocals evoking an unsettling atmosphere of inner-city strife that is as noxious as it is neck-breaking.  In its most spine-tingling seconds, the concrete hymn reaches an explosive climax by lamenting the starving homeless masses, melting merrily into a freakish, cathartic conjuring of disturbed spirits, as if a séance on a street corner.

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The nightmarish noir only ignites further against the slinky, cyclical hip-hop slither of “The Knowledge.”  Coming off both as the sonic and poetic conclusion of the first three tracks, this ode to information feels more urgent, more dangerous, and more demanding than its predecessors, winding and swirling in marvelous glee as smashed glass and thundering slaps trade quips with jaunty bass and ethereal chants, the latter eroding with fierce sultriness like an acid-dropping church choir.  It is also on “The Knowledge” where Janet’s politicized tension finds a boiling point, escaping that dark urgency to a suite of shiny romanticism.  “Get the point?” she asks, stone-faced, as the last bass drops, welcoming us into this new rhythmic, Technicolor’d Oz, “Good.  Let’s dance!”

And thus, as we follow Janet through her wiggly wonderland, we are gifted with some of the sweetest, snappiest, and most spectacular sounds within Rhythm Nation’s tremendous confines.  “Miss You Much,” a passionate paean to the giddy mania of long-lost love, recklessly dazzles with flourishes of candied harps and frenetic shakes of walloping funk, as if birthed from a club-hopping Cupid.  A descendant of early Motown bedroom froth, “Miss You Much” revels in its teenaged playfulness (“I’ll tell ya ma-ma-ma-ma!”), bringing us to euphoric, ebullient heights that turn entirely monumental on the following “Love Will Never Do (Without You).”  Though surrounded by similar spellbinding snares, its shameless appreciation for everlasting love and its spacious, oceanic lulls—rising and falling as if an imposing breath or decomposing death—create a tantalizing, volcanic blast of sheer rapture.  From the sensuality of Janet’s juxtaposed androgynous registers to the wondrous choral praise of inner revelation (“If you believe in love – SAY!”), “Love Will Never Do” wallows on its own island of elemental beauty, unaware and unfazed by tumult, tragedy, nor trauma.

But, of course, even in the nation of rhythm, there remain moments of clarity.  And upon the precociously somber “Livin’ In A World (They Didn’t Make),” we ponder the near-perennial concern of childhood safety and security awash a mosaic of bright-eyed balladry and piano-driven pity.  With its theatrical trimmings and maudlin sloganeering, such a piece could appear synthetic and unreal; however, in its crucial final moments, the poignant singing is snuffed out by the ringing of gunshots and screams of schoolchildren, epitomizing a stark, delicate realism and coating us with a despair that will need another dance to drive it away.

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The impeccably impossible, unstoppable “Alright” then arrives by our side precisely on schedule.  All Lyn Collins sample and seesaw slink, the relentless ball of fire moves solid, swift, and lucid, expertly dodging any distractions or detours, coasting with a smooth confidence only belied by Janet’s mellowed, almost melancholy murmurs of a boundless friendship bordering on finality (“True self you have shown/you’re alright with me”).  As we saunter into a surrealist funhouse of chopped-and-screwed samples as demented and dizzying as a fresh crush, however, the cool-hearted “Alright” graciously gives way to the emblem of effervescence that is “Escapade.”  Beginning with symphonic, fairy-dust flair and a hypnotic whirl mimicking an airplane idling an eternal runway, this buoyant bubble bulges and bounces with irresistible ease, as if freed from shackles and primed for celebration.  It is a seamless, carefree exercise in ebullience and exaltation—of good and greater times—reaching an awe-inspiring apex when Janet shouts “Minneapolis!” as if a radical realization, the bubble bouncing stronger and evermore.

However, the sudden roaring of a panther signals something sinister on the horizon, replacing that glittering sunshine with grim darkness as “Black Cat” takes us on a desolate downward spiral of drug addiction.  So inundated with dive-bar underpinnings one can feel the leather and hear the chains, its metallic armor is cosigned by Janet’s incredible outrage and displeasure toward masochistic lifestyles, creating a hotbed of madness and tension that boils over with absolute wrath.  What else, then, could wash away this furious ruin than the arrival of rainfall?  Yet, within those burnt ashes come also the arrival of memories, and on the reflective, reflexive quiet-storm suite of “Lonely,” “Come Back to Me,” and “Someday Is Tonight,” Janet leaves behind her world-weary animosity for soul-bearing introspection.

Oozing with an almost radiant melancholy, “Lonely” encapsulates the cut-throat chill of solitude against a seductive, luxurious edge, promising endless love and support to companions at every turn.  Yet, one cannot help but sense that Janet is extending a helping hand even as she is tediously attempting to mine and navigate through her own travails, making the thunder-encrusted plunge to “Come Back to Me” even more devastating.  Unbelievably naked and exposed, a tear-stained Janet yearns tortuously for a romance no longer in reach, grasping with blind desperation made even more palpable by a marvelous, dreamlike haze of orchestral sublimity.  Toward the liebestod’s end, overwhelmed by her own nocturnal delusions, Janet first allows the serene strings to do the talking, only to suddenly interject and admit: “I dunno what else to say . . .”  It is perhaps the most enchanting, exhilarating, and unexpected moment on Rhythm Nation: the amazing, startling honesty of a forlorn lover unfolding before our very eyes.

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Yet if “Come Back to Me” embodies the epitome of romantic pain, then “Someday Is Tonight,” embodies the epitome of romantic pleasure.  Ensconced by velvetine voices, Isley-inspired trappings, and a parade of tempered chimes delighting in their encroaching carnality, we are transported into a bodice-ripping boudoir, where all wonders, wishes, and wills are exacted in mesmeric excess.  Upon this final sonic excursion, there is a refusal of repression, an opening of infinity, and a discovery of desire, closing the past mind-blowing 60 minutes with a sense of hope and renewal—a sense of masterful liberation.  Such themes would ignite heavily upon subsequent releases, yet here, on the divine Rhythm Nation, Janet establishes that daring drive to be absolute, to be herself, to release.

Since Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814 arrived eight months after my birth, its existence appeared, in my eyes, immortal and omnipresent.  It was the first album, Pop or otherwise, that held any real meaning—a spectacular soundtrack constantly and consistently played upon a car stereo or nearby boombox.  In that sense, you can say that Rhythm Nation and I grew up together—that, as we aged, our bones and muscles stretched and evolved in real-time, that we experienced the rapid, torrential movement and alteration of the world side-by-side.  And in theory, that experience over 30 years should have resulted into something extraordinary, a more perfect, globalized union embodied by principles of trust, faith, and acceptance.  But unfortunately, in truth, that experience over 30 years has resulted into something far more divisive than in those final days of the Cold War.

Rhythm Nation was released just two months shy of the Berlin Wall’s destruction but in 2019, we are watching as a President builds walls on our borders.  Rhythm Nation challenged the remnants of racial lines, but in 2019, we are witnessing a new uprising of widespread bigotry.  Rhythm Nation winced at the notion of playground shootings, but in 2019, we are experiencing nearly more public shootings than there are days within the year.  As the 21st century rears its ugly head, we watch as the world—and specifically America—seems constantly in jeopardy, out of control, or on the brink of disaster.  There is a sense of chaos, catastrophe, and confusion at every turn.

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Thus, in our current era, Rhythm Nation does not radiate as the oft-perceived totem of utopia, yet as a breathtaking vision of post-industrial capitalism—of living, in fact, within a functional dystopia.  Amidst its jaw-dropping flurry of thumps, bumps, squeaks, cranks, cracks, and swirls, the modern metropolitan landscape of endless speed and anxious technology collides against the increasing erosion of complacency and disgust.  It is a protest album for those who cannot protest any longer, who would rather dance their dissatisfaction away, knowing their rump-shaking kinesis has the power to destroy intolerance and injustice just as mightily as any rally.  Though she merely wished to shed light on harsh matters in order to ignite eradication, Janet also unwittingly created a hell-raising Orwellian soundtrack for an apocalyptic paradise too in love with its nihilism to make much change at all.

Yet, even within this sense of alluring and impending doom, the phenomenal Rhythm Nation did brilliantly predict a vast breakdown and melding of genres, mediums, and styles.  It did brilliantly predict the massive growth of youthful, multicultural love.  It did brilliantly predict the ascendance of understanding, inclusiveness, dignity, and respect.  It did brilliantly predict the contemporary, post-hippie ideology that the world can be changed and can be restored, if we merely believe and put forth the steps.  You can see it in the climate activists and social justice warriors; you can see it in the kids fighting against gun violence and planning revolutions on their cell phones.  Even if we are slouching toward defeat, there is still a hum, a buzz for innovation and relief and as we attempt to rise from our own current dystopian dwellings, it may be Rhythm Nation that truly provides the blueprint to keep us alive.

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Boudoir Blues: Notes on Teyana Taylor’s K.T.S.E.

To experience Teyana Taylor is an intoxicating adventure unto itself.  Poised and sculptured with sphinxlike regalia, she is one of those compelling creatures of any era whom ignite fascination amidst all they dare cross – a potent mixture of cunning, confidence, style, and sensuality that stretches across media, mediums, and formats through a wave of grace and symmetry.  Within her lies a sense of a reckless abandon, a restless excitement, a fervent desire, as if a delicious, capricious storm nestled in a bottle, ready to provoke wonders and terribles alike.  Whether or not she is chiefly aware of this radiance, Teyana has come to exemplify a sense of unabashed modernity that has been sorely missed in a musical environment overstuffed with carefully-crafted curators of taste.  It is in her brash, brutal honesty.  It is in her smooth, sumptuous stare.  It is in her cool, courageous moves.  And while her progressive first album, VII, may have introduced this entrancing persona of impeccable soul, it is her latest album, Keep That Same Energy (K.T.S.E.), that captures such sublimity with a fuller, grander realization.

Drenched in the crisp, yellowed majesty often unearthed in ancient vinyl collections, K.T.S.E. is a millennial recreation of a funk-laden past, a decadent, rapturous ode to the abundance of romance, the thrill of experimentation, the pleasure of self-care, and the mastery of freedom.  Through a slick, spellbinding rush of 22 minutes, we are taken into the mind-boggling neuroses of a chief seductress, untamed and unashamed in her necessities, spouting her beliefs and liberations as if gentle, nocturnal revelations, forging a perplexed stream-of-consciousness that becomes increasingly mystical and mystifying.  Here, she amplifies pillow talk into poetry, horniness into sanctity, and intercourse into revelation, pocketing our often-meaningless, animalistic whims into golden threads of luxury.  And yet, whilst embarking upon this incandescent sex odyssey, one at once feels the sumptuous splendor of true, indescribable love permeating through, garnishing each subsequent gem with a sincerity and charm that evades any possible shred of vulgarity.

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Much of this amorous grandeur is achieved through Teyana’s raw, silk-sodden voice.  Hers is one full of honeyed husk, refined rasp, and gorgeous gentility, able to shift between mournful yearns and explosive euphoria with artful ease.  She does not waste time attempting to manipulate our minds with a showcase of dizzying acrobatics, yet instead keenly focuses on embodying the same air of naked emotion that has been the hallmark of some of the most intriguing and breathtaking blues performers.  In truth, with its mixture of dexterous lovemaking and simplistic ambitions, Keep That Same Energy is perhaps one of the most effortless inversions of the blues genre that has emerged out of the Teens Decade, utilizing Teyana’s noirish vocals to an electrifying degree.  It is within the suspense-laden, mob-encrusted operetta of “Rose in Harlem,” its torturous beams of betrayal and loyalty flashing in chilling dread with every maniacal, symphonic shriek.  It is within “Gonna Love Me,” a near-sorrowful confession of reciprocated acceptance and affection in the face of unspeakable adversity, a tremendous loss of ego blanketed by the need to be held.  It is within the poignant, space-age hypnosis of “Issues/Hold On,” the awesome, unnerving epiphany of one’s romantic failures equating to one’s history colliding against a cartoonish army of arcade sparks.  Upon even the warmest of the album’s trim 8 tracks, there is an overwhelming sense of emotion, a hidden layer of sadness that packs a marvelous punch.

Who else could turn the illustrious boudoir fantasy of having a threesome into a slow-burning religious awakening?  Who else could transform the amusement tawdriness of “WTP” into a bold, psychedelic ride of sociopolitical theatrics?  Though slightly out of place, it is the latter that perhaps best captures the most adventurous atmospheres of K.T.S.E., coolly aligning Teyana with her spiritual forebearer Grace Jones whilst bowing with respect to the black ball culture which seems to have been created and inspired by both fearless, impassioned women.  The frenetic, outrageous cousin to executive producer Kanye West’s “Fade,” a house-laden song whose beguiling, iconic clip launched the first true glimpse into the current enigma that is Ms. Taylor, “WTP” ends the album in a colossal, heart-stopping haze, extracting the stark blues that preceded it with renewal and rebirth.  It is also a reminder of the brevity of K.T.S.E., creating in its own way, a desire to hear much more from the soulful seductress, a desire for the album to continue on with more excitement and beauty and chill.

In truth, of all the five albums Kanye produced and released throughout 2018, K.T.S.E. may, in fact, be the most enchanting.  It may not marinate in dramatic, innovative risks; however, it is still an intricate, intimate, well-woven mosaic detailing the endless multitude of illusions, devotions, and dreams of love.  One feels deeply aware and privy, as if sauntering through Teyana’s thoughts and ideas in the same rhythms and paces, untangling the complexities of her hunger and cravings in absolute tandem.  At times, this can exude a voyeuristic confusion, of feeling as if there is too much shared or known or discovered.  Yet, in the same breath, such revelations gleam with even brighter humanity and spirit, crisscrossing over our own, allowing us to feel as if we are one.  With the retro-tinged futurism of K.T.S.E., Teyana Taylor emerges as one of the most startling talents of the current Pop landscape, possessing us with an exquisite elegance that never seems to quit.

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Goodbye, Summer: Lana Del Rey’s “Mariners Apartment Complex”

One can only be impressed by Lana Del Rey’s artistic clockwork.  At the dawn of her career, she retooled the supreme, luxurious melancholy of early 1960s girl groups for a new era, swiftly connecting those halcyon Camelot days of JFK’s presidency with 21st century America’s pride and fascination with another charismatic world leader.  Adorned with mile-high hair and Cleopatra-winged lashes, Lana embodied all the desired glamour and glory from a nation still proud of its prominence and culture, her music a searing, naïve reflection of the simplistic tragedies of young love.  Yet, as the earlier, cheery idealism of the Teens Decade slowly fell into cold, nervous splendor, so did Lana’s art slowly change from mere patriotic wanderlust to a complex collection of altered ideals and values.  This especially came to fore on her last studio album, Lust for Life, which depicted the once malt-shop millennial as a bewildered flower child, succumbing to the Trumpian numbness and anxiety buzzing around her.  Like the decade of which she so dearly borrowed, Lana began to view our own current epoch as fracturing, dividing, bursting at the seams, and she realized that, like those pillbox hatters of yesteryear, she would either have to adapt or die.

It is that sentiment which makes her latest track “Mariners Apartment Complex” even more evocative.  Completely devoid of the sheen-driven hallmarks of the Golden Age of Pop, it is an effortless love letter to the Californian folk scene of the early 1970s, a faded, modern remnant of the retired, well-educated hippies of Laurel Canyon spilling their secretive heartbreaks and epiphanies amidst marijuana smoke.  Here she has left behind a whimsical, fabulous existence for something more tranquil and underground, yet even within this solitude she has found, there remains the stark darkness of her past, desperately bleeding into newfound unions.  “Don’t look too far, right where you are, that’s where I am,” she calls over a sweeping piano, totally shifting convention and tone with the mantra-like: “I’m your man, I’m your man.”  It is a profound, chilling exploration of persona and expectation, how our pain has a way of finding us when we have long-since let it go, and how we then pacify the woes and beliefs of others for our own peace.

Especially coming off the heels of summer, there exists within a palpable mixture of unease and finality, pushing all emotions into a shimmering pool of shadows.  One feels the harsh beads of sweat sliding down their face.  One sees the cool dance of trees shaking in the wind.  One hears the raucous lullabies of crickets and cicadas filling the great beyond.  Already a master of mood and atmosphere, Lana embraces her greatest lo-fi, bohemian instincts without fear nor concern, giving herself away to dreamlike depths and psychedelic lethargy, engulfing us with bejeweled sunsets and abandoned dirt roads.  Even in the frigidity of winter, it feels as if “Mariners Apartment Complex” would still radiate with such warmth and heat, sizzling against our skulls in senseless harmony.  And that is precisely what makes it such an incredible move: though we know less of what is to follow, the track itself reminds us how vital Lana’s presence is in the current Pop scene, how she brings to the table what others often miss.  And as the nation grows deeper in introspection and sobriety, Lana seems to be telling us that she will be close behind, telling the stories that we cannot.

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Schooled: A Personal Reflection on “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill”

  1. The Girl in the Video

There was something in the air during the summer of 1998 – a buzz of the new century inching closer, brushing through ancient ideals, dispelling once truths into falsehoods, praising all radicals as the new convention.  Even within my nine-year-old bones, I could feel the tide shifting and turning, knew that we were veering into greater, stranger, cooler places we had never once encountered or even imagined.  Blocked I was from the ruthless scandals and politics surging above my crown, but through the medium of music video, my mind seemed educated enough, fed by a nourishment of images at once surreal, disturbing, breathtaking, and beautiful which steadily pushed the boundaries of my burgeoning thoughts and beliefs.  It was through MTV and its respective visual network cohorts that I first learned of alternate fashions, lifestyles, relationships, and worlds.  An avid scholar, I would tape as many countdown and late-night programs devoted to the art form, studying them with fascination and depth, learning every frame until it was burned into my skull.  To me, music videos were portals to artistic possibilities.  To me, music videos were introductions to challenging my senses.

And perhaps, within that spellbinding summer, no clip challenged said senses greater than that of Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing).”  Devised as a split-screen of a New York block party taking place simultaneously in 1967 and 1998, the video is a masterful smorgasbord of black life, capturing with a slick, anthropological lens the wave of history and culture within a community, highlighting its plethora of changes and emphasizing its perennial consistencies.  With Lauryn painted both as the consummate Copa crooner and hip-hop goddess, singing from her tenement window and before a rambunctious crowd, an incredible thread was created, aligning the disparate decades between with ease and chill, bringing to fore a love and respect for lives often ignored and neglected.  As I watched with increasing wonder, she appeared, in many ways, an enlightened spirit designed to bridge gaps, tie loose ends, and her immaculate hymn, backed by panic-driven piano and devoted to self-respect and self-pride, only made this apparition appear most tangible.  Who was this queen radiating across the screen?  I asked my naïve self.  Who was this girl in the video?

But, of course, I’d already known her from other clips.  In the videos for Fugees’ “Ready Or Not” and “Killing Me Softly,” I had fallen under Lauryn Hill’s impeccably innate mixture of charm, beauty, and style, feeling as if I could have known her as I also felt as if she could not have been any more impossible to comprehend.  Yet, there was something about “Doo Wop” that completely altered my perception, glorifying her singular magnitude, positioning her upon a spectacular planet of her very own.  With each subsequent viewing, I became enthralled, fanatical, desperate for something new, something that revealed more of this sparkling greatness.  And within a month, I got what I’d wished for.

2. The Car Ride

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Like most children, my first introductions to what music “mattered” arose in the car.  When you are too young to dictate the turn of the radio dial, you are at the mercy at whatever your parent or guardian chooses to inflict, subjected to their own means of “taste” and, for quite a bit onward, relate this “taste” to your own.  Many end up growing with utter disdain for those particular sounds filtered to through their adult counterparts as it becomes too distant from their individual pleasures; however, it would be absurd for myself to join such cliques.  In truth, what was thrown my way during those early, formative years were some of the most intriguing and crystalline pop, R&B, and hip-hop emerging at that moment.  Though my parents had been cultivated on a steady diet of jazz and funk, their sophistications never barred popular music from our ears, and, particularly with my mother, such commercial sounds were deeply encouraged if their abilities to transform were just and foremost.  As a teacher, my mother recognized the scholastic powers that music could achieve in ways lectures could not, and raised me to view art as an agent of change, as an agent of knowledge.

And so, it came to no surprise when on our car rides, she blasted The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill with such ferocity and fervor.  From its vivid, poignant lyricism that advocated for a greater awareness and understanding within the black community to its neo-realist interludes evoking the restless, perplexing atmosphere of a classroom, it was an album born out of the desire to teach and educate, to fill one’s mind with thoughts never had, dreams never awakened, facts never stated, feelings never stirred.  It was an album created to assuage fears, conquer anxieties, deny division, and reject indignities.  It was an album designed to expound philosophies, celebrate romance, and, above all, radicalize complacency.  Offhand, such ambitious endeavors could spark intimidation or preponderance within the listening experience.  Yet, filtered through the courageous consciousness of hip hop, morose serenity of jazz, and mystical agony of soul, one did not feel bombarded, preached, or engulfed by its wisdom and truths.  Instead, one felt enlivened, understood, and reawakened.  Instead, one felt as if something majestic was occurring.

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Upon those car rides, I fell hard for its contents.  I fell hard for its grooves, its vibes, its passions.  I fell hard for its highs, its lows, its colossal nexuses.  I began to see her as my educator, as my guide, as my guru.  I began to see her as a soothsayer, a teller of futures and times unknown.  Though it would take years for its greatest emotional resonances to truly ring honest, there seemed even at that time a marvelous familiarity to my comprehension, giving me the tools to view the world with wider introspection.  “Doo Wop” fiercely championed the gilded purity of the body and the mind over wasted distractions.  The Aristotelian “Everything is Everything” began with “I wrote these words, for everyone, who struggles in their youth” before painting a vivid portrait of injustice and inhumanity in a deceptive society.  The dew-drop ebullience of “Nothing Even Matters” irresistibly rhapsodized the vitality of love over materialism, romance over appearance, intimacy over notoriety.  And “To Zion,” intensely and unabashedly confessional, restructured the concept of motherhood, revealing the artist not merely as the goddess I had first imagined her to be, but also as a living, breathing human being, capable of forsaking artistic selfishness for the sake of her family.

As it were, it was that very declaration of parental sacrifice that would haunt our growing appetite for her assurance and growth.  For as much as Lauryn became a symbol of racial pride, activism, feminism, and artistic genius, she winced and cowered at such influence and responsibility.  We may have seen a beautiful, intelligent, young black woman, confident and powerful, on the cusp of absolute global domination.  However, Lauryn only saw herself as someone who wanted to explore and live out her dreams.  And once she got them, it appeared that she no longer wanted them anymore.

3. The Misunderstanding of Lauryn Hill

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When Lauryn Hill first disappeared in 2000, the world had shifted.  No one could figure out why someone with such talent, charisma, and appeal would choose a life of seclusion and exile.  Why throw away that fame and financial security?  Why drift away from that privilege and prestige?  Why lose that authority and clout?  To the millions of outsiders looking in, it seemed an act of desperation, of ill-health, of insanity, and it was before too long that the image and persona of Lauryn Hill as an erratic, difficult, maniacal creature began to overshadow all of the goodwill and appreciation that once seemed second nature once uttering her name.  Even I felt quite bewildered by such movements, confused as to why the goddess I once dearly loved had turned her back, had stopped gifting us with her vast, endless expertise.  Yet, within time, I began to understand that what had happened to such a bright, incandescent star as Lauryn Hill was merely the symptom of being young, gifted, and black.

Born into a nation and society that often ridicules and prejudges one’s worth, black youth are often not raised to believe that our particular talents or gifts carry any validity.  Even when our skills are obvious and present, there often comes a moment in which the ability to fully achieve those skills to our highest levels is snuffed out and left for ruin.  It is no surprise then that when a person is actually able to reach their greatest potential, we raise and place that being on the tallest shelf, displaying them with immense pride and glee, aligning and associating each and every achievement with our own.  These black geniuses then become vessels for our hopes, our desires, and our progress; these black geniuses then become the best our race has to offer.  However, there is something deeply unsettling about being forced into such a role without any true aspiration.  It becomes even more unsettling once that same vision viewed by one’s race is soon accepted by the greater population.  In that instance, one no longer feels enraptured by their power, yet trapped and disturbed.  In that instance, everything changes.

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And that was precisely the finale of that masterful hip-hop soulstress.  She could no longer be a posterchild, a pawn, a mascot.  She could no longer play the game and act the part.  She wanted to be free as an artist, as a woman, as a black person, as a human being.  She wanted to be free as a mother, as a lover, as a friend, as herself.  And since that freedom was no longer potent in her artistic life, Lauryn left it behind for solace and clarity and a peace of mind.  For decades, she has made various comebacks and appearances, startling the public with her electrifying presence, yet none of these endeavors have stuck, perhaps due to a world that has become increasingly more fame-obsessed and celebrity-starved.  She, at this point, seems far beyond the gild and garishness that has become the norm.  Instead, she remains an indelible remnant of a transformative era, a groundbreaking virtuoso, a misunderstood myth.

And yet, it is that mythology which makes The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill such a remarkable wonder to spin 20 years later.  Though the impeccable, genre-bending album continues to be the most formal, complete work Lauryn Hill has ever released, it also continues to astound, excite, and tantalize – it also continues to reach within our coldest, darkest, angriest emotions and replenish them with a sense of fulfillment and reflection.  Never has its lost any of its vitality and freshness, never has it lost any of its spirit and knowledge.  As if an unbreakable talisman, the album continues to bring light and luck to all whom cross its path, annihilating prejudices and pains, simmering poise and excellence, extolling mirth and insight.  It is essential, it is imperative, it is necessary.  Staring at its brilliant cover of a drawing of Lauryn’s wise head harshly etched into a school desk, it is hard to imagine a life or a world in which its majesty does not exist.  And, in truth, that is a world in which I would never want to live.

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