As the lyrics begin in the video for Lockdown, Anderson .Paak stands with several other LA-based musicians whose work I admire. Their fists are raised. The names of far too many black people killed by police violence are used to make up the song title’s letters. Paak is wearing a black jersey with the word “riots” presented in the Los Angeles Sparks logo style.
It’s a night in late May or early June of this year. Protests have taken over this city in outrage over the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer thousands of miles away. In this city, people scream out in anguish for the extrajudicial deaths at the hands of those tasked, in theory, to protect and serve us over the years. We’re a little over two months into the pandemic, and it’s too much.
It’s all too much. And so the people rise. Black Lives Matter signs go up in our well-appointed neighborhood, including by store owners with boarded-up windows hoping not to be painted with the same brush as those with the guns and the badge. We’re all complicit, though, aren’t we?
Far too often, we vote blindly or with our pocketbooks in mind. We pay little attention to how the city makes decisions. We’re unaware of how it metes out the spoils of government funding or the processes it employs to do so. In any other time, we’d be more concerned with where we needed to get to next than the death of yet another black person.
Any other year, the city would have a more significant complaint about the inconvenience of civil unrest and anguish than the roots of that pain and the merits of those demands.
It was a lockdown, and yet the people were rising. I wasn’t downtown, but maybe I should’ve been.
Towards the end of the video, Paak embraces his son with tears in his eyes. It reminds me of the generational conversation that went viral around the same time of three black men trying to make sense of this endless repeating terror cycle. The pain and frustration and anger and hopelessness is palpable. It builds in their chests.
Like, Anderson, I cry.
My song of the year.
Sault first came on to my radar last year around this time as I explored Best Of lists. I believe they were included on several KCRW DJ lists for their first two very dance encouraging albums, “5” and “7”.
We don’t know much about Sault except that they are immensely talented British soul artists, though mostly anonymous. Michael Kiwanuka gets credited as a singer on occasion because his voice is recognizable, but most others remain unnamed.
Sault delivered two more albums in 2020, “Untitled (Black is)” and “Untitled (Rise)”. The former was released on Juneteenth with the statement I quoted above released on Twitter as it’s primary promotional effort.
Any time a song from any of their albums shuffles into my ears, I’m compelled to binge their rapidly expanding and impressive discography.
Not only is their music right for this moment in time, but it also seems to be a time traveler. There is a cosmic funk retro sensibility mixed with a constant push through the boundaries like afrofuturistic music explorers.
It’s how I wanted to feel in 2020: present, thoughtful, wise, and focused on the future.
Artists of the year.
Early in the pandemic, Little Dragon released New Me, Same Us. The second single, “Are You Feeling Sad?” was on repeat often during those chaotic weeks in March and April as the world turned upside down.
It played as I moved from working at the dining room table to the makeshift office I made for myself in our underfurnished second bedroom.
It stayed on loop as we started ordering masks and tried to navigate what we could and couldn’t do.
And as days turned into weeks turned into months and I began using an app daily to check in about my covid risks, that song was my check in on my emotional health.
“Are you feeling sad, Jason?”
Every day, a new me. Every day, the same us.
And Little Dragon, as they have for nearly 15 years, light up my brain and heart and spirit with their sounds. Always in new ways but still the same them.
My album of the year.
Leave a Reply