The Honeycomb Edition

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March 2, 2017

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Can I Get a Witness?: “Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)”


Tax season springs up many jokes about refund checks, but the manner the funds from the citizenry is spent annually can be quite antagonizing. The way the government allocates taxes does not always seem to serve people. As a matter of fact, sometimes it feels harmful.

Marvin Gaye was plagued by tax issues much of his adult life. Though some of these problems were self-inflicted, his childhood in racially segregated Washington, D.C. made him skeptical at an early age as to how citizens are really benefited. The hypocrisy that the city expected to enforce national equity failed to do so for its own citizens remained apart of both his psyche and artistry.

He once said,

“The Washington schools were still segregated and so were the restaurants and movies. I don’t remember ever having a white teacher. How’s the average black kid supposed to buy the Bill of Rights when he sees on his own streets that his own rights aren’t worth shit?”

Gaye knew that the conditions had to change, but he was not willing to conform to the standard federal regulations might prescribe to the public to bring about such change.

The quest for improvement and the subsequent government resistance towards it is the nucleus of his 1971 staple “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler).” He co-wrote the song with James Nyx. Gaye notes the burdens of urban life and chastises the burden-givers. Concerning economic woes, Gaye wrote, “Rockets, moon shots/Spend it on the have-nots/Money, we make it/’Fore we see it, you’ll take it…Natural fact is/Honey, that I can’t pay my taxes.” He is critical of the federal system channeling vast amounts of money into outer-space research that could be used to benefit people on Earth who have no resources. He expresses resentment for heavy taxation, a practice that he feels depletes the reward of a person’s work before he or she can even have it.

Police brutality has also been problematic for urban life, escalating to new heights in the 1970s (Dempsey and Forst 229). Taxes are used to fund police departments and implement policies that many African-Americans feel are detrimental to black communities. We continue to face this paradigm in the 21st century. Law enforcement misconduct and the failure to address its repercussions were and continue to be most prevalently found in minority and economically suffering communities. Such a dynamic further breeds anxiety in an already tense area. Gaye sang, “Crime is increasing/Trigger happy policing/Panic is spreading/God knows where, where we’re heading.” Gaye’s frustration with police corruption would help to solidify a refrain heard again generations later in black music.

Michael Campbell wrote in his book Rock and Roll: An Introduction:

In its depiction of the hard life of inner-city residents in both words and music, social issues, and even fewer that succeed in enhancing the message musically as well as Gaye does here….In an important way, Gaye’s song is a bridge between blues and rap, the two black styles that have tackled social issues more frequently than any other. It updates the blues as social commentary and lays the groundwork for rap…such as Grandmaster Flash and Public Enemy. (297)

On a personal level, Gaye’s tax problems became so problematic that he eventually went into a self-imposed tax exile in Europe (Ritz). His escape was bigger than owing a debt—it was symbolic of feeling excluded from his nation of birth because financial legalities did not serve him. Ranging from proper school funding to adequate police procedures, the money citizens owe the government each year can be perceived as working against us.

THE is not advocating a refusal to pay taxes, but we do acknowledge that many black Americans feel taxation puts us into our own exile because the funds are often use to marginalize our potential.

Campbell, Michael. Rock and Roll: An Introduction. Stamford, Connecticut: Cengage            Learning, 2008. Print.

Dempsey, John S. and Linda S. Forst. An Introduction to Policing. Stamford, Connecticut: Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.

Ritz, David. Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye. New York, New York: Da Capo Press, 2002. Print.





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