The Honeycomb Edition

Fly. Funky. Fresh.

November 18, 2015
ashleabrandon

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“Can I Get a Witness?”: “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)”

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Gaye composed “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology),” released in 1971, as a gentle reprimand for lack of environmental stewardship. The 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill was then the largest oil spill in American history. The incident served as the infrastructure of present-day environmental advocacy (Baker 89). Though pollution had become a heated discussion in the early 1970s, its discourse was not nearly as prevalent in the African-American community.

According to music historian Dave Marsh:

Ironic, isn’t it, that Save the Earth music became one of the ultimate white-bread genres of the seventies and eighties, a Luddite province that rejected all of the musical developments of rock and soul in favor of a return to the false-faced pastorialism of nebulous ‘folk culture,’ when the greatest piece of music ever written in favor of the survival of the environment appeared on the greatest black pop album ever made. (Marsh 407)

“Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)” presented a public opportunity for African-Americans to be included in a once-racially isolated discussion about a universal problem.

The song comes across as a regretful reflection. At times, the tune even appears apologetic to God and a plea for nature to return to “what [it] use to be.” Gaye wrote the words,

Oh, mercy mercy me/Oh, things ain’t what they used to be/No, no/Where did all the blue skies go?/Poison is the wind that blows/From the north, east, south, and sea/Oh, mercy mercy me/Oh, things ain’t what they used to be/No, no/Oil wasted on the oceans and upon our seas/Fish full of mercury/Oh, mercy mercy me/Oh, things ain’t what they used to be/No, no/Radiation in the ground and in the sky/Animals and birds who live nearby are dying/Oh, mercy mercy me/Oh, things ain’t what they used to be/What about this overcrowded land?/How much more abuse from man can you stand?/My sweet Lord/My sweet Lord/My sweet Lord.

Though Gaye laments the current conditions, his tune has hints of optimism. He reinerates the Lord’s sweetness in a closing refrain. The belief in redemption is a motif in his work. Nature’s ability to heal itself is similar to that of people who are able to be made new by accepting the Holy Spirit within themselves.

During the presidency of Barack Obama, his cabinet has done intense research that indicates that climate change and international tension are directly related. According to current Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy:

There are a variety of impacts that we’re feeling from a changing climate, and we need to stop those impacts from escalating by failing to take action—one of those is instability. We can see that underlying issues in many countries that lead to animosity, and then can lead to conflict. So it is a national security issue for us, as well as an issue that’s incredibly important for our local communities. (McDonnell)

In the wake of the Parisian terroristic attacks carried out by ISIS, President Obama plans to correlate the hostility to the climate crisis in his upcoming visit to the French capital this month.

Current policy issues reflect just what Gaye was speaking of—how we as people treat our environment is a reflection of how we as people treat each other.

Baker, Gayle. Santa Barbara: Another Harbor Town History. Santa Barbara,  California: Harbor Town Histories, 2003. Print.

Marsh, Dave. The Heart of Rock and Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Da Capo Press, 1999. Print.

McDonnell, Tim. “Watch: Obama’s Top Environmental Official on the Paris Attacks and Why Climate Change Threatens National Security.” Motherjones.com. Mother Jones and the Foundation for National Progress, 2015. Web. 18 Nov 2015.

July 26, 2015
ashleabrandon

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Dear Kanye: Stars and 16 Bars

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Kanye West has mastered flipping what would usually be a negative into a positive. Ranging from his lyricism to his public outbursts, his antics continue to elevate him.

When he released his album Yeezus in 2013, the work was widely panned because many listeners found it to be self-absorbed. What many did not realize is that the album would be prophetic. The angst and paranoia of the work were not Kanye’s self-victimization but rather a reflection of the emotions that have haunted the African-American experience.

The era never reached its full potential because of Kanye’s perceived contradictions—impregnating the non-black Kim Kardashian and peddling haute couture in Paris. Yet just two years later, one of the issues he pushed is now at the forefront of debate.

Kanye sent shockwaves when he began wearing and selling the modern Confederate flag emblem. The symbol has been revised several times over the course of 150 years, but its representation is the same—keeping the black race oppressed as a means of ensuring white supremacy and economic power.

The emblem has been a wound for generations, but it has become a condition people just learned to “live with.” Every now and again, symptoms would flare up (as they did in Mississippi in 2001), but few felt removing the symbol was really worth the headache. Kanye was criticized for engaging in a mundane subject and race baiting. Now after the massacre in Charleston, South Carolina carried out by Confederate flag-proponent, the topic is inescapable.

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When Kanye was asked why he wore the flag, he responded,

“You know the Confederate flag represented slavery in a way – that’s my abstract take on what I know about it. So I made the song ‘New Slaves.’ So I took the Confederate flag and made it my flag. It’s my flag. Now what are you going to do?”

Kanye seems to be advocating a “reverse reappropriation” of sorts. He is reminding those who attempt to use the symbol as a means of oppression that our struggle is a parallel to their elevation. Therefore, our existence and subsequent endurance cannot be separated from the flag.

This position differs from those who beg the public to “commemorate” the slaves who served on the Confederate side during the Civil War or insist that the symbol only celebrates the “liberty” of Southern heritage. Instead, Kanye deglamorizes the emblem for white supremacy by showing that it is inclusive of the black experience.

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Kanye even addressed the adage “The South Will Rise Again” by countering with “I Ain’t Comin’ Down.” Kanye understands that the fight to recognize black humanity is just as intense as was 150 years ago. His song, “New Slaves,” sheds light on how new methods have been implemented to turn black bodies into chattel. Racial oppression has been reinvented in the forms of materialism, the War on Drugs, and mass incarceration. The only way to not come down is to remove the blinders on how institutionalized racism works.

Be mindful that THE is not advocating for black people to display or wear the Confederate emblem in the style of Kanye West. But what we are noting is that the benefactors of the flag cannot be solely educated on its horrors by detractors. We must educate them that the perceived supremacy that they hold dear is a result of the black forbearance.

July 6, 2015
ashleabrandon

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Forever Fly: The Male Falsetto

Society has often underestimated the range of black male emotion. The image of raw, aggressive sexuality has been shown as the only amorous quality that black men possess.

The poignancy of the male falsetto is able to capture listeners and make them realize that a black male species is just as capable of immersing himself in affection and the desire to finesse the female psychology. The falsetto is a show of selflessness. In a world where black men are historically thought of as less than a man, it speaks volumes that they would express themselves in an octave that shows such vulnerability.

The falsetto can be a show of despair but just as much a display of sensuality. The common thread is uncompromised emotional purity.

THE decided to make a list that captures some of the greatest falsetto performances. Surely some other phenomenal tunes were left out, but we hope those that you see here will encourage you to find more.

Little Anthony and the Imperials—“Goin’ Out of My Head” (1964)

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When Anthony Gourdine debuted in the 1950s, he followed a trend where groups had a petite male front man, such as Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers. The group went on to have its own success, and younger generations might best connect with them as the first act to use the ever-so-clever “Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop,” all the way back in 1959.

By the time “Goin’ Out of My Head” was released in 1964, he was now in his 20s. The tune maintains the youthful quality that first made listeners fall in love with him, but the way he vocally interprets the subject matter of the song also alerts listeners that they are now seeing the emergence of his manhood.

The timelessness of Gourdine’s falsetto propelled the song into being one of the most covered tunes of the 20th century. Below is a 1970s performance of the classic:

The Temptations (led by Eddie Kendricks)—“Just My Imagination” (1971)

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Eddie Kendricks is amongst the most regarded falsetto singers of music history. Though they might seem tame in current times, the Temptations were considered to be a sexier act in the 1960s. Even their name tells that story. But through their early years, it was Kendricks’ alluring falsetto that helped to move their presentation from “mannish” to debonair.

The difficulties that sometimes come with being a black male might lead one to believe that they do not have the capacity to contemplate and plan their lives with detail. Kendricks’ vocals show that his kindred do not aimlessly wander through their lives but hold a vision for their future.

Smokey Robinson—“The Agony and the Ecstasy” (1975)

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The BET 2015 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient has been Motown’s other resident falsetto. He composed plenty of sweet tunes that made us appreciate love in its purest form. His wordplay and vocal delivery could be so honeyed that sometimes a listener would have to focus intently to grasp his pain.

“The Agony and the Ecstasy” is the story of a man who has overextended himself with female obligations. Smokey’s falsetto shows a sense of conviction. His vocals are frank enough to admit his wrongs but transparent enough to convey that he regrets the damage being emotionally attached to two women has caused in all their lives.

His vocal control seems to truly vacillate between agony and ecstasy. He shuffles through the pros and cons of a tortuous affair. The falsetto on this song shows a man who has acknowledges his uncertainties yet accountable enough to convey his self-serving ways.

The Isley Brothers—“Between the Sheets” (1983)

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Though this song has been sampled for some of the most rambunctious hip-hop songs, it is the gentle vocal delivery that makes the original so enduring. The proposition for intimacy sometimes comes across as a one-sided fantasy in music. Ronald Isley’s falsetto flips that narrative and values pleasing the woman. Her pleasure is tantamount to his own.

Lenny Kravitz—“It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over” (1991)

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Moving to a topic that is deserving of its own post, the genre of rock has indisputably been influenced by black musicianship, yet few black “rock stars” actually exist. Enter Lenny Kravitz. Finding into a niche that had already been aesthetically carved for him by Jimi Hendrix and Slash (of Guns & Roses), he scored the biggest hit of his career by channeling the falsetto of the R&B greats before him.

The song’s production is mellow yet extremely textural, borrowing elements of rock, soul, and even opera. Rather than compete with the sound, Lenny’s falsetto swoops in effortlessly. His falsetto reflects a man who has become accustomed to the disappointment love brings, but the fact he has yet to be defeated by love motivates him to nurture his relationship all the same.

Below is delivers a great live version on OG The Arsenio Hall Show:

Maxwell—“This Woman’s Work” (1997)

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Maxwell has an artistry that unlocks creative channels across genres and connects demographics in such thrillingly unexpected ways. “This Woman’s Work” is a soft rock song first sang by British chanteuse Kate Bush. In the original, Kate sings what she thinks a man is saying after this wife has given birth. Maxwell and his falsetto let us know that a man can evidence those sentiments a woman hopes her husband feels.

The male ego can be one of the greatest hindrances to a relationship. Maxwell’s falsetto ends the fear of being viewed as the weaker sex. Instead, he shows appreciation for the sacrifices of womanhood. In this narrative, a woman has carried a child for nine months and finally given birth, for the child to now bear the husband’s name and be deemed his seed. In the most ideal scenarios, this tradition would strengthen a family structure.

But after the woman has given birth, her weakened state makes her question how much more she is willing to sacrifice in the name of their marriage. Maxwell’s tender encouragement actually strengthens the woman because that was what she needed all along. His falsetto is the vocal equivalent of a man stripping himself of the superhero persona to let a woman know that he appreciates the work she does that would be impossible for him to do.

Maxwell first released the song after he performed it in 1997 on MTV’s Unplugged. Though he released a studio recorded version in 2001, the original remains THE’s standard!

The falsetto has allowed us to experience just one angle of black men in all of their beautiful complexity. Comment and tell us your favorite falsetto performances!

May 16, 2015
ashleabrandon

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Happy Birthday Janet!

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Miss Jackson if you’re nasty. Damita Jo. Justice. Donk. Penny. Charlene. Michael’s little sister. Joe and Katherine’s youngest. No matter how you were first introduced to her, she is janet. and today is her 49th birthday! As her golden year approaches, THE will be celebrating her with “The Pleasure Principle: Janet Jackson and Black Female Empowerment.” We love you Janet!

May 7, 2015
ashleabrandon

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Throwback Thursday: Loose Ends–“You Can’t Stop the Rain”

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“You Can’t Stop the Rain” is a beautiful song about acceptance. Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that having life planned out in strict detail or doing everything “right” will spare us from pain. In all truthfulness, nothing can be done to avoid certain hurt. But we can grow from it.

Don’t let the rain drown you. Just as the soil, let it enrich you.

April 28, 2015
ashleabrandon

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Cash Out: The Negation of the Black Body for Political Gain

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The commodification of the black body can be traced back thousands of years. As it relates to America, the young country wasted no time in extending this subjugation.

Although the institution of slavery was largely confined to the South, its influence controlled federally. The Three-Fifths Compromise was passed in 1787 as a truce between Northern and Southern states. Since then, America has struggled to learn that compromise is not a substitute for rightfulness. We are a nation that has thought it is better to cope with a weakness than conquer it. Because this nation has chosen to merely cope with oppression, remnants of the Three-Fifths Compromise continue to haunt our country.

Its passage set a dangerous and persistent precedent in this country. The agreement solidified that oppression can be an economically viable practice. The concept is shockingly simple: one group of a particular phenotype works to legally control groups with a different phenotype as a means of having the “weaker” group perform the work that builds the wealth of the controlling group. The American Dream has always been an isolated endeavor. Few have captured the vision, and that select number has often done so by having millions who are underserved and undercompensated secure their goal.

The Three-Fifths Compromise was expressly abolished with the passage of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments. The measure was initially passed to give Southern states control of the House of Representatives and the Electoral College. Many people in this country do not want to admit that just as the commercialization of slavery drove politics years ago is the same oppressive commercialization that drive modern-day American politics. In this self-proclaimed democracy, money buys votes and controls the governmental path.

Just as the Three-Fifths Compromise was passed as a means of maintaining of maintaining a primitive corporation (slavery), many of our elected officials are funded to support similar concepts. The corporate influence in this country is synonymous with its birth. After all, the oppression from the East India Company led to the Boston Tea Party (which was a riot regardless of how history tries to soften it).

Corporate influence has outlasted former political powerhouses such as the Whig and Federalist parties and could realistically outlast the Democratic and Republican parties. So it seems that corporations actually now control our country and the elected officials are now their spokesperson. Even more frightenly, it seems that this practice is becoming steadily desensitized to the American public.

From a financial standpoint, the general American public is at a crux. For one, many of us do not have the funds to strong-arm these corporations into expanding their views in a way that reflects the greater American good. Secondly, the pseudo-monopoly major corporations make some citizens feels that they would be worse off as a consumer to cease supporting these companies.

Perhaps an old adage is the answer: “If you can’t bean ‘em, join ‘em.” In the last decade, the Internet has seen an explosion of websites that educate people on how to find a causal link between campaign donations and legislative/executorial actions. Technology has allowed the blinders to be removed from the campaign process. With a country currently having a stronger stock market, it could be a wise idea to align with a corporation who has similar views to yours. Become a shareholder and encourage like-minded friends to do the same. Be involved in the policy making process of the selected corporations.

The issue with this theory is it is an indirect taxation for voting. All American voters are entitled to representation that effectively reflects the views of his or her constituency—no money necessary. Campaign donations are becoming increasingly more glamorous. Entertainment news shows broadcast celebrities who host who fundraisers that are as much as $40,000 a plate. We common folk are starting feel increasingly excluded from the campaign process. We feel that we should “jump on the bandwagon” [who raised the most money] or lament that our choice did not have enough exposure.

Once certain candidates are successfully elected, we see them continue oppressive measures as a means of supporting corporate powerhouses, such as private prisons. Certainly punishment is needed for wrongdoers; however; anytime a dollar sign is attached to a person, a form of slavery is occurring. Many people justify the treatment of inmates by pointing out their wrongs. Still, the absence of one person’s morals is not an excuse for the absence of your own.

Research has shown when the prisons and the states make their contracts, the parties agree that an inmate minimum must be met. If the incarceration rate is taxed below the threshold, the public accessed a low tax for the loss of funds.

High commercialization of crime decreases opportunity for rehabilitation, which is supposed to be the utmost goal of the prison system. This epidemic is particularly true for drug users. The prison sentences from crack, which is more heavily seen in the black community, and methamphetamine, which is more often seen in the poor white sector, is eschewed in comparison to cocaine, which is considered the choice narcotic for the upper echelon.

Though the Constitution now views African-Americans as “equal,” the black body still generates business. Additionally, our election system maintains the notion of “buying” a vote, thus straining the voice of the less financially empowered.