Album Reviews

“Black Is…Black Ain’t”: Blood Orange – Freetown Sound [Review…kinda]


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When I began to type this review, I was going to tell you how Dev Hynes has no obligation to activism or social justice as a pop artist.

Especially with his Blood Orange persona. His fanbase looks like that diverse group of hipster friends you see in a modern New York sitcom. His concerts look exactly like the crowds you see at Coachella. Ok, I guess I’ll go ahead and say it. A lot of his fans are errrr, “white”.

Yet, his music is unapologetically black. He doesn’t try to mute his beliefs or views for anyone and he embraces who he is. Freetown Sound is an ode to finding one’s identity. An English-born man of  Guayanese descent will undoubtedly have issues identifying with society in America. A transient of any background will likely have to become adjusted to cultural differences. Even still, he’s made New York city his permanent home, so he sees the same issues African-Americans face.

As I was typing this review (or what was once a review), I opened another tab and logged into twitter. I can’t focus my attention to just one thing at a time and yes, I’m aware that this is my biggest vice.

I clicked a Facebook link that had the caption “Oh no, not again”. What I saw was a bleeding Philando Castile. Another black man had been unjustly gunned down for the cops. I was already struggling to process the Alton Sterling video, but this surely didn’t help. I closed my laptop, turned  my TV off  but continued to let this album continue to play.

Although I stayed away from social media and even my blogging duties for about a week, this album was one of the view things that remained with me. I can talk about how badass Dev Hynes plays the piano, how he’s a virtuosic guitarist but this review should focus on how art, this album in particular of course, is a reflection of our lives.

I was already digging this album before these events but this album became essential to my daily routine.

Identity: What is it like to be a black man in America? What is it like to be different? A minority?

Now every morning I lie, was gonna wear my backpack, was I gonna strap it over one shoulder or two shoulders.

How was I gonna cock my baseball bat?

Was I gonna wear it straight, cock it to the left, cock it to the right? How was I gonna wear my pants?

Cause I don’t wear ’em really baggy, or not? Which shoes was I gonna wear? Who was I gonna walk with to school?

  • Ta-Nehisi Coates

My emotions ran the gamut of anger, frustration, to fear but ultimately, I settled on pride. I’m proud of my heritage. Believe it or not, I’m proud to be American, despite all its flaws. But what I’m tired of is having to choose which one I am. Can you be a socially aware black man and be a proud American? Can you be a patriotic American and not ignore all of the nation’s ills?

This is the identity I struggle with. Yet, I remain proud. I feel the feeling of fear fading. My frustration is growing, but only because I know my people have invested as much into this nation as anyone else. I want change but the onus of change isn’t on my people. The only thing my people can do is remain proud and unbroken.

This album helped me with that during this past week.

It’s not as militant as To Pimp a Butterfly was or the soulful Black Messiah but it was still just as powerful by Blood Orange’s metrics. Blood Orange presents his message by doing what he does best.He doesn’t try to step outside of his range to do something that isn’t honest to his creatiave process.  “Hands Up” isn’t as angry as “The Blacker the Berry” but it’s still as gripping emotionally.

As songs sequence, there’s also clips of pro-black poems and monologues. There are excerpts of interviews from people such as Vince Staples, Chance the Rapper, and Ta-Nehisi Coates. There’s clips De La Soul and KRS track. Now while other themes on this album include sexuality and feminism and should not be ignored either, he wants the listener to make no mistake that he’s a proud black man.

This album won’t solve any problems are change the world. It won’t bring back any of our slain brothers and sisters. But it takes a stand for something. I’m personally not the one to hold artists accountable during times like these (because they’re usually idiots anyway) so it makes it that much better when an artist makes the choice to take a stand. I do believe this is Dev Hynes best work and for one week, it helped me out of a slump. Ten years from now when I play this album (Just like TPAB), I will reflect on what was going on this time. I just hope that the times are better.

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