Sunday, August 21, 2022

"Peru" by Fireboy DML (2021)

The BET Awards are raunchy as hell, especially for a program that producers know children will by all means watch.  And I know that may be a strange way to start off an article that really doesn't have anything to do with that ceremony or the network.  But it was after after seeing Fireboy DML's performance at the recent BET Awards - and in all honesty falling in love with one of the dancers - that I decided to write this post.

The organizers of the BET Awards promote the show as being "Culture's Biggest Night".  But if a viewer doesn't know anything significant about African-American culture besides what they see on programs like these, they'd probably be fooled into thinking that our foremothers were wearing tight skirts and shaking their asses in front of random strangers.  That's not Black culture; that's stripper culture, which has become increasingly intertwined into African-American entertainment concurrent with the rise of hip-hop.  But that's research for another day.

Besides for being taken aback by that particular shorty, another reason that performance intrigued me is because... first a little about myself.  I wasn't born in Africa, but I've been here for a minute.  Yet within that time, I haven't learnt any African languages.

In my defense, language has always been one of my weak subjects, and I never actually set out to learn any while here.  But the reason I'm bringing that up is because Africans enjoy blasting music just like everyone else.  And sometimes, based on where I'm at, I'll be hearing the trending songs over and over and over again, without knowing what's being said nor who the artist is behind it.  And one of those songs of late has been Peru.  So when I saw dude performing it on the BET Awards, I was like 'yeah, I know that song'.

Thus, I became interested in delving a little deeper into its history and meaning.  Well in reality I'm not overly interested in the meaning,  since the few words I was able to pickup on made it pretty clear that Fireboy DML is chanting about being rich and having gratifying sex, like practically every other musician in his age group is doing these days.  But I did want to know more about the artist himself.

ABOUT FIREBOY DML

Fireboy DML, who's currently 26, is from Nigeria.  I'm not sure if the word "fireboy" has a particular colloquial meaning in that country.  But I do know that in Ghanaian slang from back in the days, a "fireman" was a word you'd use to describe a hardworking guy, like those who'd go to the UK or America and have three jobs at once.  And as for the "DML", it's an acronym for the latter part of the his first name (which is Adedamola).  In Nigeria it's common for (especially last) names to have at least three syllables, which I would presume really isn't ideal as far as marketing is concerned.

Nigeria has the largest music industry in Africa, but it isn't really like the United States, at least not from what I've been able to observe.  In places like the US, a label can throw enough money behind an artist and force them to blowup.  Here in Africa, we have our local payola and other similar methods.  But an artist isn't really considered to have made it until their song - for an Anglophone like a Nigerian - also blows in the UK or, less frequently, the US itself.  So you knew Peru was truly a hit once Ed Sheeran - who teams up with less-popular Black artists pretty regularly for someone as successful as he is - jumped on it later in 2021.  And the only official video to this song appears to be of that collaboration:

Now contrast that with the official visuals to Fireboy's most-recent single, Playboy (2022), which solely features DML singing, yet there's barely a dark-skinned Black woman in it, smh:

Maybe in the future, DML will put out another track that generates this type of buzz that Peru has.  By the looks of things, he's been trying.  But for all we know he may end up being a one-hit wonder on the international level, though he should be pretty much set in Nigeria, considering he's made historical accomplishments like being the first Afrobeats artist to perform live at the BET Awards (according to Taraji P. Henson).  And in my opinion he had just about the best performance of the night, especially as far as the males are concerned, though I must admit Chance the Rapper - completely devoid of sexy female dancers - represented also.  But it's going to take the system a long time, if ever, before they can show ample love to an African artist.

YBNL NATION

YBNL Nation was founded by an older Nigerian hip-hop artist known as Olamide.  I just checked out their roster, and I can't say I ever heard of any of them cats.  But the big names would undoubtedly be known in Nigeria and beyond.  In fact even before Peru came out, YBNL signed a deal with Empire Distribution, which is based in California and handles some of the biggest names in American music.  And I'm sure that partnership contributed to the success of Peru.

THE LYRICS

The lyrics of this song don't have anything to do with Peru.  They're recited partly in standard English, partly in pidgin English and partly in Yoruba.  Pidgin, as far as I can tell, is basically the same as West Indian patois. 

So I can understand pidgin pretty well, and this song really isn't that reliant on Yoruba.  And in reading the lyrics, Fireboy DML appears to be singing about two main subjects.  One is his jetset lifestyle, which is just another way of saying that he's paid.  And second, he appears to be singing about his main squeeze and most strikingly how he enjoys having sex with her.  That's the part, when he talks about her "puna" being "sweet like sugar", that even the booty-reliant BET was compelled to blot out for listening audiences.

CONCLUSION

It's cool to see more genuinely-African musicians get recognition in the United States, as it is imperative that African-Americans form a more meaningful understanding of the Motherland than what they currently possess.  But unfortunately for the cause, the music/musicians from Africa who are trickling in are heavily Americanized to begin with.

Perhaps such is to be expected, considering that - as evident by the 2022 BET Awards - only certain ideas and opinions are allowed to be expressed at the highest levels of the entertainment industry.   So in a way, African pop music - Afrobeats as it is called these days - is just as uniformly carnally-minded as mainstream Black music from the States.  So I guess it's a case of you can't have your cake and eat it too.  After all, the prospect of scoring some 'sweet puna' is a tourism draw if there ever was one.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Juice WRLD Speaks by Juice WRLD (2021)

The cover art to Juice WRLD's 2021 posthumous album, Fighting Demons

I remember back in the elementary school days, I had this Latino classmate named Phil.  Back then it was like all Latinos were referred to as Puerto Ricans, but now thinking back on his physical features, Phil may have well been Dominican.  Anyway his family lived on the first floor of the one of the buildings in the projects.  And on one particular day his father snapped and decided to mercilessly beat the sh*t out of him.

Now child abuse is, of course, common in the 'hoods of America.  But this was a real spectacle because, again, the family lived on the first floor, and Phil was running around screaming and pulling down curtains and all types of stuff, really and truly afraid for his life.  And who knows - maybe his father would have eventually killed him if the cops didn't eventually show up and take the dad away.

What people were saying is that his father suffered from "shell shock", which to my understanding is a slang term for post-war PTSD.  That is to say that, once again according to the 'hood, Phil's dad fought in Vietnam and came home mentally f*cked up as a result.  In the ghetto, even back in those days, there were a lot of gunshots.  So it's like a loud noise or something may have set Phil's dad off, making him think his son was a Vietcong or some sh*t.  And I don't know exactly what it is that Phil may have done, but I doubt it warranted a life-threatening beating and being embarrassed in front of the whole community.

His mother was also there and visibly afraid of intervening.  That's the thing about living in the 'hood, that when someone is committing a violent crime, even against their own child, if you then try to intervene they could rather turn their wrath on you.  And for those of you who are sitting there thinking 'well Philip must've been a bad boy' or something insensitive like that, let me reiterate that these days some ghetto parents are so deranged that they could even end up kill their own child for breaking an egg.

Mental issues are so rampant in the African-American community
that they're often ignored until too late.

So you may be saying to yourself, what does all of this have to do with Juice WRLD?  Well recently I was peeping out a track he dropped entitled Juice WRLD Speaks.  Of course Jared Higgins, aka Juice WRLD, died a couple of years ago in what is arguably the most nonsensical death in hip-hop history.  And on that note let me say that if you are dependent on drugs and prone to travel, it's best to just get your product wherever you land as opposed to actually traveling with it.

Personally I've always liked Juice WRLD, on top of having a general appreciation for emo rappers.  But what really caught my ear on Juice WRLD Speaks is where Juice basically says that the reason he's always harping on depression is because mental illness is not respected sickness in the African-American community.  He says so specifically in the context of "African-American males", but it's really African-Americans in general.  And that's part of the reason why it's so common for mentally-plagued people, like Phil's dad and Zarah Coombs, to be walking around undiagnosed in the 'hood, because Black people don't even have time to really think about mental illness.

Now this isn't something I'm just saying off the top of my head.  For instance, imagine this - you're a slave back in the day, and massa comes and tells you that he's selling your wife, child(ren) or moms away.  Of course any normal human being, even if they were socialized to believe that they are inferior, is going to spaz under such circumstances.

So in the evening you, the slave that has been offended, are chillin' with your other slave homeys and is like, 'man f*ck that - I'm about to get in massa's ass'.  Then what are your homeys going say?  'No, you need to relax.  There's really nothing you can do about it anyway.'  And in a way that kind of advice was actually true; even if you did kill massa for instance, given the system you still wouldn't be reunited with your loved one anyway.  And that, I believe, is the genesis of ignoring mental sickness in the African-American community.

Black people have had to endure so much psychological and emotional pain while being told 'to just deal with it' that eventually holding all of that stuff in and snapping accordingly became the norm.  And when you're a victim of oppression, you're not in a position to readily take out your anger against your oppressor but rather those who are equal or under you, such as your children or fellow oppressed brethren.

CONCLUSION

And I know I may have read a lot more into Juice WRLD Speaks than even Juice WRLD himself intended.  But in an age of seemingly neverending frivolity in hip-hop, it was refreshing to come across a track, even if a non-musical one, where an artist is speaking on a serious issue that isn't like Black Live Matters or a cause that's currently trending.  

And I do believe that Juice WRLD had a mission.  But I also believe that a lot of rappers start off or are convinced that they're fighting for some type of worthy cause besides getting rich.  But once the music industry gets through with them whatever meaningful messages, if any, will for the most part be buried underneath all of the commercial bullsh*t.  Or let's look at it like this - if Juice WRLD were still alive, then Juice WRLD Speaks probably never would have been released as part of one of his albums.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

"New World Water" by Mos Def (1999)

Mos Def (aka Yasiin Bey) is one of the more interesting personalities in the history of hip-hop music for a number of reasons.  For instance he had a pretty notable acting career before blowing up as a rapper, having even worked directly with Bill Cosby for a spell.  So even though he may not on par with the likes of fellow rapper/actors Will Smith and Ice Cube, Mos has had a respectable Hollywood career nonetheless, with one of my personal favorites being 2003's The Italian Job - a heist film that served as sort of a prototype for what the Fast & Furious franchise would become.  Then of course there's the fact that he legally changed his name to the Quran-inspired Yasiin Bey over 10 years ago.  So it's obvious that Yasiin isn't conventional as far as rap stars go.  Like if he possessed the disposition of a gangsta rapper, he probably never would have had the opportunity to act alongside the family-friendly Coz to begin with.

Black on Both Sides, the 1999 Mos Def album that
features New World Water.

But honestly, I've never been a diehard Mos Def fan.  I remember when first he came out as part of Blackstar back in the day, that for some inexplicable reason their songs used to irritate me.  However I was heavily into Black on Both Sides (1999), his debut and signature album.  Well, I used to at least put a couple of songs from it on repeat, one of them being New World Water, which I would argue is not only Yasiin's best track but also one that is semi-prophetic.

This song came out in late-1999, a moment in history in which the Western consciousness was grappling with concepts like Armageddon, Y2K and similar types of global catastrophes perhaps moreso than any other time in history.  And it wasn't unusual for all sorts of people to chime in on such matters.  Well Mos Def, being one of the more intellectually-inclined rappers, decided to do so by focusing on water, a most-fundamental and undeniably-necessary aspect of our everyday lives.  And considering some of the things that's been going on as of late in places like the western United States, again, some of his words seem prophetic.

For instance Yasiin sets off the first verse alluding to flooding, which has been a major problem in America and other parts of the world this year.  And the reason Mos Def comes off as a prophet isn't necessarily because he foresaw such events.  But more importantly, he implies that they are being caused by karma, if you want to call it that, as in nature being upset as a result of the atrocities of the Middle Passage.  The Middle Passage was the era in transatlantic history in which millions of Africans were forcibly transported across the ocean as slaves, many of them being lost to the sea.  But it can also be said that, by extension, the rapper is talking about all human rights' atrocities but especially those that involved like water transport.

Later, he flips the topic from flooding to drought.  Even back then, in 1999, Yasiin was noting how some summers seemed particularly hot, as in experiencing a lack of rainfall.  The rapper believes that the situation will get even worse as time progresses, so he's like be wise and prepare now.  In fact Mos Def sounds a lot like an African or other Third World resident, talking about buying a personal water-storage unit, which is a common practice in places like the Motherland though not so much in the United States.  But there really isn't any such thing as a tank that will hold a "20 year" supply of water.  That'd be more along the lines of a personal lake.  And even then, if there's a really severe drought it would probably dry up anyhow.  Also, you wouldn't want to leave water stored in a tank for too long anyway.  But, I digress.  And ultimately the point Mos Def seems to be making is that in this materialistic world we live in, people's mind are more caught up on frivolous matters than what's truly important, such as water.

Another point he's obviously trying to make, as introduced in the chorus, is that the water which is given to the public is heavily imbued with chemicals.  We all know that the government tends to add different manmade substances to the public water supply in the name of making it safer for consumption.  But in this respect Mos sounds like a conspiracy theorist, i.e. claiming that there's no so many chemicals in the water that it is becoming unsafe.  But taking into account that he mentions "the water table", Yasiin is also speaking to more general environmental abuse and how such negatively affects the world's natural water supplies.

The first hook also touches upon the concept of water being sold.  To put this viewpoint into its proper perspective, let's speculate that maybe some 50 years ago, the idea of selling drinking water en masse may have seemed incredulous.  But instead in places like America, where Mos Def comes from, bottled water is a major, increasingly-growing business.  And so it is, honestly speaking, in many parts of the Third World also.  And what Yasiin is saying is that such is necessitated by the fact that natural water supplies have become too polluted to drink.

Then, the bulk of the second verse is dedicated to illustrating various ways in which water is vital to human existence, especially in the areas of health.  It's almost like Yasiin is arguing that people tend to forget just how valuable water actually is, which is why they misuse it.  And he is most directly making this statement against "Americans" and similar nations that have it in abundance.  And another way in which their lack of respect for water is manifest is by how greedy, capitalist countries can go about destroying waterbodies in other parts of the world in the name of profit.  But of course as illustrated above, they tend f*ck up their own waterways also.

Mos Def is right; sometimes big business be straight
fukin the water up.

In fact as detailed in the second chorus, the situation has now reached a point where we can't avoid water pollution even if we wanted to.  So on one hand it's like the government may be putting all types of chemicals into the water supply.  And on the other, there are the multitude of pollutants that find their way into waterbodies through various other human activities.  And the way Mos Def sees it, at the heart of the problem would be greed of the corporate variety.  As a matter of fact one of the big stories in the news as I'm writing this post is this major oil spill that recently happened off the coast of California.  But of course this is the same oil that is used to power our cars.  So instead of putting the onus on big business, if Bey wanted to be more realistic he would have included the consumer in this equation also.


WHAT'S YASIIN UP TO THESE DAYS?

One of the big headlines in American entertainment at the moment centers on Dave Chapelle's latest Netflix special, The Closer.  Well if you happen to watch the show and are familiar with Mos Def's voice/style, you will notice that he's the one who's rapping at the beginning the special.  The name of that track is Tribute, and officially it is a collaboration between Yasiin Bey and Talib Kweli, aka Blackstar.  Even though the pair have only released one album together under the Blackstar moniker in 1998 and only one single thus far during the entire 21st century, it would seem that they have never officially broken up.  So it may be that the release of this track marks a new album Blackstar has coming out.  But under any circumstances Mos Def ripped it and apparently can still light up the mic, at the age of 47, if need be.