Tuesday, February 28, 2023

"Summer Soft" by Stevie Wonder (1976)

Stevie Wonder is my favorite music-industry artist of all-time.  He's been active for over 60 years now, and honestly speaking, I don't know if I'll ever get around to listening to his entire discography.  However, I have heard most of his studio albums, and I don't think that many people realize how dominant Stevie was during his heyday of the mid-1970s.

For instance, he won Grammys for Album of the Year three times within of four years (in 1974, '75 and '77) which, as far as I know, is a feat that no other musician has ever replicated.  And from what I can gather, it wasn't one of those situations like nowadays when someone wins a Grammy, and other musicians start beefing like they don't deserve it.  For example, it was the legendary Paul Simon who took home Album of the Year in 1976 for a project he dropped called Still Crazy After All These Years.  And in accepting the award, he actually stated "I'd like to thank Stevie Wonder, who didn't release an album this year."

The cover of 1976's Song in the Key of Life,
Stevie Wonder's signature work.

That 1977 Grammy that Stevie won was for Songs in the Keys of Life, which is unanimously considered to be his signature work.  It is also a double LP, and all things considered there are other songs from it that would have been a lot easier to research.  But I decided to go with a relatively-obscure track found therein, Summer Soft, as sometimes I feel like it is my favorite Stevie Wonder song.  Actually, it is so obscure that - combined with the fact that Keys of Life came out a good time before the internet age - information on it is basically nonexistent.  So what I'm rather doing in this post for the most part is celebrating it.

What is readily known fact-wise is that Stevie wrote and produced this track himself and also played about half of the instruments.  And that's one of the reasons why no one could f*ck with him back in his days, because he could not only envision a deep song but also, largely by his own hand, bring it into existence.  And one other participant on the track who at least has his own Wikipedia page is organist Ronnie Foster, who dropped a studio album (Reboot) as recently as 2022.

The reason I like Summer Soft so much is because on the surface it sounds like a love song.  But if you listen to it enough times, you'll realize that it's actually a war song.  Or, have you ever heard that saying that 'all's fair in love and war'?  To me these lyrics, in addition to how they are relayed, depict the similarities between those two phenomena, how the euphoria of being smitten can be effectively counteracted through the pain of abandonment.

As far as the title goes, it alludes to the fact that Stevie uses references to the seasons to get his point across.  Or as interpr by Genius, this "song captures the fleeting feelings of love and excitement as embodied by the changing seasons of the year".  I've heard other musicians try the same thing, i.e. using the seasons as metaphors, but none come close to doing so as effectively as Wonder does on this track, though Lil Wayne, an exceptional lyricist in his own right, did an admirable job on Mr. Carter (2008).  But I don't want to delve too deeply into the lyrics Summer Soft, as I'm hoping that you'll listen to it yourself and derive your own appreciation of it.

Stevie receiving the Gershwin Prize in 2009.  Fortunately, the audience
was treated to an effective rendition of Summer Soft.

In the meantime, here's a video of India Arie performing it in front of Wonder, President Obama and other dignitaries (including future-Prez Joe Biden) inside the White House itself, when Obama awarded Stevie with the highly-prestigious Gershwin Prize in 2009.  Arie is of course a well-known Stevie Wonder fan herself.  And I absolutely love this clip, like the visuals and everything.


I know how it feels to fall in love, and I also know how it feels to be forced out of it.  And to me these lyrics capture that in-between feeling, when you don't really know whether the other person (still) loves you or not.  And the reason I call this a war song is because if you listen to the way the chorus and outro rendered, they are done so with force - frustration if you will - as opposed to tender emitting of the verses, thus representing both the potential joy but conclusively the emotional pain of being emotionally dependent on a disinterested romantic interest.

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.


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 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 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.


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.


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.