Where's Da Music At? By Karlton A. Laster
This week marks two full years since the emergence of COVID-19 as a health pandemic in the United States. As we know, COVID-19 shut down everything and upended life as we knew it. During the pandemic, though, we saw the rise of a lot of innovative music-focused entertainment – from the Verzuz battles to DJ D-Nice’s Club Quarantine to the continuous evolution of dance challenges to outdoor performances honoring the work of essential workers and more. We’ve seen Kanye West release DONDA and the spectacle that came with it, and we've bopped and grooved alongside Leave the Door Open and the lush, throwback melodies of Silk Sonic. Even Adele released 30, but that album wasn’t as good as her previous work despite y’all trying to invite her to the cookout. But, that has been about it; and, that is a problem.
At a time when we have been entertained with high-quality television programming and some fantastic movies that have come out during the pandemic, we have not seemingly received the same output musically. And, I recognize that while some used the pandemic to hunker down and hone their craft in isolation; it seems like many musical artists, like us, said fuck it and watched Netflix and Doordash’d their anxiety away and said they’ll go back to the studio when things return to normal. I completely get it and respect it as I did the same.
Unfortunately, however, as all of that was happening so was the January 6th terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol; Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, & Ahmaud Arbery; a lack of promised legislation on voting & civil rights; Simone Biles & Naomi Osaka attacked by the media for prioritizing their mental health over athletic competition; rising suicide amongst Black youth and young adults, notably with Cheslie Kryst & Ian Alexander, Jr.; and, we recently witnessed the harsh and undue attacks on the integrity of Ketanji Brown Jackson during her U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearing. It is for such a time as this when we need new music to encourage, to relax, and to make us dance and enjoy ourselves despite the times we’re in.
Personally, I’ve been waiting for a new Kendrick Lamar album and some Pharrell Williams music for the longest. I know others are probably waiting for some new Beyoncé or Rihanna (y’all really need to let that go, music was her means to an end outside of music). Regardless of whose new music we are waiting for, the point is that we desperately need some high-quality new music from Black music leaders to reorient society and the music industry. Throughout the history of recorded music – whether it was through previous pandemics, war, the Civil Rights Era, or economic hardship – leading Black musicians have stepped up to the plate to create some of their most emblematic and revered content. Beginning with slave spirituals and hymns to help escape slavery to Ragtime during Reconsturction to blues and jazz emerging from Bloody Sunday, World War I, and the Spanish Flu pandemic to Sam Cooke’s A Change Gone Come to Make Me Wanna Holler by Marvin Gaye to Public Enemy’s Fight The Power to Kendrick Lamar’s post-Obama encouragement of Alright. Music has helped society and the Black community get through more harrowing times than now, and we will get through this period as well.
However, it would be easier to do so with some new sounds. Until then, we will have to continue burning holes through our old playlists; but, remember that Tupac told us to “keep ya head up.”