An Ohio-based poet, columnist, and music critic takes the pulse of the nation while absorbing some of today’s most eclectic beats.
At first glance, discovering deep meaning in the performance of top-40 songstress Carly Rae Jepsen might seem like a tough assignment. However, Abdurraqib (The Crown Ain’t Worth Much, 2016) does more than just manage it; he dives in fully, uncovering aspects of love and adoration that are as illuminating and earnest as they are powerful and profound. If he can do that with Jepsen's pop, imagine what the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Prince, or Nina Simone might stir in him. But as iconic as those artists may be, the subjects found in these essays often serve to invoke deeper forays into the worlds surrounding the artists as much as the artists themselves. Although the author is interested in the success and appeal of The Weeknd or Chance the Rapper, he is also equally—if not more—intrigued with the sociopolitical and existential issues that they each managed to evoke in present-day America. In witnessing Zoe Saldana’s 2016 portrayal of Simone, for instance, Abdurraqib thinks back to his own childhood playing on the floor of his family home absorbing the powerful emotions caused by his mother’s 1964 recording of “Nina Simone in Concert”—and remembering the relentlessly stigmatized soul who, unlike Saldana, could not wash off her blackness at the end of the day. In listening to Springsteen, the author is reminded of the death of Michael Brown and how “the idea of hard, beautiful, romantic work is a dream sold a lot easier by someone who currently knows where their next meal is coming from.” In all of Abdurraqib’s poetic essays, there is the artist, the work, the nation, and himself. The author effortlessly navigates among these many points before ultimately arriving at conclusions that are sometimes hopeful, often sorrowful, and always visceral.
Erudite writing from an author struggling to find meaning through music.