Hip hop artist Anonymous XI just released a new album that is not only beautifully poetic, but also provocatively dialogical. This piece is a thoughtful journey that invites the listener into the complex history of Newark, NJ, in a broader American landscape torn asunder by racial hostility. It is an intentional flashback into events that could easily have been forgotten; that has wreaked havoc in public relations and infiltrated homes to shatter familial relations. This piece ranges from a multiplicity of poignant themes — from the place of urban space, what Justo Gonzalez calls “responsible remembrance”, identity formation, gentrification, but namely what the artist intends to focus on as the core of this united whole, inheritance.
This personal piece walks you through light and shadow as Anonymous XI reflects on how he, as a young man growing up, is coming to grips with the reality of suffering within a very broken system of society, a very hostile society in race relations, and a very convoluted mix of choices. The reality that has been passed down is a narrative of drugs, incarceration, vice, and violence. The tension experienced is wrung out in such a way that compels questions. In the midst of a multilayered narrative of brokenness — race, housing, and families — what choice do I have? How do I cope when I am at an all-time low but don’t want to confront such crippling realities? What if I am simply incapable of confronting these complex realities as a kid? Do I choose life on the street when it seems like this is the most viable immediate option for me? Is money the way to life? Is there room to dream in such a place? In a place so torn, do I even have a choice? Is there another way?
Anonymous XI stretches out his hand and humbly invites his listeners into this experience; into this conversation. Brokenness does not suggest fatalism; it does not suggest an irresponsible oblivion and erasure of the past either; it suggests hope. Kenny Lofton picks up his bat and steps to the plate like a phoenix out of the ashes. Right when he appears to be in the nadir of his crisis, a silver lining shone before him in the person of Lofton. This creative whole is a discovery of the hope in the midst of wreckage. An inherited narrative can be redeemed. It in no way claims that the work of redemption is done, but that it is ongoing. Anonymous XI peppers the piece with beats, rhythms, and even adages that arise out of his own ethnic background and subtly transitions his listeners from the perspective of one navigating identity in the 90s to a round table of creatives.
Let’s sit on these questions, let’s reflect on the society we’ve inherited, let’s keep on dialoguing through this ongoing conversation, and let’s march on with the hope that comes from the blood of the cross as we work through the brokenness seen both through individual stories and the system at large that manufactures these stories.