It’s time for a musical litmus test for enlightenment

Photo: Gems/Getty Images

After the most recent Verzuz event this past Sunday, I’ve come to a social determination: There can be no further race conversations with people who are not familiar with Earth, Wind & Fire’s catalog.

The Verzuz format is so simple that it’s collectively embarrassing that no one thought to put it into motion prior to the pandemic: Put two legendary musical acts in the same room and make them have cookout debates over whose catalog is better. Almost none of the acts bring competitive energy to the challenge, with most artists appropriately deferring to each other’s greatness throughout. …

Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak’s first Silk Sonic single is a dope soul throwback, but it’s not a savior

Bruno Mars of Silk Sonic performs during the 63rd Annual GRAMMY Awards broadcast on March 14, 2021. Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Earlier this month, power duo Silk Sonic — a collaboration between Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak — dropped its first single, “Leave the Door Open.” Produced by Mars and D’Mile (written by Mars, .Paak, D’Mile, and Brody Brown), it is, I suppose, a hit. It is everywhere. Given how the music industry has moved the goalposts to count streams as a portion of sales, if it isn’t a hit, nothing is.

And, because the song taps into historical Black musical forms and Mars is attached to it, we all have to have an argument about it.

Part of what’s interesting…

What you see in the artist’s latest is a function of what you bring to it

Still: Lil Nas X

The video for Lil Nas X’s “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” may not shock everyone who encounters it, but I think it’s safe to say that it is shocking to most people who encounter it. I find this shock largely amusing, but then I’m a Prince fan who played Dungeons & Dragons in the ’80s. I’ve seen this kind of pearl-clutching before.

Everything about Lil Nas X is hilarious and his resting smirk face suggests even he thinks so. He knows what he’s doing with his music, and his videos, and his presence, and he doesn’t care that you…

We thought we could save people’s lives with the manna to be found in books — and they only got better over time

A black history book display at a library.
A black history book display at a library.
Photo: Newsday LLC/Getty Images

I began my journey into activism alone, a freshman at Ohio State University, still part of the city in which I was raised but a world away from everything I had known. I don’t think I was on campus a month before attending my first proper Black student event. As the African drumming and dance was winding down, I noticed a table full of books manned by a tall Black man in a suit and bowtie. I knew next to nothing about Black Muslims or the Nation of Islam and so struck up a conversation with the seller. …

Like many writers, I tend not to respond to comments. But it’s time for some exceptions.

A yellow paper quote bubble on a fishing hook with a blue background.
A yellow paper quote bubble on a fishing hook with a blue background.
Photo: Javier Zayas Photography/Getty Images

I have been told several times over the years that, as a writer, I internet wrong. That seems to mostly hinge on a personal rule I put in place a few years back: With rare exceptions, I don’t respond to comments on my work.

There are several reasons I’ve installed such a defense mechanism. The primary one is that people who post replies are generally a fraction of the people who read an article — and statistically speaking, those who make the time to comment do not mean the writer well. I spend hours writing, researching, and experiencing whatever I…

Hip-hop’s always made room for contrast — so as the culture continues to veer toward profiteering, let’s celebrate the givers

Lavon, Kidd Creole, Rahiem and Mr. Broadway from Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five performs at the U.I.C. Pavilion in Chicago, Illinois in January 1985. Photo: Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

In the introduction to Tricia Rose’s seminal book Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop — And Why It Matters, she laments that the national paranoia around the art form has robbed the culture of artistic validation — and worse, strengthened the conditions that fueled its urgency. “In this climate,” she writes, “young people have few … honest places to turn to for a meaningful appreciation and critique of the youth culture in which they are so invested. The attacks on black youth through hip hop maintain economic and social injustice.”

Unfortunately, not much…

Lovecraft was an unapologetic White supremacist — who just so happened to be one of the most influential figures in 20th-century fiction

A giant tentacled monster at night.
A giant tentacled monster at night.
Image: Warpaintcobra/Getty Images

Six years ago, I started writing a horror novel. The idea was to create a contemporary parable that utilizes elements of H.P. Lovecraft’s canon of creatures and old gods — which places me in a long line of thousands who have used the writer’s public-domain ingredients to build stories. The thing that separates me from about 99% of the artists who engage Lovecraft’s literary bric-a-brac of ghouls, aliens, and existential dread is that I am Black. …

Living life fully sometimes means living life so fully you fall asleep with a plate on your lap

A young guy in checkered pajama trousers falling asleep with a slice of pizza in his hand in bed next to a pizza box and open laptop. He has the itis.
A young guy in checkered pajama trousers falling asleep with a slice of pizza in his hand in bed next to a pizza box and open laptop. He has the itis.
Photo: yacobchuk/iStock/Getty Images Plus

While I was speaking with a class of college students recently, one of them told me that she was interested in becoming a child anesthesiologist. I told her my experiences of being under general anesthesia, and how it was the best sleep I’d ever had. There were no dreams, no concerns, no care whatsoever for the waking world. It was as close as I have ever come to biological bliss.

Except when I am experiencing the itis.

I feel compelled to qualify the forthcoming hedonism with an obligatory note about the impact of obesity on Black communities, how nearly 50%…

When Black people struggled to penetrate media of any kind, any representation was historic — but we need more from our art

Photo: suteishi/Getty Images

On the last day of the 2021 edition of Black History Month, the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio hosted a program celebrating the work of Black composers. The performance included work by William Grant Still; Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges; and Jeffrey Mumford. Being a faculty recital, the music was performed exclusively by White musicians, which is admittedly a redundant statement. I could be making an Oberlin joke here, but really, the overwhelming Whiteness of classical musicians and instructors would be true almost anywhere in America. Conservatories aren’t exactly brimming with Black harpsichord players.

While all of this cast…

If you want to imagine a world without racism, it’s gonna take much more than a kumbaya soundbite

Photo: Ivan Pantic/Getty Images

My job has a weekly meeting about diversity, equity, and inclusion, in that order. DEI, that now-mainstream acronym adored by corporations and organizations everywhere since last year’s racial-awareness uprising, are what “diversity trainings” used to be. You remember those. Once a year or so, you’d spend a few hours listening to someone talk about bias, suffer through an awkward role-playing exercise, sign a form in which you pledge to be demonstrably less problematic, and then go back to work and wait for a softer, gentler workplace culture to kick in.

This portion of the meeting didn’t always exist. Last year’s…

Scott Woods

Writer and poet holding down Columbus, Ohio

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