Good Morning Everybody! I wanna change things up a little bit for us today. As you may know, every single day of the week, I write about injustice and police brutality and racial discrimination for the New York Daily News. As an activist, I’m helping to lead the Injustice Boycott. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning I’m right here talking to you about the hell we are catching from coast to coast and what we can do about it, but this morning I wanna mix it up and tell you about the beauty that black folk repeatedly create in the face of pain.
It’s not a historical coincidence that we dominated the Grammy’s this year. For the first time in Grammy history, the top 5 most nominated artists are black.
Beyonce received 9 nominations.
Drake received 8.
Rihanna received 8.
Kanye received 8.
And Chance the Rapper, with his debut album, Coloring Book, received 7 Grammy nominations.
And what’s wild is that most music industry insiders are saying that Frank Ocean, who released two albums this past August, would’ve likely received 8 or 9 nominations himself, but he opted out of participating in the awards show altogether.
I said that it’s not a historical coincidence that black artists dominated the Grammy’s this year, because, in the face of pain, in the face of turmoil, in the face oppression and opposition, black artists always respond with iconic originality and creativity.
The fierce writings of Ida. B. Wells broke through in the 1890’s during the worst period of lynching this country has ever known.
The poetry of Langston Hughes took us through the Great Depression.
The literary brilliance and cultural expertise of James Baldwin emerged out of Jim Crow.
In the shadows of the successive deaths of Dr. King and Robert Kennedy in 1968, and out of the depths of her own pain, Maya Angelou wrote and released her autobiography, “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” in 1969.
It was in this same time, seeing so much death, including the Vietnam War, that Marvin Gaye recorded What’s Going On and Makes Me Wanna Holler.
In the words of Michelle Obama, “when they go low, we go high.”
The brilliant comedy of Richard Pryor emerged out of the Black Panther Movement of the 70s.
In the midst of pain, and sometimes unspeakable ugliness, our people ALWAYS find a way to respond with deeply rich artistic beauty – be it through written words, music, art, film, or comedy.
So, it makes perfect sense, that after a year where this nation saw 1,208 people killed by police, which is the highest number ever measured, in the era where this nation has a higher percentage of black folk in prison than South Africa did during Apartheid, in the same year that this nation is seeing hate crimes spike from coast to coast, in the same year where this nation chose as its President a reality TV star who for years claimed our nation’s first Black President wasn’t even actually an America citizen, it all makes sense, that in the shadows of Donald Trump, the beauty of black music and art, has gone to a whole nutha level. We dominated the Grammy’s because our artists step up when the world pushes us down.
And it does it stop with music.
Ava Duvernay is killing the game not only with the documentary 13th, but the beautifully rich television drama Queen Sugar – which is one of my favorite TV shows of all time.
They may be ratchet, but shows like Empire and Power have emerged during this era as a real form of escapism.
Issa Rae is making us all laugh with her new comedy, Insecure.
Donald Glover is cracking us up in his new comedy, Atlanta, then went and released a critically acclaimed album last week.
Right now we are in renaissance of black art and culture. And I’ll close with this thought…
Every song, every show, every creative expression that emerges out of this time we find ourselves in does not have to be inspirational or talk about the Black Lives Matter Movement. It does not have to reflect the headlines every day, but what it does need to do, and what it is doing so damn brilliantly, is put the weight and color and nuance, the small details, of our glorious humanity on full display. When the world beats us down, thankfully, we have artists to lift us back up.