Archive for the ‘music’ Category

Retro to Cosmic: TBoH Summer Soundtracks


Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings

Little girl, she had to grow up quick,
She ain’t a child no more.
Her heart’s still soft but her skin got thick,
She ain’t a child no more.
How could a mother be so reckless and wild?
Put your kid through such torture and trial?
You can only have the love of your child,
She ain’t a child no more.


Janelle Monáe

Say you’ll go to Nirvana,
Will you leave Samsara?
In the words of Dhammapada
Who will lead, who will follow?


Flying Lotus

“On Cosmogramma, this never-ending stream of aural textures sounds effortless, and the enthralling swirl of jazz, drum ’n’ bass, dubstep and hip-hop beckons you toward the edge of something damn near cosmic.” (Review)

What’s your soundtrack this summer?

From One Voodoo Child to Another: A Survey

Jimi Hendrix as a Baby

Did you know that Jimi Hendrix’s iconic song “Voodoo Child” was recently declared the greatest guitar riff of all time? Here in The Bottom, we are partial to Hendrix’s acoustic blues, but no one can dispute his rock god status.  Johnny B. Goode and Living Colour also made the list, and Eddie Van Halen from Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” – but no Prince, no TTD? That ain’t right.

With guitar riffs on my mind, I just completed the “Black Rock Audience Survey” from Rob Fields, black rock evangelist (and friend of TBoH). But he’s still in need of a few responses and sends along this message:

“If you like artists such as Lenny Kravitz, Living Colour, Bad Brains, Fishbone, TV On The Radio, Gnarls Barkley, or Santigold, to name a few, then please take 5 minutes to complete this survey. Free music awaits all who complete it. “

Even if you’re curious about black rock music, take the survey and get the free music to see what you’ve been missing! And please share, retweet, forward the survey link to friends. It would be a big help. (Photo credit for the adorable picture of baby Jimi from

The Blues as Black History


"Me and the Devil Blues"

All I know about music is that not many people ever really hear it. And even then, on the rare occasions when something opens within, and the music enters, what we mainly hear, or hear corroborated are personal, private, vanishing evocations. But the man who creates the music is hearing something else, is dealing with the roar rising from the void and imposing order on it as it hits the air. What is evoked in him, then, is of another order, more terrible because it has no words, and triumphant, too, for that same reason. And his triumph, when he triumphs, is ours.

– James Baldwin


This February, I approached Black History Month differently than I have in the past. Instead of looking to PBS and Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s latest “discovery” for inspiration, I tried to be mindful of the ways black history already affects my daily life. So I began with my iPod and two of the blues singers who have made themselves at home there: Muddy Waters and Lightnin’ Hopkins.

Both Waters and Hopkins are masters of the acoustic guitar-driven “country blues” with low, gritty voices that transfigure suffering through song. Yet, I hadn’t realized until recently that the experiences about which they sang were their own. After listening to Alan Lomax’s recording of “Burr Clover Farm Blues” by Muddy Waters, I learned that the Stovall Plantation in the lyrics was the name of the farm where Waters recorded the song that afternoon in the 1940s, the same plantation where he was picking cotton for fifty cents a day.

The same is true for Lightnin’ Hopkins who grew up in Centerville, Texas in the early 20th century. His song, “Cotton” is not his most famous, but it is one of my favorites. It tells the story of Hopkins’ childhood experience in the field with his parents. Hopkins’ vocals are easy, conversational, and clearly illustrate why he was so well known for his spontaneity and improvisational skill. A song like “Cotton” makes me feel reflective and humble, particularly when I consider how far African Americans have come and how songs like this one have provided comfort along the way.

I stood straight up in the field,
Looking round, trying to find me some shade
(Lord, Have Mercy) Poor Lightnin’ trying to find him some shade
Poor Mama sitting there with her pencil and paper
Figuring up every dime that the family made


Both Waters and Hopkins were influenced by the Father of the Blues, Robert Johnson, the legendary musician who was said to have acquired his talent by selling his very soul to the devil. My research on Johnson led me beyond his recordings to Japanese manga artist Akira Hiramoto’s Me and the Devil Blues 1: The Unreal Life of Robert Johnson. Described as a “phantasmagoric reimagining” of the bluesman’s life, this comic follows Johnson through the moments of hardship and grief when he began to develop his craft.

I love comics, but I have never been a big fan of the aesthetic style and form of manga. So seeing the life of a black southerner take shape in the Japanese style forced me to experience the blues in a new way. Ultimately, what I found appealing about Me and the Devil Blues is the way Hiramoto visualizes sound; he captures the passion of the intense rhythms quite convincingly.

The same way that James Baldwin’s story, “Sonny’s Blues” conveys what the blues feels like through well-chosen words, Akira Hiramoto shows us what the blues looks like in black and white sketches. Long panels shaped like shards of glass, cinematic perspectives that highlight the nimble fingers and the long gaze of the bluesman. There are moments when the translation of the oddly hysterical dialogue fails to match the artwork. But the merits of Me and the Devil Blues overshadows these failings, and I’m looking forward to reading the second volume.

How about you? Did you come across anything new this Black History Month?

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Lost & Found: Get Up! Edition


A few links, videos, and other online ephemera from our favorite sites this past week:

  • 389 Years: And speaking of progress, check out this typographic mashup, soon to be a poster.

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“Can I Kick It?”: TBoH Election Playlist

On election day, stay strong, stay confident, and keep the positive vibes going with TBoH’s Obama Election Day 2008 Mix! Our playlist features uplifting songs that reflect the spirit of Senator Obama’s historic campaign.

A Tribe Called Quest opens the call to action (“Yes You Can!”), while tracks by Digable Planets, Eric B. & Rakim, and Jay-Z describe Obama’s level-headed coolness and intellect. “Magic”, “Omid (Hope)”, “Come Alive”, “Say”, “No More Drama” and “Love’s in Need” remind us of the unity and courage of the Campaign for Change.

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October’s Lyrics of the Month

Welcome to the first in a continuing series that highlights the memories and messages of our favorite songs here in The Bottom:

Title: “Thieves in the Night”
Album: Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star
Artist: Black Star

not strong, only aggressive
not free, we only licensed
not compassionate, only polite
now who’s the nicest?
not good, but well-behaved
chasin after death
so we can call ourselves brave?
still livin like mental slaves
hidin like thieves in the night from life,
illusions of oasis makin you look twice

The lyrics to “Thieves in the Night” spoke to me a few years ago when I first heard the track on Black Star’s album. The words were so raw and real.  And never did they ring more true to me then when I lived in Atlanta, Georgia for a few years after college. (Listen to Mos Def performing the song live.)

I loved Atlanta. I lived in Decatur, a suburb right outside of the city.  I’d attended a historically black college and never took for granted the comfort of going to school with people who looked like me; black students, professors, and administrators.  It boosted my self-esteem and enhanced my class performance.  Atlanta was simply a continuation of this experience, the inevitable migration point for the distinguished alumni of the HBCU diaspora.

There was something so incredibly comforting about going to the grocery store and seeing black doctors in their scrubs shopping for salad dressing. And I always felt a sense of pride when I saw black children riding bicycles through beautifully, landscaped mega-mansion neighborhoods.  I had truly arrived in the Black Mecca.

Or had I?

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I, Too, Sing America (2008)

Over a month has passed since jazz vocalist René Marie opened the annual state of the city address in Denver with the third movement of her suite, “Voice of My Beautiful Country.” Although she had been asked to sing the national anthem, her rendition combined the melody of “The Star-Spangled Banner” with the lyrics of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (a.k.a. “The Negro National Anthem”).

A Denver Post columnist rightly pointed out that the song “provoked a discussion … about what constitutes patriotism, courage, and racism.” And the extensive Q&A on the singer’s own website invites us to consider the substance of these two “sacrosanct” songs when combined. Still, the controversy that followed her performance focused almost exclusively on whether or not Marie should have kept her “switcheroonie” as she calls it, a secret from the mayor’s office.

So I decided to give it another listen:

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