Our favorite things this week include the reissue of "Ghetto: Misfortune's Wealth" and diving into musical subgenres on Twitter.
“Papa Was a Rolling Stone” (1972) and such films as Shaft (1971) and Superfly (1972) were part of a moment when African-American pop culture artists tried to square the positivity of Motown, Stax and James Brown with the realities of the communities that spawned them. 24-Carat Black’s Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth (1973) was part of that moment—an album on Stax by Dale Warrens, who orchestrated the strings for Isaac Hayes’ albums from that period including Hot-Buttered Soul. Last month, the previously obscure and semi-rare album was reissued on vinyl, and it is better known to many for the samples it spawned for Eric B. & Rakim, Scarface, Jill Scott, and Madlib among others.
The album is as self-consciously profound as its title—semi-colon included—suggests. Warrens clearly aspired to commit to vinyl the musical equivalent of black independent films of the era, and because of that, the album often merges R&B, poetry, and the theater in ways that seemed adventurous but today sound more driven by agenda than art. Rahsaan Roland Kirk referred to jazz as “Black Classical Music” as a way of claiming a sophisticated music for African Americans, and Warrens’ project clearly tried to do the same thing. Hearing Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth with a historical ear helps get around Warrens’ desire to speak in broad strokes about not just a ghetto but the ghetto, and it’s no surprise that the album is most powerful when he scales his vision down to one person—Mother—for “Mother’s Day.”
Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth isn’t simply an artifact, though. The instrumentals easily hold their own with the best music from soul soundtracks of the period, and Warrens’ ambition is evident throughout the album. “Brown-Baggin’” nods to the blues-based R&B that put Stax on the map, while other parts show the urbane sophistication that he, like Hayes, wanted to assert for African-Americans. Those tracks draw on multiple traditions in black music at the same time and are exciting as attempts and results. (Alex Rawls)
Wading through the garbage on Twitter gets harder each day, but user @naima is the light in the darkness. Naima Cochrane is a self described cultural preservationist, and she delivers a “music sermon” each Sunday in a stream of Tweets. She’s only 20 but posses a seemingly endless understanding of the history of all sorts of music.
The topics of her sermons are wide-ranging, most recently neo-soul, blue eyed soul and juke joint music. The genius of Cochrane’s work is harnessing the Twitter medium to create a digestible and easily followed mini-lesson in music history. She starts at the origin of her topic, and tracks the movement chronologically, attaching videos of each musician, moment or song she references along the way. Each sermon comes with a playlist available on Apple Music and Spotify for easy listening afterward.
Somewhere between reading a Wikipedia page and an actual book, these sermons take only a few minutes to consume, so there’s no overcommitting to a facet of music history that might be outside of one’s ordinary interest. Being on Twitter also allows Cochrane to field questions from followers, hash out the fine points, and take requests on future content. (Lexie Kirkwood)