We both agree, though, that, since they were brought here in chains, black people have used music to speak to and for each other. They have used music to interpret and make sense of the world around them. They have used music to make their mark, to assert their humanity, to remind us that they matter ("I know why the caged bird sings" Paul Laurence Dunbar said; "I'm black and I'm proud" shouted James Brown). Sometimes that music has been profound. Other times it has simply been butt-shaking good. It's always mattered.
That said, we decided to divide the music post in two. I'm going first. Of course any list of this nature is bound to be subjective and reflect little more than the musical preferences of the listmaker. It is also bound to be incomplete. I freely acknowledge this and make no claims otherwise. What I offer here is a list of music by black people that matters to me.
I am in love with think-y, smart, complicated hip hop. Not the nonsense put out by Kanye West or Diddy or anybody waving the flag of the "Dirty South." People like this:
Hip hop group extraordinaire from Philadelphia. They are renown for their musicianship (they play their own instruments instead of a "two turntables and a microphone") and intelligence. I recommend their latest Game Theory.
De La Soul
My first hip hop love. De La Soul used sampling as an art, broadened the definition of black masculinity and wrote the best ode to circle jerks I've ever heard. I recommend Three Feet High and Rising.
Tribe Called Quest
Jazzy and smart and *tight* lyrics. Recommended: Low End Theory
The group's leader, Michael Franti, went to Iraq and Afghanistan on his own, and came back with a kick ass protest album, Yell Fire!. Also recommended: Home (featuring the infectious "Love is Da Shit")
Hip hop master and record level exec. His genius Black Album was made even more so when DJ Dangermouse mashed it with the Beatles' White Album (resulting, of course, in the Grey Album)
And let us not forget the women:
What's not to love about bald black woman playing bass? Or this lyric: "I'm digging you like an old soul record." Plantation Lullabies is genius (and features liner notes from the inestimable Greg Tate).
And black music I keep coming back to:
Did you seem him during the half-time show?! He owned that place. In a downpour no less. In addition to being a great musician, Prince is an amazing storyteller. Have you listened to Purple Rain lately?
What can I say about Marvin Gaye? "Trouble Man" "What's Going On?" "Let's Get it On" "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" "Heard it Through the Grapevine" Marvin Gaye embodies what is great about black music--relevant and smart and you can dance to it.
(Wow. This post took me two hours to write. Sheesh.)