“We will see heaven / loving together”
Chrisette Michele released a phenomenal first album I Am in 2007 and every album (Epiphany, Let Freedom Reign, and Better) after it has been quite simply amazing. I Am’s front cover is the sort of portrait that is not only a great way to express the traditional culture of black youth, but it also announces the sort of progressive commitment to not only song, but also beauty and language that will make a community with a profound sense of the utopia it seeks, proud. The songs on I Am are both traditional and contemporary in a youthful way. Chrisette’s many albums are perfect for living through what will be known as an incredibly important time to be black or “the Black Lives Matter Era.”
We use the word cannon in literature more often than in music, but it’s as relevant to how we listen to musics. False: we only tune in to radio and let that DJ match our lives to songs. True: most of us have downloaded Spotify, Tidal or Apple Music and play songs that interest us at a certain point in time. The Black Lives Matter Era has made emotional hearts of us all. The fascinating thing about this time period is that it has as much to do with “raising one’s first in the air” as it does to the sort of realist fiction, for example Victorian, that we been tasked with reading during our educations. A “raising one’s first in the air” song can’t really pin the era down because of this. Chrisette’s songs belong to our cannon.
The myth is that the great music of black activism has to describe what is happening. That’s not true. Listen to civil rights era songs. Then listen to Oscar Brown Jr. According to our tradition of songs that are socially committed, it’s all about a commitment to humanity and to love. Memphis soul. Marvin Gaye. When Berry Gordy heard Marvin Gaye’s song “Mercy Mercy Me,” his immediate reaction was that he did not know what the word Ecology meant. What would he say to millions singing to a 21st-century Motown artist’s exclamation, “Epiphany?” Michele has neither dumbed down her music nor her cultural intentions, as Marian Anderson did not either. What’s better is that her albums coincide with the rise of trap hip-hop. Michele has held up a certain torch up through thick and thin. Like her songs, the movement has been years in the making. Like her songs, it is a culmination and both Michele’s voice and choice of lyrics are masterpieces of both artistry (as Black Lives Matter is the art of dissent) and commitment. No one else in R&B is in the same lane as her.
The artistic manifestation of a deep-seated will to produce uniquely African-American art rooted in both traditional cultural intent and in contemporary conceptions of movement is really the only music that can match a great activist movement. Chrisette’s albums are the case for R&B. They allow for anyone to enrich a great and gut-numbing experience in what it’s like to be a black person in America right now.
Emmanuel Adolf Alzuphar is a music critic. He grew up in Haiti. He
attended George Washington University. His Twitter handle is
@alzuphar. Though he’s never succeeded, he’d like to write a beautiful