From abstraction to isolation, the sounds of Afrosurrealism represent the present day and future-past experiences of black people through the mystical and metaphorical. Music considered Afrosurrealist has nuances between the internal and collective experiences that black people have heard and felt.
I came up with the term “Binaural-Blackness”, to describe the musical aesthetics of afrosurrealism, based on the feelings and experiences the artists have.
‘Binaural’ meaning the ability to hear with both ears, and the concept of Afrosurrealism, that deals with time and experience of black people. Afrosurrealist music especially in hip-hop and R&B with dark, atmospheric production.
This is America is a critique of hip-hop culture and the disconnection to the events happening in America in the present day.
The muted color palette, Donald Glover’s facial expressions, the Jim Crow references, the pandemonium in the warehouse, all contribute to the music describe the Afro-surreality of being black in America.
Rhythm Nation 1814 is a new jack swing album with prominent industrial percussion throughout, the album is most known for the Rhythm Nation/State Of The World/The Knowledge medley. State of the World follows after the title track equally with as much. With whirling police sirens, people screaming, Janet speaks about worlds problems hunger and violence In the live concert version of State Of The World its interesting how Janet’s dancers are dressed as different characters similar to the dancers and actors in the “This is America” video.
N.E.R.D. was looking for ways to take their sound even further on their 3rd album Seeing Sounds. Sooner or Later is about the start of the recession, the melancholic piano, with a beat that drags along.
Chum is Earl’s lead single on his first studio album Doris, his unorthodox rhyme scheme. The video was directed by Hiro Murai, who has many videos under his belt that would also be considered afro-surreal. Much of Earl’s music is about his trauma during his childhood, up to when he was sent away to a camp, and his return to society.
Crutches, Crosses, Caskets is about Pusha T’s view of today’s rappers. He’s mentioned in past interviews how as a young rap fan, he viewed rappers his heroes. Nowadays you have rappers always on a crutch, playing themselves to be something that they are not, and becoming irrelevant or worse.
The Darkest Before Dawn short film is about Pusha T under the devil’s guidance in drug dealing. A chopped MPC beat imitating heartbeats. The imagery of the video depicts the immorality of his past lifestyle as a drug dealer following him constantly in his current life as a rapper.
Much of Flying Lotus’s music comes from his esoteric imaginings about death. The video for Never Catch Me displays a funeral procession in which the children appear to be brought back from the dead dancing around unbeknownst to the funeral-goers. Afrosurrealism deals with mystical religious experiences. With Kendrick Lamar featured on the track on hits the theme of the song home, his vocal layering fits this track perfectly.
Vince Staples music videos always standout to me as Afrosurrealist. He subverts the message with his storytelling combined with the visuals. Lift Me Up ties into the theme of the album Summertime ’06, about his changing perspective on his hometown of Long Beach, CA over the course of the summer, realizing how dark the reality of his environment is.
Kahlil Joseph’s film M.a.a.d City is a cinematic interpretation of Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 Good Kid, M.a.a.d City, an album about the navigating life in Compton, CA. The video is different tone from traditional music videos for the album. In an interview Kahlil Joseph says he tries “to soak it all in: the lyrics, the artist, where they are from, I’m trying to get at the core of what they are trying to express musically.”
RZA, Prince Paul, Poetic, and Frukwan formed a group called the Gravediggaz in the early 90s. Their style of hip-hop known as ‘horrorcore’ was emerging around this time.
The Roots are the only hip-hop band of their kind that continue to challenge the status quo of hip-hop. Distortion to Static is from their first studio album “Do You Want More?”. The video shows the group in a hot room, heavily sweating while rapping their verses to keep from passing out. As Black Thought and Malik B trade verses, a person is staring expressionless at a grainy tv with The Roots rapping, representing their presence in an industry that wasn’t as accepting of conscious hip-hop.
Sade’s calming voice and the funky, mellow grooves of the band Sweetback, Feel No Pain from the album Love Deluxe, is a song about the woes of unemployment. The video deserves more attention, showcasing the beauty of black body through the eyes of director/photographer Albert Watson.
‘Prayer’ is D’angelo’s rendition of The Lord’s Prayer in his endless jam session style. He took neo-soul sound even further, you can tell he was going for a certain vibe.
Check out my playlist “Afrosurrealism: Binaural Blackness” on Spotify.
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