Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Sketches of My Culture

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

Sketches of My Culture

Article excerpt

Sketches of My Culture, by Cornel West. 4 Black Men Who Mean Business, Inc. Urban Souls, by Rev. Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou. Urban Press.

Cornel West is nothing if not prolific. Professor of Afro-American studies and philosophy at Harvard University, West's latest addition to a vast body of work is a spoken-word CD released in collaboration with his brother, Clifton West, songwriter Mike Daily, and producer Derek "D.O.A." Allen. I listened to Sketches of My Culture over and over as its R&B riffs transported me to the '70s and its beats brought me to the realm of present-day hip hop.

The CD opens with "The Journey," a discourse by West on the evolution of music of the black experience in America. As West speaks, we first hear the shouts and guttural cries of the kidnapped in a foreign land, the rise of the spirituals into the tragic-comic perspective of the blues, and then on through jazz ("the finest art form of the 20th century," West says), R&B, and hip hop (which fuses "linguistic virtuosity and rhythmic velocity"). The modes of music illustrate his words and flow perfectly from one phase to the next. It is a terrific intro that draws the listener in and makes one eager to hear more.

The track "N-Word" evokes the spirit if not the style of The Last Poets, a group whose song "Die, Nigga!!!" was about the negativity and self-hatred that comes from the self-identification of the word. It opens with a mock radio program over a soulful R&B groove; folks call in to defend the term and are quickly dispatched by the host who wants to know why we use the word. …

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