Now, I choose the term “position” here significantly, is specific, against “state.” It’s my opinion that the “state” of music in America is better than it’s ever been, what with its easy pervasion and propagation on the Internet and the prevalence of a lot of white folk music and black boom-bap revival (sorry I’m a ‘90s kid) therein. The “position” of music differs from this discussion in owning to an analysis of music’s actual power to affect change or unity, which unfortunately, is arguably at an all-time low. Anyway, to put things different, this is not entirely a blurb of music criticism. Rather, it’s a stream-of-consciousness construction done by somebody viewing the N.E.R.D. performance as an everyday white American dude.
For the first time ever, in America, black people’s lives themselves actually encompass their very own political issue, a very bizarre circumstance indeed. That is to say, at least according to the Chicago Reader article on Vic Mensa leading into the 2016 Lollapalooza festival, “Black Lives Matter” is considered a “radical” movement, a policy initiated by what some Afro-American activists considered the laissez-faire punishment of officers who slayed blacks in altercations.
Even as a music lover I will say that this is an issue that digs much deeper than music ever goes, but a couple of things nonetheless corral me into introducing N.E.R.D.’s 2018 NBA All Star Game performance in adjacency with it. The first of course is that every essential American genre of music (blues, rock and roll, jazz, rap, house, techno) has come in large part from African-Americans themselves, the primary arbiters of expression at hand here. Enlivening the issue, then, is that what I consider the best song on N.E.R.D.’s new album (one they didn’t play at the halftime, unfortunately) is actually a track ABOUT police shootings, the exact behavioral phenomenon which spawned Black Lives Matter, “Don’t Don’t Do it!”
Short of actually trying to explicate the meaning or message behind “Don’t Don’t Do it!” (it doesn’t apply to me semantically as much anyway since I’m white), I’ll just say that those three-and-four-beat hat hits throughout the song are really rad, and in addition it features what is arguably Kendrick Lamar’s finest performance to date. He actually revs up his rapping speed the way he would on To Pimp a Butterfly and really gets his hands dirty with some lyrical matter which is universal, not just personal, egotistical or hubristic which in my opinion much of DAMN is.
Anyway, getting back to how politics today for black literally runs skin-deep, they still do have the option of zooming out and getting big-picture, which N.E.R.D. beautifully did with the military opener to “Lapdance,” a song off their 2002 album In Search of… In my opinion, it was their way of saying that music will always fight a cognizant war against coercive nationalism, that certainly entailed by Donald Trump’s proposed military parade. Again, I speak as a white liberal thinking that war shouldn’t be glorified and shouldn’t enter into our culture as an ostensible ideal, which in fact is different from speaking on it as a black person, for whom everyday existence might involve more of a readymade war, in itself.
Along with the absence, then, of Lamar, the sort of marching fanfare they opted for (which even musically sounded better than most of the songs’ beats, which can sometimes come across as elementary or retro) cemented the event as a departure from Black Lives Matter rhetoric and back toward the non-racial, universally liberal mind set, which they of course intertwined with the ubiquitous rat-race booty-bumping hip-hop mindset (the dancers with the badonkadonks, the inclusion of “1000” in the set which is basically just a song boasting about banal things). In reality, the best performance came on “Stir Fry,” which is not even in the N.E.R.D. catalogue at all but rather from the trap group Migos. It was in fact my first time ever hearing MIgos and it might even be my favorite trap stuff I’ve ever come across. The laid back swagger of it much more befitted the mood, for which, to be honest, N.E.R.D.’s most meaningful stuff, being essentially black, wouldn’t have even been appropriate.
N.E.R.D. All Star game set list:
“Stir Fry” (Migos)