By: Arinze Ifekauche
Formation dropped. The world stopped. But…
I’m having a hard time figuring out what exactly we are celebrating.
Are we celebrating the fact that one of the most recognizable pop stars on the planet created some pro-black content and shared it with the world on a major stage? If so, Beyonce certainly deserves credit for it.
However, if the credit extends beyond that I take issue– simply because it devalues the earlier and equally (if not more) significant contributions of black performers in every aspect that Formation is currently being celebrated.
Musically this isn’t Mike Will Made It’s best work. It isn’t Beyonce’s best either—which I contend is her 2014 offering, Beyonce. Formation is in my humble opinion—average— when taken in comparison to the rest of her previous work.
To be clear, I congratulate Beyonce for keeping it black at all levels: cutting checks to the movement, employing black dancers (especially black women), and creating conscious content. But I don’t think it is fair to others who’ve been carrying the banner far longer, and just as– or arguably more so– creatively, visibly, and more timely than Beyonce.
Let’s not forget about Lauryn Hill’s album, Miseducation, and India Arie’s Brown Skin as songs of black female affirmation. Let’s not forget Lil Wayne’s “Tie My Hands” and his performance of that song at the Grammys, for using a national stage to push a pro black message; for speaking on Katrina in a timely fashion; and for the beauty of the lyrics and the composition of that song. Let’s not forget the videos from the Geto Boys’ (Houston) “Mind Playing Tricks on Me” and Juvenile’s (New Orleans) “Ha” for creative and raw artistic portrayals of black life in the South. Let’s not forget about Jeezy lending a timely and forceful anthem to black politics with “My President”– where he explicitly threatened white America by telling them at the end of the song, “It’s a hands on policy, if ya’ll touch [Obama] we riding.”
Then there is Kendrick, who dropped To Pimp A Butterfly (which inspired its own glut of pro-black “think pieces”) and followed it with the video for “Alright.” Azelea Banks has been defending all things black— to the detriment of her own career, in my opinion– for as long as I’ve known her as an artist.
And then there’s Kanye, who has everyone beat in terms of artistic excellence while delivering a pro black message, blunt and timely criticism, and being pro black on national and global platforms.
Michael Jackson, the most recognizable person of color on the planet, told the world “they don’t really care about us” back in 1995– in the favela… in a dashiki tucked into some blue jeans (because he’s the mf GOAT).
This piece is for those who are hell bent on painting the town unapologetically black with one stroke of Beyonce-branded identity politics. There is not one artist that has done it better or more creatively than all of the rest. All timeless pro-black messages spring from the same well of creativity, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, and Aretha Franklin drew from generations earlier.
As a conscious black man, and as a true believer in the transcendent power music holds over popular culture, I pledge to push back forcefully against those who seek to place artistic mediocrity on a pedestal of any kind. Especially when it is wrapped in the banner of social justice.
And to those who would argue that this piece is yet another example of patriarchy, black men destroying black women or whatever black ailment politics one subscribes to—I have a counter proposal.
Rather than rallying behind one black woman’s contribution to the movement— I propose we smack down Rudy Giuliani, while in the same breath say to our friends, followers, and family, “If you love Formation, check out Talib & Mos Def’s Black Star Album.”
This is in my opinion, the most intellectually honest approach to pushing black culture forward. Get both the veiled and unenlightened through the door with Beyonce, then lock them in a room with Kendrick & Big Krit.
I didn’t write this “hot take” on Formation as a diss to black female empowerment supporters, Beyonce, or her hive. In actuality, I wrote it out of admiration and respect for the current cast of artists who belong to Beyonce’s generation (MJ not included) who’ve been “doing it for the culture” their entire careers in ways that far overshadow Formation in artistry, quality, timeliness, and infamy.
The revolution neither starts nor ends with Formation. In my humble opinion, it is merely a contribution to a well-established cannon of modern pro black artistry.
To Beyonce I say this: thanks for putting your money where your mouth is and thanks for taking advantage of a global stage to show up for black people… “Welcome to the party.”
Arinze Ifekauche is a communications professional and political operative. He was recognized by Campaign & Elections Magazine as a 2015 Rising Star for his work managing Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s 2014 campaign, and for writing the speech Mosby delivered when she announced criminal charges against the officers allegedly involved in the death of Freddie Gray.
He earned his undergraduate degree in Public Relations from the University of Alabama. Ifekauche holds a Masters in Public Relations from Kent State University. He is the founder of Advantage Blue Consulting, and currently works as the Public Relations Officer in the Baltimore City State’s Attorney’s Office.