Forever Unfuckwittable

Unfuckwittable:

  • (adjective): unable to be fucked with, unbothered, insusceptible, invincible.
  • (verb): giving zero fucks about the thoughts and judgements of others.
  • *use case: “Don’t you know that I’m unfuckwittable?”

The self-proclamation prevails on Kid Cudi’s sixth album. Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’ elegantly threads the audacity of hip hop into genres unaccustomed to its finesse. His flow, honesty and genre bending beats command his fans attention and keeps us on our toes.  Cudi flirts along the edges of various styles to innovate a vivid world around his candid and sometimes heartbreaking lyrics. Lyrics that fearlessly illustrate the demons and angels that battle within his spirit. His mental health remains at the forefront of his music, but he doesn’t shy from or avoid his personal truths; he reveals them in order to defeat them. This elevates him to “demon slayer” status. This mindset comes to culmination on the journey of Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’ - a guide to becoming #unfuckwittable.

Cudi introduced himself to us with emotional transparency on his debut single “Day N’ Nite” in 2008, and has kept us aware of his mental state through each journey. From being the Man on the Moon to Mr. Rager or Mr. Solo Dolo- we have seen him through many times. His 5th studio album, Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven, was a passionate and emotional requisite for Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’. On Speedin’ Bullet we were sent strumming into the scarred and mangled layers of Cudi’s heart. Hidden thoughts, like pages from his journal, were wailed into the mic against ardent grunge punk rock. The transparency doesn’t always leave us comfortable with his state of mind, but that’s part of being #unfuckwittable- honesty despite the judgments that fester and whisper self-doubt. How do you fuck with someone who has already laid out their truths, desires and insecurities? He represents a part of hip hop that isn’t flooded with cocky, materialistic fillers (although Cudi does boast his love for Balmain jeans). We get emotional honesty and transparency- we get #BlackSelfCare. Mental health has representation and support through Cudi’s artistic freedom.

The realm of the US has constantly propagated emotions from outrage, to hopelessness, to depression within the black community- emotions that get buried for sake of survival, and mental health has only recently taken a seat at the table. It has often been deemed a “white problem,” and so, collectively, we turned our heads to the issues, dismissed them or tried to pray them away. Generations of survival numbed us to our identities within mental health advocacy. Survival over restoration. And we continue to prioritize factors outside of self. But many solutions come from asking “why?” so many times that you discover your own inner secrets and reveal your own internal layers, as Cudi does. The current “woke” movement (along with countless other factors- globalization, Donald Trump, social media etc.), has opened the door for an expansion and uniting of black self-expression and love. We must be #unfuckwittable in our expression to free ourselves from our demons. Cudi approaches his mental health with agonizing honesty- a true reflection of self to learn and grow from.  

Cudi openly faces theme’s we tend to internalize, rather than confront. He  takes on rage, fragility, loneliness, depression, fear, revenge and defeat and meets them at crossroads with his lion-heartedness, resurrection, freedom, power and immortality. Honesty is #unfuckwittable. Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’ is an emotional breakthrough from the morosity of Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven- a lyrical sigh of relief. He takes inspiration from each previous album, to transport us in four #unfuckwittable parts:

Act I: Tuned

In Act I, Cudi tunes us into what he calls frequency. It’s a vibration- a level of harmony which translates to ‘love’. We get a breakdown of how be to #unfuckwittable and how that mindset will lead one to the frequency. We must be transparent, find ways to release negative energy, trust the universe and devote ourselves.  “Swim in the Light” pulsates against the fervent warning that numbing the pain won’t make it go away, it just silences it temporarily. He reminds himself and us to swim in the light- and be transparent. Self realization and dreams of his past draw him toward a universal trust that is expressed on “By Design.” We tap into universal power and the concept of a self-prophesized destiny.

“The choices you make, is all by design”

Cudi decides to live in the moment and seize moments as they become available to him. Andre 3000 makes his first of two prized appearances. His animated alliteration and word dissecting flow urges us to keep moving through life, and don’t get stuck!

“Stuck inside a statue, look at you…”

Act I concludes with “All In.” Gentle waves greet the track, and we’re driven into another iteration of the frequency. Cudi reveals his vulnerability in his relationship. He describes himself as exposed and pure, and it’s relieving to hear that kind of candor. Black men are described as and often feel obligated to subject themselves to the stereotypes of masculinity. This sense of obligation often plays out as a strong opposition to attributes that are stereotypically feminine. The opposition breeds a toxic foundation that lacks balance and respect for balance. So when Cudi describes himself as “exposed and pure” (or “fragile and delicate,” as heard on Speedin Bullet), he’s openly embracing emotions that are often saddled with the opposite sex- being #unfuckwittble in the face of his own masculinity. He reminds himself that he needs to face the man he was to make space for the man he is becoming. Ultimately, he surrenders to the frequency, trusting the fact that “whatever happens, happens.”  

Act II: The Prophecy

In The Prophecy Cudi reflects on his life and the times he took control of his destiny. He opens with “Rose Golden,” where he humbly praises his mother for having faith in him, and reminds himself of his own greatness. It’s an uplifting track with Willow Smith haloing over the hook as Cudi looks back on his life, surprised at how far he’s made it. He prides himself on harnessing his will-power and honors his mother for being the one constant of support. Beyond her support wasn't a powerhouse of supportive friends and family. It was of fake friends, gossip and jealousy, but his willpower put him above these forces, and helped him distance himself from those who weren’t truly on his team.

Throughout the act Cudi is upbeat and self assured. We end with, “Does It,” a wizard-talking, bass-pounding, negro spiritual of vicariously living #unfuckwittable, “wit two t’s nigga”. There are zero fucks left, as he asserts his (often unacclaimed) accomplishments with aggressive confidence. Cockiness is something that black people have often been told to tame or tone down. We are expected to be humble and modest in the face of success. Athletes like Serena Williams, Muhammad Ali and Kobe Bryant, though the best at their art, have been told they are too full of pride. Fans have turned their backs to athletes at the top of their game for lack of a polite enough victory. Cudi gives a middle finger to the idea of being humble in your achievements.

“If I piss people off along the way, bonus!”

Act III: Niveaux de l'Amour (Levels of Love)

We reach the climax in Act III, where he reveals the levels of the frequency. Trust is the elemental struggle, but on “Dance for Eternity,” he accepts the inevitable and choses to enjoy life rather than dwell on an unchangeable fact. Track by track he releases old emotions to make space for happiness, confidence and acceptance. “Wounds” is a graphic forewarning of the necessity of self-healing and delving into deep personal truths. These painful truths open the door to trusting in his “Mature Nature.” We then level up one last time for my favorite track of the album, “Kitchen.”

"Kitchen" comes in triumphantly, with strings jutting joyously. It’s a marvelous arrangement of melodies, instruments and tonal hums. He’s “punch drunk love annoyed,” and warns that to have him, you must be able to withstand the heat of his love. The underlying love story we’ve been audience to, has a seemingly unending cycle of issues. But on “Kitchen,” trust is what breaks the cycle. The repetitive production and lyrics, echo this sentiment, as Cudi speaks to his intergalactic, star-crossed frequency. The only tragedy would be to abandon it. The track makes us  feel just as transported as him. We feel lifted by the frequency.

Act VI: It’s Bright and Heaven is Warm

The final act is packed with self- prophecy, taking control and riding the wave of originality. The transposed nod to DMX’s 1998 album It’s Dark and Hell is Hot, makes for a promising conclusion. “Cosmic Warrior,” is his battlefield proclamation of self-greatness, “The Guide,” speaks to the women who know what they want and “The Commander” sees Cudi taking full command of his life and future.

The last track on any hip hop artists album usually is key to mindset, theme or ultimate love. Often reflective of love for mom, family or anecdote of personal growth. Speedin Bullet 2 Heavens’ conclusion burned into us as Cudi drowned in his hopelessness- ultimately surrendering to the contentment of loneliness. We conclude Passion, Pain & Demon Slayin’ with Cudi manifesting his ultimate #unfuckwittable attitude, on this joyous track, outro’ed with his renowned yodeling and African inspired drum work. Surfin’ has us clapping and swaying in bliss as Cudi reassures us he’ll only be surfin’ on his own wave of originality with prideful confidence. He gives a necessary nod to his Blackness and success.

“Feelin' awesome to be black, and I'm murkin' all competition”

My friend once told me that Kid Cudi saved his life. He isn’t the only one who shares this sentiment. Fans everywhere give thanks to Scott for helping them through their bouts of depression and personal strife. It was the connection through pain and triumph that gives Cudi fans a sense of resilience and empowerment in their hardest times. We listen and remember that demons are everywhere but we need to be on our own personal pursuit of happiness.  Like Cudi, we must be open to accept our personal truths and ride the wave of self-awareness. Cudi doesn’t blind us with ego or a false sense of his reality. We don’t feel fooled or abandoned by him, and so we continue to surf with him 6 albums in.

Forever #unfuckwittable

Island Essence

A common Jamaican saying is, “tun dem han fi mek fashion” (hard translated as: turn your hand to make fashion; loosely translated as: use your hands in new ways to create a new style or fashion). This concept extends from cooking, to clothing, to way of life, but the main lesson inherited is that you use what you have to make things work.

This lesson is apparent in one of Jamaica’s most celebrated dishes; jerk chicken. The main differentiator between the jerk chicken found in Montego Bay versus the jerk chicken found in Jamaica, Queens isn’t necessarily the spices, but the cooking technique which involves one of Jamaica’s indigenous trees - the pimento tree (also known as the allspice tree).

Pimento wood has been utilized for slow roasting in Jamaica for centuries. Historically, natives needed something that could burn very slowly and preserve meat. The pimento wood managed to not only burn slowly, but also produced a flavor that was incomparable to any other type of wood used. It became the standard and something that would give Jamaica its inimitable aroma.  

The salted ocean air is always laced with the distinctly sweet smell of burning pimento wood. This fragrance is infused within every breath you take. It curls across the island and dwells at the roadside jerk stops which attract both locals and tourists alike. At any time of day or night, you can find a long row of vendors, each with their own personalized, self-branded, homemade steel drums puffing spicy smoke halo’s above their heads. Each engaging passerby’s with their tempting selling spiels.

“Jerk chicken! Bess jerk! Bess jerk pon di island!” they shout as they open the tops of their steel drums revealing the decadence within. The cloud of smoke escapes, and if the chicken glistens under the sun and leaves your taste buds curious enough, go ahead and point out the pieces you want.

Some jerkers will cut the chicken into bite sized pieces on a cutting board made from the same pimento wood used to slow roast the chicken. The chicken is bundled within foil, but before the package is sealed, they allow you the chance to add some homemade scotch bonnet sauce or Grace Ketchup for added island character.

The burning pimento wood.

The fire-eyed spices.

The warm briny sea water.

The crack of a fresh Red Stripe beer.

These aromas bond with the spirit of Jamaica. They coil themselves within the fabric of your clothing and inhale themselves into the folds of your mind; and when you arrive back home they exhale as you flip the top of your suitcase. And for a brief moment, you are there on the side of the road, picking the most perfectly roasted pieces of jerk chicken and breathing in the essence of the island.

A Seat at the Table

With gentle integrity, Solange prepared for us an outlet through piano riffs, overlapping harmonic tones, nostalgic drum backdrops and self-reclaiming lyrics.

 

It's the kind of music that was summoned from our experiences and peeled from our perceptions. A Seat at the Table is a weathered and dried page ripped from our courage and set to easing tempos. Before "F.U.B.U." even played, I knew this shit was for us.

..................................

Days before the album’s release, Solange shared with us a tracklist map. It looked like something a physicist might draw up to explain trajectory. Song titles and features were strategically placed on an off-white page with lines swooping from one title to the next. It's this same degree of estimated arrangement that resonates in her expressive and dynamic fashion choices. What Solange does isn’t arbitrary, she meticulously pieces together a roadmap of artistry and social awareness with purpose and meaning. And her purpose is clear in her use of the words, US and WE, and OURS versus THEY.  

 

A Seat at the Table is OUR safe space to talk how WE talk. To divulge the secrets of our personal frustrations. Frustrations that are echoed and understood throughout our community. It’s a controlled space where we can analyze our own existential identities without the side-eye of judgement toward our varied but valid perceptual natures. We can be pro-black and weary. Pro-black and mad. Pro-black and proud. WE aren’t tethered to a singular definition. A Seat at the Table is more than music. It’s a reflection, it’s a response, it’s for US.

 

We begin with “Rise,” a summons for us to fall into our vulnerabilities and use them to fortify our capacity. We fall into our ways to crumble, to sleep at night and of course wake up and rise just to fall our way through the cycle again. What I love most about this song is the break point. The expectant pause that lingers between the two stanzas. As listeners, we’re almost convinced that the song is over, but WE know we don't just fall. I was expectant for the strength that we all know is there, and when the break ends, we’re propelled by gentle drums, and now, it’s “walk in your ways.” Eventually, from experience we learn to walk in these vulnerabilities, and it’s the walking that opens the door for an elevated strength and purpose.

 

 Master P. holding his "No Limits Records" gold chain

Master P. holding his "No Limits Records" gold chain

Weaved throughout are stories and words of wisdom seamlessly and thoughtfully integrated. Interludes from the magnificent Master P. carry his sweet southern drawl- and it's so damn refreshing to hear him tell his story. No Limits Records was a black owned record label founded by Master P. He was a game changer, a true master of his own, and his interludes highlight his strategy and knowledge. In this current renaissance of black pride, black people are taking the time to learn about and own our stories. We are finding and exploring beauty in parts of blackness that were once condemned. We are understanding the politics and economics behind where we spend our money and invest our efforts, and more than ever before, we are venturing out to build and spend with our own. The decision to highlight Master P. was key. He was a trendsetter who did not bow to the big white labels. He wanted what he created to be “For Us, By Us.” His first interlude is called, “The Glory is in You.” The title alone is self affirming, and the album continues to delight us with this theme.

 

Mathew Knowles and Tina Lawson both make candid appearances that resonate with current events. Matthew talks about his experience growing up at the intersection of integration, segregation and racism and how that junction provoked a great deal of anger in his life. Later, “Tina Taught Me,”  put the spotlight on Tina Lawson’s views on black beauty, and her frustration with society's misunderstanding of the purpose and meaning of “black pride.” In the current realm of our country, Black pride has taken an alternate form in the Black Lives Matter movement, whose core purpose has been explicit, yet still misunderstood. At the core of this distinction is the white supremacists’ agenda to spread false propaganda about the means of an organization. Tina reminds us that, “the two (black pride and white pride) don't go together.” Changing the prefix changes the core definition of the movements’ purpose. Self love versus a pride that mirrors its power through hate.

 

Although the album is an endowment of unskippable craftful tracks, there are some fan favorites. "Don't Touch My Hair," has blown coconut oil winds into the spirits of black women and made our edges flourish. F.U.B.U. had us pridefully exclaiming, "all my niggas in the whole wide world," in the bathroom mirror, in the elevator, driving down the highway and every moment in between. But my favorites are "Mad" and "Where Do We Go."

 

In "Mad" we are in direct dialogue as she addresses a frustrating series of questions that denounce our anger as being dated, frivolous or unnecessary. Between breaks, her speaking voice halo's above the music as she declares, "I got a lot to be mad about." Lil' Wayne, Master P's fellow New Orleanian, makes an appearance. His verse strikes a key balance between anger and responsibility that serves as a hostile and misunderstood ground for people of color. "Got a lot to be mad about, got a lot to be a man about." We cast over our anger to serve our responsibilities, and all too often that anger stays bottled up for sake of others, for sake of how THEY feel. Too often our anger is left to fester with no outlet or space for respect or compassion. But anger has consequences as Solange notes. Eventually, “it only gets in the way.” Matthew Knowles pointed out in his interlude that anger can last a long time; years, sometimes a lifetime, but where’s the help? Where’s the rehab? On a later interlude, Master P. references the difference between issues within black and white communities. He chuckles about how white kids get to go to rehab and black kids are left the rehab themselves. And ultimately, there’s a frustrating truth that WE all know too well, "I'm not really allowed to be mad."

 

 Native Protesters at Standing Rock

Native Protesters at Standing Rock

"Where Do We Go" struck me on various levels. Police brutality, Dakota Access Pipeline, gentrification and cultural appropriation sing through in brief montages capped by the disquieted question, "where do we go from here?" Physically, emotionally, spiritually, we’ve all wondered this exact question, and it’s left unanswered and open ended. We’re saying our goodbyes to the things, places and spaces that used to be ours, and now we don’t know where’s next, what’s next.

 

I touched on "Don't Touch My Hair," as being a fan favorite, but I need to get into the importance of it. The song uncorks with Solange's eloquent but fevert warning. She makes sure to delicately separate and exemplify the word hair. The separation is another example of purposeful arrangement that exposes the value and emphasis of the word. “Don’t Touch My Hair” is an artful response to those who say, "it's just hair."  It’s in this song that her forthright distinction of THEY is so pronounced and reflective. "They don't understand what it means to me."

 

Black hair is deep seeded in the history of racism and colorism, yet it has managed to be both marginalized and stigmatized in society. Black hair has constantly been deemed as something that requires a certain level of obedience, sterilization and submission to keep within the complacency of the status quo. Our hair has been taken from us and mutilated, as our names and histories have been. It's not just hair: It's our feelings, our soul, our rhythm, our crown, our pride.

 

The Monday after the album’s release, Solange released the music videos for "Cranes in the Sky" and "Don't Touch My Hair." Nature’s elements, striking architecture and slow dreamy calculated movements united with numbed colors and melanin ranging from warm earth to honey bronze and golden dusk.

 

 Solange in "Don't Touch My Hair"

Solange in "Don't Touch My Hair"

In "Don't Touch My Hair," Solange swung her head from side to side, as braids adorned in wooden beads bounced and swayed around her head. The finger waves, compact kinks and brimming styles are part of OUR culture, the elusive, ever-evolving culture that cannot be imitated or replicated, at least not without losing a part of the essence of origin. Each style, each strand, as unique and distinct as they each are, carries a royal notion of admirance, “You know this hair is my shit, rode the ride, I gave it time, but this here is mine.” While our hair does exist in the physical, is not something that can be touched.  

 

The video is alive with black movement and black dance, sometimes so subtle yet so inherently black. I nearly lost my shit when Solange and her fellow carefree queens popped their hips out and pressed their palms into their knees as they let their necks roll with the natural trend setting sass that only a black women could so carefreely execute. Black men in tracksuits, played "air basketball," crossing up invisible opponents and shooting jump shots into a non-existent hoop. Movements we all know very well, movements that are part of US. Solange and Sampha enjoy a free form jam session, one that looks and feels familiar to us, because it is us. It’s the us when no one is around. The US, when it is just us. It’s a glimpse into our freedom.

 "Don't Touch My Hair"

"Don't Touch My Hair"

On the "Interlude: For Us By Us," Master P. reminds us of what our culture is worth. What we are worth. He tells a story about how THEY will fool us out of OUR value if we don't know and respect ourselves. The commodity is the culture. Everything we do, breathe, think and enjoy breeds money. And while our culture may be intangible, our lives are not. Black lives are battered, murdered and forgotten yet they still want the culture without the bodies that make it what it is. Master P said it best, "if you don't understand us and understand what we been through, then you probably wouldn't understand what this moment is about."

The album concludes with “Scales” featuring Kelela, followed by an interlude by Master P., “The Chosen Ones.”

“Scales” is an ode to the black man. A look beyond his flashy exterior, a look beyond what THEY have to say about him. On “Scales” we are yet again reminded of the craving for our culture, our look and style. Even when our existence is saturated with negativity, we still have that thing that makes us the best; that thing that makes the root of our existence desirable. "You gon' end up like your daddy, but damn that nigga fresh; So if it all comes out to plan, you gon' end up like the best." All for nothing, THEY want to be like US, even if they don’t really want to be us.

“The Chosen Ones” begins with a sequence horns, a perfect declaration of royalty. Master P. fades in to talk about the legacy of rhythm within black people, a history of something that we have maintained and preserved, something that signifies that we are the chosen ones. The ones that possess something that they all want, but can never truly acquire.

A Seat At The Table is an album of declarative, self-reflecting and resonant statements. If you're still wondering who is at the table, it's probably not you.