The Negro Artist and the Sacred Mountain
(1) Begin With Denouement and You End Up In Synch
This is about lifting the thumb from the bow. A talent for devotion goes black blooded to the over-soul and convinces us the aim is love which when we pierce it, enters us. That force of nature that always aims the hero’s heart toward trances and it’s nobody’s fault but his own. Here come Malik and them. Amos and Andy are somewhere in here too like a laugh track or a surveillance device or the clean black man in the numb cadillac driving down the rent. The succulents grow like so fiercely and you wear acacia crowns around the dream of empire high yellow pirates are circling, and we get high, we about to go get lifted now like sunrise how we open the blues \ up and let the blues blood come out to show them. You chose the first flower for how it sounds and another for how it looks in the red dark of township or worship or fast car, sweet double hipness— and more for how they feel under water or to the boss’ favorite son in trade, our lady of the sun trade. This pace is for her. It might as well be spring for her every hour of every day and all decoration is superfluous and invasive and makes us sluggish with safety. To escape we climb into the night like space suits, but the fugitive did not recognize this fast taste of night, stompin and stompin and…Am I brave enough for this? Can I understand devotion without idol worship or piety or the punctuated protestant quietness of some white men? What is it then? What is the sacred without a mainstream guideline or religion and how and where do we apply it in our lives then? Does lack of a devotion to one particular god make art more necessary, does it make art our devotional practice and us the arbiters or gods that we love and fear through it? Are we brave enough to be this devoted to ourselves, our beautiful back and gold selves, are we brave enough for this?
(2) Synchrony and Her Cronies
1n 1926 Langston Hughes wrote The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain, an essay that urges black artists to revel in so-called blackness and to be beginning to see the light; to not fall into the traps of legitimation that tempt so many of us awkward/ backwards and into chasing after a culture that runs from us. Maybe if we’re lucky we turn that chase around or erotic and our work admits something of our truth that way but often all we do is dilute ourselves looking to dispel the color. Almost 80 years after Langston’s tender admonition and the more things change, the more they stay the same. What I explore here is a caveat in the equation Langston arranged to balance the social with the political, the clandestine and blatant space where the sacred resides for the black artist with what that space delivers. It occurs to me that praise rituals practically govern the black spirit and that the varying systems of faith brought to us by the white power structure’s spiritual-industrial complex and/or god-complex, prey upon this innate hunger we have to enter our own gifts and celebrate the hoodrich way, the main way, the ghettofabulous way and the monastic way chanting in each May there be peace, love, and perfection throughout all creation
Am I brave enough for this?
So I am as ashamed of the black artist who rejects the sacred as Langston is of the one who tries to lift the black off his alphabet like an inverse thief or broke down robinhood complex; I fear both stances are slumps that hinder the ancientfuture and create a kind of hipness that rips creativity to shreds.
The racial mountain’s tendency to transmute into a sacred mountain for black artists, the tendency we share to use faith in higher forces to give us the strength to face the quotidian glories or our so-called race or as Fred Moten so brilliantly notes, I ran from and was still in it; it was so big I ran from it and was still in it, that is the quality whose scatological potency we face today, disguised as anything from utter triflingness to saccharine uprightness, today’s denial is more subtle than the brand we conjured circa 1926 and the fear has shifted from a fear of our powerlessness to one of our pathological self-determination and creative spirit. Today we have to go beyond embracing and reveling in our blackness and actually devour and recreate our belief systems so that they accommodate the pride we invented and then orphaned in western religions and thought patterns, in order to satisfy our deep craving for praise. Are we brave enough now to reexamine our origins without the tenets of Christianity or any other organized religion for that matter, in search of the forms our thought would take in a more liberated grammar. Are we ready to look at black devotional practices as a form and a poetics all their own, rich in the data of ourselves yet scrambled by our scramble to be saved.
(3) Gold Crowns Don’t Make me Cringe Anymore
The devotional is a unifying force of the black aesthetic and yet it is as stray as slang, we’re afraid to claim it as one of our technologies, and as artists, we often either fetishize or deny its impact on our senses of the great optimizers, beauty and truth and improvisation too. We know ugly beauty and false truth turned sacred through devotion alone. We know devotion to mean our ability to produce art that gives space to the known unknown. We have gone from being afraid to let our blackness show to knowing we are the original gods and monsters of this planet and demanding our proper respect and bling but still somehow, perhaps because we haven’t met our devotion on both ends, haven’t returned to our own rituals in full, most of us remain entertainers when we are meant to be healers.
All black art is sacred art. Let Sun Ra’s space ship and George Clinton’s spaceship and Jay Z’s yacht and Tupac’s Crucifixion and Lord Beginner’s lament and Lee Perry’s Arch and Amiri’s ankh and your mamma’s trumpet savant uncle and your brother’s perfect pitch moan for love, exit stage left and television technique give way to immortal technique and may we treat the sacred not like an aspect of organized religion or monotheism or any theism; may we understand the sacred as a route back into the profane or the mundane or the Saturn or wherever we want to get to but without the need to perform our identities into oblivion, let us remove our beauty from the pageant and shiny suit theory and see where it might be more useful. We build our temples for tomorrow, strong as we know how, and we stand on top of the mountain, free within ourselves.
Reprise (Niggas be Lion to Themselves)
This is about lifting the thumb from the bow. It’s time to talk about god like a man we know. A black man we love and know we may never know. The shadow of the arrow that has hit its target. A negro and a nigga too and all the eerie spaces between there and the edge. He found out on the plantation the drum was banned and back home in Kimet the drum had been speech and so on top of all the nightmares that converged as slavery there was this absence of the very sacred technology needed like air to get free, like error in perfect heart, like an heir.. So he used his feet for arrows, her steps would narrate what he could not say with words or even wars. In my blood memory we went to church looking for drums. We’d put on any disguise we needed to retrieve percussion. Something to beat our truths into besides the massa’s miserably majestic land.Some of us found a rhythm there and some of us got lost in anti-rhythms on the way.Today we all share so much virtual space, may we draw new maps up the to the summit of our sacredmountain—
Wu-tang is for the children