My Spotify Discover Weekly Playlist doesn’t always hit, but when it does, it does. On December 2, 2018, I was introduced to some amazing songs like “Pink and Blue” by JULiA LEWiS, “egyptian pools” by Jinsang and JUICEBOX, “Sleeep” by Kayo Genesis, and “Okay” by Latrell James. Unfortunately for me, I wouldn’t listen to Latrell James again, other than the dozens of times that I listened to “Okay,” until hearing him again on his song “Tracphone” from his 2019 EP, Still , a year later. And because my memory is absolute trash, I have no idea how or why Latrell James popped back on my radar. Literally Spotify (and last.fm) says the only thing I listened to other than Stlll on November 11th of last year was a couple songs from Dababy’s KIRK. So it was either an act of God that Latrell came back up, or “Tracphone” was the only song I liked from my November 11, 2019 Discover Weekly playlist, so nothing else exists. We’ll call it both for the purposes of this.
I started thinking about Latrell James again (in a more active way other than just following him on Twitter), after finally weaning myself off of “Tracphone” and “One Call,” while America’s political system was falling apart at the seams during the impeachment trial. “Okay” warns of the dangers of trusting politicians, and I had that song stuck in my head for a week. Using music as a space for sociopolitical engagement isn’t uncommon for Latrell, and this work follows him into Still.
“Tracphone” opens up the EP with a conversation about gentrification, the consequential disappearance of the culture (read: black culture) in cities, and the stunting of black growth (literally and metaphorically) through a multitude of different means. The song is powerful; the simplistic smoothness of the instrumental and the ease of Latrell’s bars as they blend easily into the production creates a space where you have no choice but to listen intently to what he has to say. The video pairs well with the message of the song, adding to the importance of there being an honest conversation about what the world loses when it doesn’t give black voices and black people the opportunity to exist in ways that are self-determinate, as well as what happens when black culture is illegitimized and boiled down into nothing but clout points for white people (I’ve already talked about this, so I’ll stay off of my soap box for now).
“Stay Down,” the next song on the EP reminds me a Mick Jenkins or Isaiah Rashad joint. There’s something about the “sippin’ on my tea leaves” line in the chorus that reminds me of Mick’s The Water[s] era bars. I’d LOVE to be in a crowd at a LJ concert screaming the lyrics to the chorus at the top of my lungs. It’s a super smooth song that creates the perfect bridge between “Tracphone” and “The Samo.”
“The Samo” is another one of my favorite songs off of the project. A message similar to Denzel Curry’s “Mad I Got It,” the song speaks candidly about how living your life exclusively to get a bag can be dangerous. He points to the moments in his childhood where he was his happiest despite being “broke as shit.” He doesn’t dwell on this sentiment very long, but it’s another super powerful moment on the EP. I think a lot about Lupe Fiasco’s concept of “systematic brokeness” that he offers in “ITAL (Roses)” on Food and Liquor II – the idea that poor folks (read: poor black and brown folks) are, historically set up to be poor through the inability to attain the financial assets that allow white folks to live their lives with money as a non-issue. Because poor black and brown parents aren’t able to pass down wealth (physical or financial) to their children, their children inherit their parent’s financial situation (either through the inability to have a leg up in a broken system or through the attaining of their parent’s debt), and the process goes on and on. A cycle. And I think that, as a part of this, poor black and brown folks aren’t given the opportunities to really be present in those moments of happiness that do exist. And it’s in those moments of happiness that we prove our humanity to ourselves, that our lives aren’t solely about struggling. Even through the struggle you have life and deserve to live it fully. But of course, it’s hard to do that when you’re worried about how you’re going to eat, which is where the want (and potential lust) for money comes from, and can be dangerous, as Latrell offers in this song an on “Grateful.”
People wake up and complain ike it’s not a whole blessing to wake up in general. Those type of people are criminals, I should save this for an interview.Latrell James, “Grateful”
It would be rude of me to not openly appreciate the absolute beauty that is “Grateful.” And I was raised better than that. So allow me a few seconds to give “Grateful” its flowers: The instrumental? GREAT. The harmony in the chorus? PERFECT. LJ in the second verse sticking up for women who speak out about violence done to them or other women by (famous) men a la Bill Cosby?? ICONIC. The way Latrell ATE the production on this?? FIRE. I really don’t have anything else to say about this song. It’s wonderful.
The EP ends with “One Call,” an ode to the importance of being there for the folks you love when you can. Latrell tweeted earlier this week about him measuring his success by the amount of people he’s able to help, and I think that’s the perfect summary of this song and this project. I think the main thing I’m taking away from this project, as I revisit it, is the intentionality that we have to have about keeping the things and the people we care about the most, close to us. It’s easy to let the world get us off track, as we try to take care of ourselves and reach the goals we all work so hard to achieve, but at the same time, it’s having a close relationship with the people and things that mean the most to us that is going to keep pushing us forward. I had to write something for an event for work a couple weeks ago and read a little bit of the beginning of Coretta Scott King’s memoir – My, Life, My love, My Legacy – for inspiration. In it, she talks a bit at the beginning about family and how important her family was to the work that she did in conjunction with her husband. She called them the “powerful force” that propelled her through her activism and leadership roles. And I feel this same energy in Latrell’s music (and his tweets). He seems to have a very clear and purposeful idea of the type of people and energy that he wants to be around him, and I think that’s so important right now more than ever. And it’s also something that I’m working on making more of a point in my own life. Protecting yourself and protecting the what you love. Everything else comes secondary.
Still was great. I’m so excited to see what the future brings for Latrell James. I’m excited to see him continue to grow as an artist and continue to serve us absolute bars and words to live by. I’m excited to maybe see him in concert one day, so I can excitedly yell lyrics until my voice gets scratchy.
Anyways, let me go listen to “Grateful” again, ’cause…
Featured Photo Credit: https://genius.com/album_cover_arts/366596, edited by me 🙂
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