One of my favorite musical artists is Janelle Monáe, a young indie R&B/psychedelic soul artist out of Kansas City. Here she is showing some of what makes her so interesting
The stunning fashion icon (and one of Solange’s bridesmaids) is a fantastic dancer and singer. Her elaborate concept albums go deep and are always funky.
Anyway, Monáe launched independent record label Wondaland, from which she’s been promoting the mononymous Jidenna. His first single “Classic Man” is a mid-tempo party ode to the dapper. The video was beautifully shot by Alan Ferguson (and it includes some vulgarity so be forewarned).
Jidenna’s also featured in Monáe’s extremely poppy and accessible “Yoga.” They just performed it on Fallon:
She changed the snaggiest line from the song for public consumption but she keeps wearing the new essential yoga accessory: a crown. Anywho, I’m not a huge fan of “Yoga” or even “Classic Man” but there’s something Jidenna brings to these songs that snagged me. So when I saw he had another song out, I checked it out. And I can’t stop listening to it. Again, please keep in mind, some strong language:
If you’re not the type to care about hip-hop, you have probably not even made it this far. But if you do enjoy some hip-hop, go ahead and watch the video again. OK, so I want to talk about the lyrics but I can’t even really transcribe them on account of the language issues. But I caught this video at the same time I was reading Mitch Pearlstein’s “Broken Bonds: What Family Fragmentation Means for America’s Future” and Isabel Sawhill’s “Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage.” The authors come from different perspectives but deal with the same issue — why marriage in America is imploding, whether it matters, and what can be done about it. Pearlstein’s book covers interviews with 40 family scholars. One of them was Lawrence Cooper, a political scientist at Carleton College. From the book:
“The success–and in the long run, even the survival–of self-government requires more than a wise constitution supplemented by prosperity. Self-government also requires a citizenry with certain dispositions and character traits. Some of these traits, or virtues, are private or domestic. These are the qualities necessary for success and satisfaction amid a modern, commercial society: moderation, self-control, the ability to defer gratification, and the like.
Still, these qualities, he continued, as important as they are, “are not enough to undergird successful self-government. In addition to the domestic virtues that make for peace and material well-being are public virtues, the qualities that make for spirited, intelligent, and responsible citizenship.” These, he said, are the “vigorous virtues,” qualities such as “respect for the rights of others, protectiveness toward others, patriotism, and the ability and inclination to engage in civic life.”
If it is true, Cooper also said, that self-governance is dependent on a certain kind of family life, then “widespread family fragmentation might well threaten the stability and even the survival of our political order.” The point, he went on to say, is not that “family fragmentation leads “directly to illiberal politics,” but it does tend to lead to a “pervasive sense of frustration and grievance and therewith humiliation. These unhappy sentiments” he argued, “can create a fertile ground for illiberal politics.”
OK, so that’s a lot to chew on. But it shows how political order is related to family order and how self-government relates to both. We’re a self-governed people only if we’re self-governing in our day-to-day affairs. And we may have very different cultures, interests, forms of expression, etc., but self-governance is something every person can uphold in their community.
I was at a raging Easter party this year when I got into a conversation with a journalist who I gather is from Iowa. I was defending the California custom of “flaking” and he was appalled. Flaking is where you fail to show up to a party or something last minute and later explain yourself simply by saying “Sorry, I flaked.” Now, mostly what I like about this is the honesty involved. Instead of developing an excuse, you simply admit you were unreliable. The journalist said that if in his community someone “flaked” after agreeing to do something, it could mean, for example, the death of livestock you were supposed to help protect from rising floodwaters. Flaking was about the worst thing anybody could do. He said, somewhat joking, that the culture couldn’t permit flaking or it would lead to major life and property losses. I had to admit he was right. Self-governing people don’t flake and flaking shouldn’t be encouraged.
Which brings us back to Jidenna’s call for self-government in “Long Live The Chief.” He confidently affirms that victory in life goes to those who think deeply about investments, control their immediate impulses for delayed gratification, and prioritize achievements. He begins by dismissing people who fight violently over stupid things that don’t matter, transitions to talking about the importance of good saving habits “Mamma put a little money in the mattress/taught me how to make a silver spoon out of plastic/you can either sink, swim or be the captain//get the last word, I’mma get the last laughter.” That bit also includes the great line about being a “classic man”: “Now they say, ‘Jidenna, why you dressing so classic//I don’t want my best dressed day in a casket.” He derides those who don’t plan: “I’ve got a 100 year plan, you just think about the day.” And then, in what I really hope is some kind of first, he talks about leveraging his investments by “Airbnb(ing) the crib.” Airbnb is the company that enables you to rent out your house for lodging.
Anyway, it’s just a song but it’s a good reminder that what unites Americans is that we believe in self-government, that self-government needs to be culturally reinforced at all levels, and when done with driving beats, all the better.