The New Black Aesthetic

Published by Callaloo in 1989 after the New York Times Sunday Magazine decided not to go with the article, Trey Ellis’ “The New Black Aesthetic” explores “a minority’s minority” of African-Americans “educated by a multi-racial mix of cultures” (235) and how they use that education to assist in creating “one of the most fertile periods black culture has ever known” (243). That’s putting it briefly. Usually when I read scholarly articles I detect the major points, but usually find myself slightly uninterested in the actual reading. I know, it’s not supposed to be about what I like. I know.

What’s interesting is that if people like the Hudlin Brothers, Living Colour, Robert Townsend, Spike Lee . . . and others were mentioned in 1989 (almost 20 years ago now—damn!), who would we include in this “New Black Aesthetic” today? My guess would be people like Dave Chappelle, The Roots—but would Tyler Perry count? Would we still consider calling it “new”? It is my understanding, and I may be wrong, that we have evolved from the New Black Aesthetic into Black Postmodernism, but the two seem like two different things—maybe they’re somehow intertwined. Again, I’m still learning. I guess I’ll have to wait until Tuesday’s class discussion to further explore my thoughts on all this. In the meantime, I still have to read four more scholarly responses to Ellis’ work, so I may have jumped the gun with this post. I assume they’re about to rip his argument to shreds, which is understandable since I see a few holes myself.

Surprisingly, none of that is my reason for posting. As I read the article, I opened up my laptop (should that be considered as getting sidetracked or using outside resources?) and looked up a few people to see where they are now or just to learn more about them. I thought I’d share a little bit of what I found in conjunction with a quick excerpt from Ellis’ article.

Vernon Reid, then 26, shook the sweat from his short dreads arcing out from his forehead before grinding his third encore solo into a psychotically distorted explosion. A black lead-guitarist playing funked-out heavy metal. “Well I’ll be damned,” I remember thinking. Backstage after the concert, he shook everyone’s hand before handing out copies of a manifesto for the then newly formed Black Rock Coalition of which he is a founder: “For white artists, working under the rubric ‘rock’ has long meant the freedom to pimp any style of black music—funk, reggae, soul, jazz, gospel ad infinitum . . . We too claim that same right . . . The members of the BRC are neither novelty acts, nor carbon copies of the white bands who work America’s Apartheid Oriented Rock circuit . . . We are individuals and will accept no less than full respect for our right to be conceptually independent.” I was blow away. (242)

 

The Black Rock Coalition is still around and has some interesting band links listed on their website. Vernon Reid was/is a member of the band Living Colour. Does anybody remember them? I did a YouTube search and was shocked that I still remember the words to at least three of their songs! I will only post my favorite.

Living Colour – “Cult of Personality”

 

Other items worth mentioning from Ellis’ article and that I was able to find YouTube clips for include: Wolfe’s The Colored Museum (a favorite of mine from high school), Spike Lee’s School Daze, and Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle.

The Colored Museum

School Daze – “Straight and Nappy”

Hollywood Shuffle – “Jheri Curl”

Lorna Simpson was also mentioned in the article, but upon researching this individual I found a few interesting links for other black photographers as well. I figured I could do a separate post on all this. Each one teach one. I learn, you learn, we learn. Can we work that into the new new knew black aesthetic? Stay tuned.

Back to reading ya’ll.

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