Riots, Stands, and a Basketful of Subversive Blues
"On July 7, 2016, Micah Xavier Johnson ambushed and shot twelve police officers in Dallas, killing five. Johnson…was reportedly angry over police shootings of black men, and stated that he wanted to kill white people." -Wikipedia
"More than 20 officers were injured, and hundreds of protesters arrested, at Black Lives Matter protests, raising questions about what it will take to bridge the divide between police and the lives they are sworn to protect." -MSNBC
"Subversive Blues is, sadly, just an album with a nice cover, but nothing worthwhile within. It fails to conjure any real sentiment other than confusion, and ultimately ends up being completely pointless and relentlessly unnecessary." -Thomas Bedward on Subversive Blues
"That the song then segues into some sort of '70s groove pastiche, with voice over by the intergalactic forces who step in when the 'boys in blue' can't deal with the situation, simply confirms that whoever this album is aimed at, culturally or artistically, it sure ain't me." -Steven Reid on Subversive Blues
"There's no reason to sing or write about peace and love anymore. That's not where America is at, today. Few, outside of the hip-hop game, are willing to speak out about it. Dallas happened after I did "Dead Cops and Starfighters." So, I consider that interesting." -Marcus Singletary on the harsh criticism Subversive Blues has faced
Subversive Blues is not Singletary's first political concept album. That was 2004's Capitol Hill, which railed against George W. Bush's 9/11-era policies. Subsequent albums were more akin to the sonic and philosophical density of Sly and the Family Stone's early music. "Love is the Answer," "Meditate," and "Start Something" called for the same social unity that "Fun," "Life," and "Stand" had, as a horn section merged with multi-gendered, multi-racial three-part vocal harmonies in a colorful swirl.
Enter 2016, and the complete breakdown of the American social fabric that has been accompanied by a change in Singletary's music - a transformation similar to what occurred in the wake of Sly's 1971 classic, There's a Riot Goin' On. Both feature their respective artists performing everything, in the hazy atmosphere of urban blues and minimalism. Like "Family Affair," "Astronaut's Daughter" utilizes a clicking drum machine pattern and synth flourishes. Riot's title track checked in at 0:00, and provided no music; Singletary's "My Slave Life" expresses social outrage without the luxury of a backing track. Singletary doesn't wage self-immolation, as Sly did on "Spaced Cowboy" and "The Asphalt Jungle," but he does fight the forces of cultural stagnation, as heard within such recordings as "Stand Your Ground" and "Dead Cops and Starfighters."
Riot divided opinions. Los Angeles Times' Robert Hilburn wrote, "There is little on the album that is worth your attention." Subversive Blues has similarly infuriated. Steven Reid of Sea of Tranquility said, "There's little doubt this album is intended to split opinions. I fall on the bored, confused, and simply struggling not to pop this album in the bin and pretend I never heard it side of the argument."
What we now know, as we watch bomb detonating robots kill militant, rifle-toting snipers intent upon waging race war, is that pretending something is not happening is not the solution.
"Always remember others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself." -Richard Nixon