From Aloe Blaccs joyful anthem to Mary J Blige and Method Mans ballad of love against the odds, the presidents mixtape reminds us why we will miss him
Straight out of college, I dated a guy from Washington DC who had just spent a few years working on the redevelopment of public housing projects in Chicago. We met at Harvard, where I was working as a receptionist at the department of Afro-American studies, which was his focus for a graduate degree. He was easygoing and honest, handsome and smart, with outstanding taste in music (I will be forever grateful to him for introducing me to Outkast in particular, Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik). A light-skinned black man with a palpable sense of racial pride, the man Ill call Tim would occasionally mention with fondness a friend hed made during his time in Chicago. The two had bonded over basketball and politics, race and identity, local government policy and community service. His friends name was Barack.
Now, do I know for a fact that Tim had an influence on the presidents musical preferences? No. But judging from Obamas summer playlist, released on Thursday, Im willing to posit that its not out of the question. Both Tim and the president have black fathers and white mothers, while firmly identifying as black, as opposed to biracial or mixed which, given the current climate for black men in America, is not an unfraught declaration. Still, as Obama wrote in his book Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, he didnt get there overnight, and he often turned to books and friends and black cultural markers for guidance.
Theres no black cultural marker more abiding than our music, and if Obamas playlist indicates nothing else its that reaffirmation of ones blackness can always be found right there in the bars. It also strikes me that although he has been frequently criticized for his handling of race and policies regarding the overall inequities experienced by black folks in America, among the most important aspects of his legacy is that he is going to leave that Oval Office as blackity black as he was when he entered. And that means mic drops, an entire absence of fucks, and dope playlists.
From the daytime list, which includes Wale, Jidenna, Nina Simone and Prince, the standout here is Aloe Blaccs The Man, both because its a bonafide black mans anthem Stand up now and face the sun/Wont hide my tail or turn and run/Its time to do what must be done/Be a king when kingdom comes and because Blacc is a national treasure. Enough so that Im willing to cut Obama some slack on the Sara Bareilles selection, and the Beach Boys too, not because these arent talented singer/songwriters, nor because they are white (because lets be honest, all popular music in America is in some way influenced by black music), but because they are just kind of cheesy.
Most satisfying to see from the nighttime list is Ill Be There for You (Youre All I Need to Get By) by Method Man featuring Mary J Blige. Who among us of a certain age can forget the dark beauty and elegant, sublime emotion in the video for this song Method in cornrows, Mary with her bucket hat pulled down low over her eyes, just the gloss of her lips making out the lyrics, head bobbing, both sitting on the pavement, backs to the wall surrounded by a menacing cityscape. Its the blackest, most glorious, magnificent display of camaraderie, love and loyalty. There isnt a day that has gone by with Obama in the White House that it hasnt been resolutely clear that Michelle is all he needs to get by: Back when I was nothing/You made a brother feel like he was something/Thats why Im with you to this day boo no fronting. We will miss them.