On Monday, we learned that Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly and D'Angelo's Black Messiah — two albums so Black they should have come with a barbershop poster and a pic of Margaretta Forten — were nominated for Grammys. The recognition of this unambiguously Black art in such an unambiguously non-Black space should not have been a surprise. Along with them being outstanding and remarkably ambitious albums, they were released in a year where the line of demarcation separating "white people" from "White People" seemed to be more clearly drawn. And, if you happen to be on a Grammy nominating committee, what better way to distinguish yourself as an "ally" than praising To Pimp a Butterfly; an album whose second single includes the line "You're fuckin' evil I want you to recognize that I'm a proud monkey/You vandalize my perception but can't take style from me." That's some White guilt resolving-ass shit right there.
Anyway, thinking about this — and watching last week's Soul Train Awards — got me thinking: What are the Blackest songs of all-time? If every song ever created was rated on a Blackness scale, with one being "a Trump rally" and 10 being "Martin Delaney and Nikki Giovanni playing paper football on a cafeteria table," which songs would be 10s?
Before we even get to that question, though, we need to ask a few equally important ones. Namely, how would Blackness be determined in this context? Which rubric/assessment/evaluatory measure would be used? After a few minutes, er, days of intense deliberation, I came up with the following rules to consider:
1. Do at least 40% of Black people know at least 40% of the words? (The 40% distinction is crucial, because while no one would deny that "Lift Every Voice and Sing" is appropriately Black, only 18 living people know all of the words of the second verse.)
2. If you happen to be attending a Black boatride, or a Black cabaret, or were tricked into attending a Kappa cookout, is there a 128632% chance you’ll hear it?
3. Does it make you bounce or bop or nod or cry or smile or sing or something else involuntarily physical literally every time you hear it?
4. Has at least one family member broken a hip while dancing to it at a wedding?
Anyway, on to the list
"Before I Let Go" Maze featuring Frankly Beverly
This song has broken so many hips and toes and ankles at weddings and BBQs that it should be renamed "Before I Let Go To The Emergency Room."
"Lift Every Voice and Sing"
Raise your hand if you can recite all the words of this entire song without the aid of Google. Now, take that hand and choke yourself with it, because you a damn lie.
"Let's Stay Together" — Al Green
It's apropos that Green famously had a pot of hot grits thrown on him, because this song inexplicably sounds and feels like hot grits too. I hear it and I get hungry.
"Movin' on Up" (The Jeffersons theme song) — Ja'net Dubois
"Fish don't fry in the kitchen"??? "Beans don't burn on the grill"??? It's literally impossible for lyrics to be any Blacker than that. When you add this to the fact that it was sung by a woman with an unnecessary apostrophe in her name, its Blackness bonfides are unquestioned.
"Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" — Michael Jackson/"ABC" — Jackson 5
Yeah, I triple dog dare you to watch both of these video and not get happy as hell and sad as fuck.
"At Last" — Etta James
Although only 2% of Black people actually get married — at least according to all the specials, blogs, and reports about the state of Black marriage — 698% of that 2% danced to "At Last" at their weddings.
"Atomic Dog" — George Clinton
Because the entire second verse is nothing but dog bark onomatopoeia. And because, if you are a Black person who attended college and happened to attend parties while in college, hearing this song today either makes you irrationally happy or irrationally angry. No inbetween.
"Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" — Will Smith
Is, inarguably, the single greatest television theme song of all time.
"Superstition" — Stevie Wonder
Has broken just as many limbs as "Before I Let Go." Seriously, do not play these back-to-back at a family cookout without a first-aid kit and defibrillator ready.
"Respect" — Aretha Franklin
The greatest entry in a storied Black person history of spelling threats out after making the threat to make the threat seem more serious.
Honorable mentions: A bunch of Black-ass shit