August Greene (to be released March 9, 2018)
I know we usually have fun with these reviews but, honestly, my heart was extremely heavy when I hit play on August Greene’s album.
Here’s why: The conversations surrounding gun violence in schools have raged for years here in the U.S. Those convos reached their apex just a couple weeks ago when a shooter robbed families of 17 lives after opening fire in Florida. But less than 24 hours ago, my current city of Birmingham was stricken by similar heartache when a gun went off at a local high school, killing a student and injuring two others.
When those national debates become hometown horrors, it’s really hard to suppress those feelings of fear and frustration. Especially when it’s the least of these – children and communities of color – that continue to be victimized by gun culture.
It’s infuriating. And heartbreaking. And baffling. And exhausting.
Admittedly my mind really wasn’t on the music when I sat down to listen to August Greene, the debut album from the supergroup of the same name – comprised of hip-hop luminary Common, and A-list producers Robert Glasper and Karriem Riggins.
But once the music started to speak, my emotions started to heal.
Props to August Greene for having the foresight to cover Sounds of Blackness’ 1991 hit, “Optimistic,” which proves to be medication for an ailing world. Brandy’s inspirational vocals are appropriately uplifting while Com slides in for a dose of reality.
Living in ambition on a mission impossible
Envision optimism through a prism that’s optical
To see through obstacles and be remarkable
It’s easy to write off the concept of optimism as an empty construct – hollow words that mask the truths of the ugliness around us. But that’s short-sighted. We were never meant to rest on optimism. In fact, optimism fuels action.
That’s a lesson I needed to hear.
August Greene is an album filled with those truths, marrying Common’s poetic observations with Glasper and Riggins’ heavenly soundscapes.
The immature may call it preachy. Wiser listeners call it necessary.
“Black Kennedy” is an ode to black excellence, with Common wishing “I could put Jordans on the feet of everyone” before bringing things down to earth:
Leader of the freestyle, I go to penitentiaries
And write with the fight of Rev. Wright from Trinity
For centuries, they’ll remember for my similes
But I metaphor more than that
No matter how rich I get, I’ma pour it back
Common gets a bit more personal on “Fly Away” navigating the gentle tribal percussions to open up about his high-profile relationship issues:
I’m thinking bigger, looking for the perfect picture
Takes much practice, I was in love with an actress, a singer, and a tennis player
Star Wars of love, every princess had a layer
‘Don’t commit’ city, you could say I was the mayor
Instead of boasting about bedding the Taraji P. Hensons, Erykah Badus and Serena Williams of the entertainment world, he shines the light on himself to illuminate his own flaws. That’s grown folks’ music, y’all.
While August Greene may seem to revolve around Common, thanks in part to his effortless barrage of bars on “Patience” and his stroll down hip-hop memory lane on “The Time,” you can’t overlook the importance of the album’s ethereal production. Glasper and Riggins’ instrumentation take center stage on the warm “Aya” and the 12-minute jam session “Swisha Suite.” Admittedly, sometimes the August Greene‘s production is a bit too subdued, especially on the first half of the album, but there’s enough energy to keep the atmosphere from getting too drowsy.
There’s no question that August Greene is an album meant for mature ears. But its lessons have no age limit. On “Piano Interlude,” Common asks questions that pierce my soul, especially today:
I met a little boy, he asked, “Where are we now?”
I met a little girl she asked if I was proud
Of what I had become and what the world would allow
It makes me wonder what’s on the minds of those students who are coping with grief today and, more importantly, what we’re going to do to fix it.
August Greene might not have the answers but it’s filled with food for thought. And much needed optimism.
Best tracks: “Optimistic,” “Black Kennedy,” “Fly Away”
4 stars out of 5