A five episode mini-series special to commemorate the prolific Beyoncé project that took the internet (and Bey-hive) by storm: Black is King. With the global movement of Black Lives Matter, the intent of the film encouraged the powerful reclamation of Black heritage.
As you might be familiar, Dissect is a serialized music podcast hosted by creator Cole Cuchna available exclusively on Spotify. The podcast series takes an academic approach to analyzing iconic albums that has had an undeniable influence on music and hip-hop culture.
In this surprise drop, Cole is joined by special guest co-host, Dr. Titi Shodiya (Dope Labs) to dive into an in-depth exploration of the lyrical metaphors, historical anecdotes and nods to African spirituality embedded all throughout the project. The series breaks down BIK’s commentary on White supremacy proliferated through Western religion; spoken word poems like Joshua Abah’s “Uncle Sam” featured in the project, and its uncanny parallels to featured rappers’ work like Kendrick Lamar’s “Wesley’s Theory”; and the story of how one Black female artist’s stolen and appropriated work led to the smash hit, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” while becoming the key reason behind Beyoncé creating Black Is King.
You can check out the first episode entitled, “BLACK IS KING (Part 1)” HERE.
Episode 1 Highlights:
- Beyoncé acknowledges that some Black individuals may feel insignificant because of a few words in a Bible verse. She’s likely referring to the ways in which Western culture has historically taken words from the Bible out of context and used them to justify slavery, White supremacy and other forms of dehumanization. One example of this is found in the early 1800s, when White Protestant Christians in the South began to appropriate the biblical story of Ham by making the unsubstantiated claim that Black people are the cursed descendants of Ham and White Europeans are the descendants of Noah’s favored sons. This blatant misuse of a Bible verse thus became one of the primary arguments that White Christians in the South used to justify enslaving Black Africans prior to the Civil War…Over time, after everything had been stolen from us, our memory and our reality became an amalgamation of falsehoods. The system works to maintain those falsehoods and you try to just…survive. Surviving in a system designed for your destruction. The line “life is your birthright they hid that in the fine print” is a reminder to us all that with life comes our right to live, freely and equally. Our existence is not a political statement: it is our right.
- When Beyonce says, “this is how we journey far and can still find something like home,” she offers the remainder of the film as a blueprint for her audience that are descendents of the African Diaspora to celebrate their own beauty and power through connection to their ancestors, pride in their traditions, and rediscovering the stories of their people. By remembering the ancestors and the past that colonizers suppressed, it can be possible to begin to recover what had been lost.
Episode 2 Highlights:
- The potential of women to guide boys into manhood then seems to highlight that Simba now faces a dichotomous choice in how he will think about women. If he follows his inclination to use sex as a coping mechanism, Simba will begin to see women and their bodies as objects for his sexual gratification. However, if he recognizes the significance of being born from the body of a Black woman, he can look to Black women to provide the guidance he desperately needs to heal and recover his royal identity.
- As we see the final two shots of the procession and the group of women, we hear an audio clip of a spoken word poem titled “Uncle Sam.” The poem was written by a Nigerian-American named Joshua Abah (“AH-bah”). The longer form of the poem recounts how Joshua was born in America after his parents immigrated from Nigeria. From the time that he was born, the pressure to succeed in America forced his parents to focus on teaching him English rather than their native language from the Idoma (Ee-doh-ma) tribe from the lower-Western region of Benue State rather than their native language from the Idowa people of North Central Nigeria. As Joshua got older, he began to lament how American culture and academic knowledge had displaced his connection to his family and culture from the African motherland. Along with this loss of connection to family and culture, Joshua realized that he was losing his connection to his true identity. The realization is summed up in the final lines of the poem, where Joshua says that if he never learns to speak his native language he will never know himself. And if he never knows himself, America will never really know him.
Episode 3 Highlights
- When we looked at the symbolic use of the Nile River, we discussed how living in the denial is a common way for Black people to cope with the generational troubles caused by slavery and colonialism. Here in Simba’s dream, colonialism seems to be symbolized by a chauffeur wearing an African mask while driving a Rolls Royce, which is one of the most iconic symbols of British wealth and power. Rather than address the systemic injustice caused by British colonialism, Simba dreams of simply using an African aesthetic to cover over the symbol of colonialism. This symbolic use of the leopard print Rolls Royce was highlighted by the scene’s director Blitz Bazawoolay. In an interview with Now Magazine, Bazawule said, “The Rolls Royce was one of our best ideas, I feel. We’re talking about a kid living his Hakuna Matata moment. If we peel off that leopard, it’s still that oppression that has wreaked havoc on the world.” The influence of White American culture is immediately on display as the following shot shows JAY-Z’s Rolls Royce parking in front of a Beverly Hills mansion…This regal, European-style mansion is officially known as “The Beverly House”…one of the most iconic symbols of the Hollywood lifestyle that dominates portrayals of fame, wealth and power in American culture. Within the context of Black Is King, the Beverly House is a clear indication that Simba is quite literally experiencing the American Dream – the same dream that Uncle Sam has been using to tear African immigrants away from their identity. However, much like the Rolls Royce covered with leopard print, Simba dreams of covering over the European style mansion with an African aesthetic. Or in the words of Black is King’s creative director Kwasi Fordjour, Simba’s dream aims to “re-face the whole old hollywood glamour and make it Black as fuck.”
- This is “Mbube,” a song written and recorded by South African singer Solomon Linda in the 1920s…became a hit in the 1940s as the record sold more than a hundred thousand copies throughout the African continent and led to the development of an entire genre of South African vocal music. However, outside of Africa, most people never heard the original version of the song. Instead, most people only know the English version “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” which is the version sung by Timon and Pumbaa in the Lion King…Beyoncé’s choice to use Solomon Linda’s original version seems to be part of a much larger strategy to expose how White Europeans have repeatedly exploited and appropriated African art without properly crediting or compensating African artists…This rendition was then performed by a teen group named The Tokens and became a worldwide hit in the early 60s… In fact, learning about Solomon’s story is what inspired Beyonce to create Black Is King in the first place.
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