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The On Being Project

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How Lauryn Hill’s “Black Rage” Made Its Way Into Our Program

How Lauryn Hill’s “Black Rage” Made Its Way Into Our Program

As producers we’re always trying to add layers of meaning to each week’s show. Music, especially, can bring out nuances in the conversation and add a depth of its own too. And, sometimes, this process can be quite serendipitous.

For example, take this week’s episode with Imani Perry, a scholar of hip hop, race, culture, and law. Initially, we closed the show with a track from Mos Def titled “Hip Hop”. It was good, but then, per our request, Ms. Perry sent an email with two excellent suggestions — one of which was Lauryn Hill’s “Black Rage.” Recorded in her living room years ago and never released commercially, even some of the most devoted Lauryn Hill fans hadn’t heard this song until the singer-songwriter tweeted it out in response to the unfolding events in Ferguson, Missouri:

The melody may sound familiar to you; it’s from “My Favorite Things” in The Sound of Music. But the lyrics have a pulse and convey a message much different from the original song:

BLACK RAGE is founded on two-thirds a person
Rapings and beatings and suffering that worsens,
Black human packages tied up in strings.
BLACK RAGE can come from all these kinds of things.
BLACK RAGE is founded on blatant denial
Squeezed economics, subsistence survival,
Deafening silence and social control.
BLACK RAGE is founded on wounds in the soul!

When the dogs bite
When the beatings
When I’m feeling sad.
I simply remember all these kinds of things and then I don’t fear so bad!

BLACK RAGE is founded: who fed self hatred,
Lies and abuse, while we waited and waited
Spiritual treason, this grid and its cages.
BLACK RAGE is founded on these kinds of things.
BLACK RAGE is founded on draining and draining,
Threatening your freedom to stop your complaining.
Poisoning your water while they say it’s raining,
Then call you mad for complaining, complaining.
Old time bureaucracy drugging the youth,
BLACK RAGE is founded on blocking the truth!
Murder and crime, compromise and distortion,
Sacrifice, sacrifice who makes this fortune?
Greed, falsely called progress,
Such Human contortion,
BLACK RAGE is founded on these kinds of things.

So when the dogs bite
And when the ceilings
And when I’m feeling mad,
I simply remember all these kinds of things and then I don’t fear so bad!

Free enterprise, is it myth or illusion?
Forcing you back into purposed confusion.
Black human, trafficking or blood transfusion?
BLACK RAGE is founded on these kinds of things.
Victims of violence both psyche and body
Life out of context IS living unGodly.
Politics, politics
Greed falsely called wealth
BLACK RAGE is founded on denial of self!
Black human packages tied up in subsistence
Having to justify very existence
Try if you must but you can’t have my soul
BLACK RAGE is made by unGodly control!

So when the dogs bite
When the beatings
And when I’m feeling sad.
I simply remember all these kinds of things and then I don’t fear so bad!

Now that you’ve heard the track on its own, listen to it layered with Imani Perry’s closing words from “The Fabric of Our Identity”:

Quite powerful. And, if you don’t mind me opining, perfect.

And, the second song on Imani Perry’s list: J. Cole’s “Be Free”:

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