There are several moments when I couldn’t find the words.
Latasha Alcindor’s new album B(LA)K expresses all the things I couldn’t say about gentrification of our neighborhoods. It is an amalgamation of dying memories and resurrecting beats: Brooklyn’s tongue lashes in chronicles that anyone from a major inner city can relate to.
“My auntie fighting for her crib/ I know the times gotta change, but can a n*gga live.”
We were all aware that evolution was inevitable, but did we have to lose our homes to evolve? My best friend and I sat on top of fruit soiled supermarket boxes. We were packing away old magazines when she broke the silence: “Fruits are sweeter, right as they began to rot. It’s like a metaphor that we’re using these boxes. Just because all parts of the fruit aren’t edible, doesn’t mean most of it can be salvaged. We’re fruit out here.” Usually this is where we’d laugh or joke that someone at the Nuyorican Poets Café would use this in a poem about gentrification and food deserts. We didn’t laugh. It was difficult to crack a smile, when we were cracking open uncertainty.
“Where you gonna go?”
My best friend was losing the home she’d inherited from an aunt because she could no longer afford it. Property taxes were sky high and she couldn’t keep up with the payments.
She shrugged, “I don’t know. Somewhere they can’t just move me again. Somewhere they’ll need my permission first.”
“Seems as though Jim Crow caught a futuristic flow/ Wanna integrate? That’s great/ But we need freedom though/Honestly…Imma tell these people without any apology/ Streets is getting lethal, because they wish to abolish we/ I see the flight, forcing homies out of homes/ Because they can’t afford life.”
Alcindor’s sultry voice and adlibs on “Innate Paranoia” sound like my conscience on my first day home. I had so many accusations to throw upon emerging from the train steps of Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn. There was a gaping hole in the heart of Brooklyn and they were pouring concrete into it. They were stiffening what made Brooklyn so intriguing to the rest of the world. I had no words for the gaping hole that was making its way through my heart, too.
“Green juice or Crown Fried, namaste, why these people try to take mine?”
In this lyric, Alcindor is using metaphor to compare new Brooklyn to old Brooklyn. Brooklyn is no longer the borough I remember. Family members that spent summers sitting on the stoops were fleeing to the South, due to rising rents and the inability to stay afloat. Businesses that we relied on for incense, cheap toiletries, groceries, and papi’s sausage-egg-and-cheese suddenly disappeared. Brooklyn’s familiarity was drowned out by the urge to keep newcomer millennials happy.
B(LA)K has Brooklyn residents conversing between tracks, providing solutions, reasons, the news stories that they’re privy to, and narratives that resonate. She uses voices of Brooklyn’s residents to convey the disdain of displaced residents.
Resident 1: “My voice matters. If our skin doesn’t matter, my voice matters.”
Resident 2: “So what’s the key? Unity! Unity! If it was unity, all of this would still be black owned. Not partying and dancing. Education, education. What type of education? From our own schools.”
Alcindor’s lyricism brings attention to the privilege that displaces these residents. Her work is a wake-up call. It is an emotional rollercoaster: one second we are reminiscing, the next we’re thinking of our own circumstances, and then we are plummeted in the realities of losing our homes. In “Side Efx of Gentrification” she cites classic areas that are long gone or forgotten. Brooklyn’s culture attracted several outsiders that flocked here to call it home, forgetting the reason they arrived. Outsiders buried its legacy under condominiums, Starbucks, and anything they found more aesthetically pleasing.
The interludes and track-intros take the listener beyond the bodega, cruising through the borough, with urgent hooks that beg you not to let Kings County fade. We are privileged to hear synonymous tales sown throughout the work, sparking a curiosity to know if they are autobiographical. She speaks of an absentee drug-dealing father on “Queso:”
“Loving how I grow/ But goes and gets his dough/ All about the dough/All about his dough/ Your child is Van Gogh/ But you about your dough.”
The end of the track is a resident speaking about drug dealers putting money back into the neighborhood, feeding the community through block parties, and boasting “everybody would eat.” Alcindor seems to share Brooklyn’s beautiful struggle with this track, unveiling its imperfections and attributes at the same time. Alcindor doesn’t adhere to cadence. She adheres to flow. Jumping in and out of bars with rhyme and faux inquiry, she rides the fine line of tête-à-tête and demand. Everything seems rhetorical: “Is this hypocrisy on my lips?” “Is the truth always righteous?” “Singing for my people, but am I off pitch?” On “trust.,” Alcindor is not here to reconcile; she wants you to listen. It is clear that this album is not a conversation. It is a requiem. We are required to listen to Brooklyn moan.
“New slave abolitionists/ Christen this/ Christ consciousness/ Power in the speech/ Cracked your ego trip/ What the f— do you n—s care about?”
I am tempted to ask my neighbors this question. If they get off our stop after 10 p.m., they scatter like roaches. They call the cops on kids playing basketball in the alley nearby. They are frustrated when we enter spaces they’ve curated for themselves. They negate our historical landmarks by renaming them. The last album’s last track ends without rhyme. It ends with Alcindor wiping her memory, but like the last interlude on the track we are inconclusive. We don’t know when gentrification and maneuvering the stigma of our skin color will end. These days we are no longer looking for words to describe what we are feeling. Everything has been said. We think we already know what it means to be b(la)k.
But sometimes we need reminding.