The Truths We Hold: An American Journey
by Kamala Harris
Penguin Press, 336 pp., $30

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Kamala Harris; drawing by Lauren Tamaki

The Democrats have a self-esteem problem in addition to a marketing problem. Meanwhile, we keep hearing that we should be wary of establishment-backed leaders like we are forever hearing that we should steer clear of gluten. The preference we on the left have for grassroots politicians, those for whom words like “energy” and “enthusiasm” are popular descriptors, who either aren’t in consideration for the big presidential prize in 2020 (a recent Axios/Survey Monkey poll shows that 74 percent of Democrats and those who lean Democrat would vote for Alexandria Ocacio-Cortez, who is not yet eligible as she is under thirty-five), or won’t likely win (Bernie Sanders, as recent history suggests) speaks to an implicit cowardice all too convenient for the politically faint of heart — invested, tellingly, in those not yet ready to play on the big-boy courts as it were. …


The Death of Truth: Notes on Falsehood in the Age of Trump
by Michiko Kakutani
Tim Duggan Books, 208 pp., $22.00

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Michiko Kakutani; drawing by Jillian Tamaki

In 1979, the year Michiko Kakutani joined the Times as a reporter, the culture was such that the predicament for thinking persons could be summed up in that politically incorrect period when only three major news networks competed for coverage (before #MeToo was even a thought, let alone a hashtag appropriated from a black woman, and the film’s squirmy romantic plot at best raised only a few eyebrows), by Isaac Davis’s impassioned rant in Manhattan from that spring:

This is an audience that’s raised on television. Their standards have been systematically lowered over the years. You know, these guys sit in front of their sets all day and the gamma rays eat the white cells of their brains out. …


From left, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Phife Dawg and Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest in 1993.Credit…Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In a 2010 interview with the “Juan Esptein” podcast Jay-Z was asked somewhere around the halfway point by host Peter Rosenberg whether he’d listened to De La Soul during his formative years in Brooklyn. “Not so much” replied the Forbes-topping megastar, then basking in the success of “Empire State of Mind,” while there to promote a book about his legacy, who on his debut album, 1996’s Reasonable Doubt, repurposed the hook to A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It?” When asked why by co-host Cipha Sounds, the pride of Marcy projects (who just seconds earlier confirmed his love for Tribe along with Boogie Down Productions) said, seemingly shrugging, “I didn’t really relate,” before trailing off. It’s a moment remarkable not so much for its casual dismissal of a great hip-hop group (Questlove recalled, “The same way a white kid would look at Eminem and say, ‘Hey, that’s me,’ I saw De La Soul and was like, ‘Yeah, that’s me’”) as it is for its bulletproof validation of another equally great group — as remarkable in its cool bohemian orthodoxy as its Native Tongues comrades are in their nerdy insider’s eclecticism — whose appeal and bona fides are unusually palpable in their reach and mellifluous disruption of boundaries, both social and generational. …


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Slick Rick
The Great Adventures of Slick Rick

The rap album, once a kind of misnomer for those who came up on novelty singles like “Rappin’ Duke” — and never thought that hip-hop would take it this far — had by 1988 become not only a thing in the world, but the standard format in which to hear the genre. No longer the stuff of one-hit wonders, rap had matured to the point where a fully developed sensibility could be expressed via the long player in a way that even the firmly entrenched rock establishment could no longer easily discredit.

That said, in retrospect even such classics as Straight Outta Compton, or Follow the Leader, monumental as they are, have not, for all that exactly aged well (who in 2019 really needs to hear “Somethin’ 2 Dance 2,” or the God MC’s assurances that you’re “doin’ it with the R’”?). …


Birth of the World
an exhibition at MoMA, New York City, February 24–June 15, 2019
Guide to the exhibition by Carolyn Lanchner (2008), 46 pp., $9.95 (paper) (distributed by the Museum of Modern Art)

Joan Miró: “Hirondelle Amour,” 1933 — 34

There’s anecdote that’s now available to posterity wherein Ernest Hemingway went to great lengths, as it were, to obtain his friend Joan Miró’s assiduous masterpiece, The Farm (1921 — 22). After reportedly doing everything from shooting dice to giving boxing lessons to (more likely) selling vegetables part time to get it into his possession, Hemingway and Jon Dos Passos in 1925, he later recalled, were at long last able to spirit into a cab (“the wind caught the big canvass as though it were a sail, and we made the taxi crawl along”) The Farm, which he said, essentially, contained all of Spain — both a nice place to live and visit according to the American master of minimalism. …


MOOD: Studio Museum Artists in Residence 2018–19
an exhibition at MoMA PS1, New York City, June 9–September 8, 2019
Guide to the exhibition by Farrah Jasmine Griffin, Vivian A. Crockett, and Hannah Black
Studio Museum, 36 pp., (distributed by Studio Magazine)

From left: Sable Elyse Smith, Allison Janae Hamilton, and Tschabalala Self, New York City; photograph by Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich

The feeling you get when taking in for the first time Tschabalala Self’s ghetto-fabulous minor character study, Dime, which was on display at MoMA PS1 until earlier this month as part of the MOOD: Studio Museum Artists in Residence 2018–19 exhibition is one of familiar intimacy. …


Posing Modernity: The Black Model from Manet and Matisse to Today
an exhibition at the Wallach Art Gallery, New York City, October 24, 2018–February 10, 2019; and the Musée d’Orsay, Paris, March 26–July 14, 2019
Catalog of the exhibition by Denise Murrell
Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery, 224 pp., $50.00 (distributed by Yale University Press)

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Charles Alston: Girl in a Red Dress, 1934

When we think of what is modern we think of many things. Cursorily, some things that come to mind are the telephone, the automobile, the airplane — new technologies each, which allowed for new ways of being in a world made that much smaller by their reorientation of time and space, even as they presented new occasions for distraction and dislocation and the onset of a thoroughly urban ennui (one is reminded that one of the hallmarks of Western society following the Industrial Revolution is the restless expectancy of avoiding boredom). The artists we most readily identify as modern — Manet, Matisse, Picasso — who interrogated these extraordinary modes of representation, dodging boredom (to the extent that it can be dodged) by highlighting irregularities, as opposed to upholding an idealized standard of beauty (“There’s no symmetry in nature,” observed the painter of the time-and-space-reorienting “The Railway,” “We all have a more or less crooked nose and an irregular mouth”) and establishing unorthodox perspectives are best summarized in the figure of Proust’s outlaw painter Elstir (inspired in part by Manet) with his yearning to visualize things more innocently. We don’t normally associate the word “innocent” with black women in our modern conception (it’s indeed an ideal that was already in extremis in Proust’s France by the time of M. Swann’s perpetually bored, if not happily unfaithful wife, Mme. …


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Ari Lennox
Shea Butter Baby

Ari Lennox definitely gotta have some nudes floating around out there. “New Apartment,” a brazen song off her fantastic debut, Shea Butter Baby talks up the joys of self-exposure (and coming into one’s own as an adult) with charmingly exhibitionist vibes: “I just got a new apartment/I’m gon’ leave the floor wet/Walk around this bitch naked/And nobody can tell me shit.” It’s an ethos not unlike that which she expressed on a recent episode of “Angela Yee’s Lip Service” podcast where, when asked by Yee about the contents of her iCloud, Lennox said, “I like to take pictures of my ass in the mirror. I like that . . . um . . . yeah.” When asked whether she put her face in the photos — a practice, presumably, all but the most intrepid of us would want to avoid — she replied, “I don’t mind. I’m just like, What’s the point? …


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Solange
When I Get Home

Most parents fuck it up with the first child. But if you’re Mama Knowles and nem you make a Beyoncé first time out the gate and bestow upon the world a popstar so perfect she transcends, inevitably, the very origin story which makes up her artistic center. In any case, that’s the thing about being the oldest — you have to hit the ground running, and, if you’re black, eventually find a way to square that fact with a world bent on forcing compromises out of you. (Think James Baldwin, the eldest of nine cradling in one arm a baby, with a Bible or, more likely, most preferably a Charles Dickens novel in the other, with feverish visions of a distant Paris just out of reach from his Harlem tenement window.) …


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Rapsody
Eve

What is the opposite of plunder? The word, denoting pillage or theft — invoked by Ta-Nehisi Coates in his “The Case for Reparations,” and particularly timely in this 400th anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans to these United States has no obvious antonyms. But one could perhaps, in an optimal upside-down land where Black women, for instance aren’t seen as the mules of the world, conceive of a happy antithesis in “conserve” or “protect” or “fill up,” even. …

About

Will Dukes

Cultural Critic | Past: @SPINmagazine @villagevoice @VibeMagazine @thefader | It’s lit(erature). https://www.patreon.com/

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