As RIFF Rewind’s ongoing Black History Month comes up on the end of its second month these column topics are getting tougher and tougher.
My first thought was to celebrate the second attempt at baseball’s Opening Day by highlighting how recent broken color barriers have been in the MLB as compared to other major American sports. Unfortunately there’s not really a music angle to that, and if I do another general history column with mostly-unrelated songs haphazardly attached our illustrious editor Roman may break social distancing rules to drive to my house and strangle me. Just straight up choke me out. [Gokhman note: I mean… I need the exercise].
With baseball off the table, I decided to spotlight Chicago. After federal soldiers descended on Portland, the Trump administration’s next target became Chicago. After putting up some initial token resistance, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot changed gears and decided to welcome them with open arms.
Unfortunately, I vaguely remembered doing a column about Chicago musicians at some point. It feels like years ago, so I started my search in 2018. Then 2019. Didn’t find a thing. Turns out that column ran on Feb. 9. Like, this year.
I’m doing the Chicago column anyway.
Yes, technically Feb. 9 was only five-and-a-half months ago. But they’ve been a long, long five-and-a-half months. Remember when an American drone assassinated Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and it almost started World War III? That was only six months ago! All that fear and tension happened this year and you just had to struggle to remember it.
At this point I bet you barely remember Tiger King. That was late March. We were so young then.
Anyway, here are five more songs from Black musicians from Chicago. Call your Senators and your Congressmember and demand they put a stop to all this immediately. Now is not the time for strong words or committee hearings, now is the time for emergency action.
Lou Rawls — “You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine”
You may remember Lou Rawls as a regular on the “X-Files” spinoff “Baywatch Nights”—yes, the “Baywatch” spinoff was sci-fi, look it up—but did you know he was also a singer? It’s true!
Rawls released nearly 60 albums from 1962 until his death in 2006. And about six of them were Christmas albums which is impressive in itself. That’s a lot of Christmas content. Nirvana only released three true studio albums total in their entire career.
Seriously though, Lou Rawls is great.
Common — “Glory”
You may remember Common as the guy from “John Wick: Chapter 2” and those weirdly intense Microsoft commercials. [Gokhman note: “Hell on Wheels,” anyone?]. But did you know he’s also a rapper? It’s true!
Common may seem like a weird name for a rapper. It’s almost a self-own, implying rappers of your caliber are everywhere. But it came from his original rap name Common Sense, which… I guess it’s better. So why did he change it? Because in 1994 he got in a feud with Westside Connection, noted antisemite Ice Cube’s post-NWA rap group, which drew the attention of Orange County reggae band Common Sense, who of course sued him. So he’s Common now.
Anyway, Common is great.
Howlin’ Wolf — “Killing Floor”
You may know Howlin’ Wolf as… actually he wasn’t in any movies or TV shows. Sorry, I dragged that joke out as long as I could.
You may know “Killing Floor” as a Jimi Hendrix song, though. Or as a fast version of Led Zeppelin’s “The Lemon Song” which was an uncredited cover until a lawsuit put Howlin’ Wolf’s name back on it. And if a white rock band stealing music from a Black blues legend upsets you, probably take a few deep breaths before reading my previous column on the subject.
Nat King Cole — “When I Fall In Love”
You may remember Nat King Cole from his famous daughter Natalie Cole, not to mention “The Nat King Cole Show,” but did you know he’s also a singer?
Ok, now I’m done with that joke.
Seriously though, in addition to being a legendary crooner, Cole was the first Black man to host a network TV show. Considering how few network TV shows are hosted by Black people 65 years after his show ended, that’s a pretty major accomplishment. It’s a bit depressing to think that modern TV executives could take notes from their 1950s counterparts.
Chief Keef — “Love Sosa”
Could I have put Kanye here? Yes, probably. But I think we should probably just let Kanye be for the time being. I was the first to make jokes, but now that it’s been confirmed that he’s suffering from serious, untreated bipolar disorder? I’m just gonna let that go.
I could also go with Chicago mainstay Chance the Rapper.
R. Kelly is from Chicago.
So why did I go with Chief Keef? Because his lyrics are hostile, violent and nihilistic. The pretense for the military invasion is the gun violence epidemic in the city, which is absolutely real and absolutely a problem. And Keef’s lyrics speak to that world.
But the answer to that problem is not overwhelming military force, regardless of what Trump and Lightfoot seem to think. The answer is to find the root of the problem and solve that. Because introducing another violent gang to the situation is just going to get even more people killed—in addition to furthering our nation’s descent into a full-blown police state, of course.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis and tweet column ideas to him at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.