Even rarer than artists making great records after 40 is those who are able to do so in quick succession. Back when I was high school, Hüsker Dü released New Day Rising and Flip Your Wig only 8 months apart. It’s hard to imagine young bands doing that in today’s post-internet crash music economy, let alone middle aged folks. Earlier in this series of posts, I wrote about “Scott Walker’s Hat Trick,” referring to three records that unfolded at a one a decade clip, (Climate of Hunter 1984, Tilt 1995, Drift 2006.) A few years after that post, I was pleasantly surprised when Scott really sped up and released Bish Bosch in 2012. Scott might be a bit of an extreme case, but not by much.
So it’s a pretty amazing achievement Wise Intelligent pulled off in 2017, releasing 2 great records in the same year: Game of Death, his collaboration with Gensu Dean, and the solo effort The Blue Klux Klan. I’m not exactly sure how old he is, but given that the first time I heard him was in 1990, via “Holy Intellect,” the title track of the debut album by his group Poor Righteous Teachers, I’m pretty sure he qualifies for this series.
It’s hard to sum up what goes on inside of great music, and I’m not really going to try in this post because I think there are other people who know this work better than I do who are better qualified to break it down. Instead, I’m going to ask you to watch this 2017 interview with Wise Intelligent in which he gives one of the best chronological summaries of the construction and maintenance of white supremacy in the United States I’ve seen on film. This timeline is presented to support his argument that the “Achievement Gap” (that I hear so much about as an educator at a Title I Public School) cannot be understood as a failure of the various attempts to address or correct it since the Civil Rights Act of 1965. Instead, it has to be seen as the success of a long line of systemic policy initiatives over a 52 year period to redesign and maintain a system of white supremacy that created and maintains the wealth and power of the country. “We’re looking at a white power structure, primarily, that had a 500 year head start. And now they want to measure wealth gaps, education gaps, and all these things that are not being put into the proper historical context when you measure it.” The message isn’t one of defeatism but rather that it is necessary to understand the cause of the problem in order to solve it. The policies that institutions use to maintain these power relationships must be studied carefully and forced to change by black leaders.
I’m also going to suggest you support this artist and pick up Game of Death and Blue Klux Klan. People sometimes talk about how hip-hop has lost the edge it had in the ’80’s and ’90’s, but in a 2011 interview Wise Intelligent said “It’s not that heads are not making conscious music anymore, it’s because mainstream corporations don’t want it on the air – for what it is, and for what it has the ability to do.” In the track G.O.D. from Game of Death, he talks about how a lot of artists aren’t saying much these days because they know that white music executives won’t make them rich if they do. The number of views on the video suggests they’re sure not making him rich either. I’m glad he’s been able to keep making tracks like Get Money Teach Kids or Nothing despite not conforming to that disciplinary incentive structure. Why does this video below have only 2k views? Partly cuz powerful people don’t want it to.
Here’s more from Wise Intelligent on the corporate censorship of black music – from the Kerner Commission to Jimmy Iovine: