I conceived of "What's Going On" in November of 2008. At that time, Cypher Affiliated was just forming in the midst of my senior year of college, and I was pushing myself to my limits trying to succeed with each. That unique experience provided me with the ingredients to create my own version of "What's Going On," patterned after Marvin Gaye's album of the same name. It was then and still is one of my favorite albums--I listened to it frequently while doing school work because I knew it so well that it would not distract me. I loved the musicianship of the album, but Marvin's lyrics were a bridge for me between my musical and non-musical life--we shared a common understanding of American politics and culture. My studies, both inside and outside of the classroom, led me to believe that much of what Marvin was singing about had not changed since his album was released. I felt the need to express his sentiments, but in my own way and to my own audience. Joe Levi, with whom I had begun creating music at the time, introduced me to the idea of concise albums. I found inspiration in Joe's "Kixnare EP," in which he rapped over short instrumentals, focusing on the lyrics more than anything else. At the time, I had been working on my album "blue(s)" but was unable to complete it, so I needed an alternative outlet. One day in November, I had the idea of recreating "What's Going On" using each song as sampling material and each song title as a guide to the lyrics, with the whole project following the aesthetics of the "Kixnare EP."
I spent the next month and a half working on the album, with an attention to the process of creating. I produced all the beats first, and in the order of appearance on the album, with the beginning and ending of each beat corresponding to that of Marvin's songs. Then I wrote the lyrics to each song in the same order, finishing each before I started the next one. Finally, I recorded it in my mother's basement over winter break. It was a comfortable space where many of my recordings had taken place up to that point. As with many of my songs from that time period and before, most of my recordings were completed in my first take. I was experimenting with the idea of an album that features only the basic necessities, and thus it became my first recording where I chose not to use background vocals. I also was interested in creating a project without anyone else's help--for that reason, I barely showed anyone any part of the project until it was released. Once I was finished with the recordings, I mixed and mastered it, and released it January 8th, 2009. I promoted the songs "What's Happening Brother" and "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" as singles.
As mentioned earlier, "What's Going On" features my take on the ideas Marvin was dealing with in his time. The song "What's Going On" is a greeting to my audience, starting with a paraphrase of Marvin's appeal for peace in America and overseas, and introduces my political opinions and musical intentions. "What's Happening Brother" is the high-energy first single from the album, bringing jazzy rhythms and rhymes right to your spot in the crowd. "Flying High (In The Friendly Sky)" utilizes an unusual time signature, dislodging the listener from the usual rap context in order to help convey my portrayal of music as if it were a drug. "Save The Children" argues that the time is now to fix our harmful political system, if not for this generation, then for the next. "God Is Love" explores how humans express love in their lives and how we need to use love as a basis for our relationships in life. "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" connects our lives, personally and politically, to the way we have treated the earth, with the hopes that we will learn to treat both ourselves and our earth with more respect and humility. "Right On" pauses the politics of the album to remind listeners that I still know how to write a crowd-pleasing verse. "Wholy Holy" is an explanation of how we can better our personal and political lives by recognizing the importance of others in both our spiritual lives and in a democracy. "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)," the final song on the album and the second single, was conceived as a discussion of urban segregation in general, but became a sharp criticism of the racist policies that have existed in Detroit for many years. I created “What’s Going On” with the hope that you, the listener, will not just enjoy the music, but also digest the ideas that I am presenting with this music and act as a positive force in our world. Thank you for the support!
released 08 January 2009
All production, lyrics, vocals, engineering, mixing, and mastering by Sean Riddell.
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