What's Going On

by Sean Riddell

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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 January 8, 2009

All production, lyrics, vocals, engineering, mixing, and mastering by Sean Riddell.



all rights reserved
Track Name: What's Going On
Mothers crying. Brothers dying, or cousins dying,
but we don’t care if others dying.
Families crumble, then some of them out of the rubble rising.
And these are just the times we’re in. We can adjust these times,

wearing a watch-ful eye, matched with a stronger mind.
We’ve been fashioned to fit in—close—for all of time.
And if you follow the seam and see what it seems to be,
the top’ll pocket the wallet and fit the jeans to knees.

It seems the needy are knee-deep by my logic.
Whether it be Tuskegee or the projects,
they experiment so they never have an answer
to problems they created like AIDS and cancer. Race is taboo.

Lose sight in your eye-dentity, colorblind.
Our words are undefined. They killed King
and twisted his words. It gets on my nerves
only once a year we attempt to observe his service. Purpose,

words out of context, so now the content
make the loud the content. Never bow to con-ventions.
Venting, been in-venting in the lab,
so you can imagine cinematic when I grab a pen and pad

and illustrate what’s going on like the older song.
Little has changed, so I write to show you wrongs.
What Marvin saw forty years ago, well, here we go
as I sing about it again. Turn up your stereo.

So, if racists hate races, then what do economists hate?
As in the ones on the top that brought us this fate.
Never put much faith in fate, but capitalism is destined to fail
‘cause every crack in the system lets the oppressor prevail.

Those on the bottom pay those on top.
Then they let the bottom fall out and take some off the top.
And this is just off the top, ‘cause you know it’s on.
Let me introduce. The name is Sean. What’s going on?
Track Name: What's Happening Brother
I’m just getting back.
Flipping that Motown into that Mitten rap.
No Mary Wells or Tammi Terrell,
just my train of thought that can’t be derailed. And none other than

the Funk Brothers and Marvin for a marvelous touch,
to add a little soul to the heart and the guts.
I was starting it up like the cars and the trucks.
Hungry. I said, "Man, you starving or what?"

American pie chart, started carving it up.
Battled my way to the top like I harbored a grudge.
The harder it was, the stronger it made me.
No longer it phased me. I often amaze me.

I was walking today, see. I’m just getting back.
I feel at home on the track, that’s where my head is at.
Home is not where the bed is at, to get exact.
Bet I battle the sickest rappers—they leave in a MEDEVAC.

I’m just getting back.
What’s happening, brother? Man, where you sitting at?
It’s been awhile. I’m just getting back.
What’s happening, brother? What’s happening?

I’m just getting back, though.
Flipping samples, so Vincent van Gogh
with “Starry Night.” I’m just getting back.
It’s like I never left, ‘cause I always write. Heh.

I’m just getting back at you, be
-cause you haven’t gotten a letter or package from me.
Actually, I’m just getting into it.
Third Eye to the Soul to let my vision intuit.

If you add Danny Brown, that’s three of four.
The last one is me, of course.
But on this, I’m just ripping raps
over the kick and hat, did the this and that, and mixed the tracks

just to show how I mastered this. That I’m this
passionate when I’m rapping in a gathering. “What’s happening?”
to those alongside for the long ride,
as I make my exit on the calm slide.

I’m just getting back.
What’s happening, brother? Man, where you sitting at?
It’s been awhile. I’m just getting back.
What’s happening, brother? What’s happening?
Track Name: Flying High (In The Friendly Sky)
Flying high in the friendly sky.
Lifted by writing; it gets me high.
Lets me fly without ever leaving the ground.
When I don’t have it, I need it around.

Seeking it out at the end of the day,
despite what some of the friends of mine say.
But my closest circle is addicts
to everything from the sound to the static.

As I lay down at the end of the night
and pick up a pencil to write,
sharp enough to know that it’s led me on
to write for those that read me wrong.

I step beyond the threshold
and compress those experiences to my best prose.
I jump off the walls I’ve built,
flying high above all my filth.

All my feelings spilling out as literature,
and filling out my signature.
Thus I’ve come to find punchlines
written in blood from my blood lines.

The needle in the vein draws out
an image written that can’t be crossed out
if you take the Robert Frost route,
gone and blocked the laws out. Ink falls out,

through the arms; through the pen
to the page to the end.
Splashing fashioned puddles,
imaging the imagined troubles.

Honestly, how do we
describe the truth like photography?
So in the work to capture the,
we lose track of re-ality.

So if that means I lost it, I rhyme that,
‘cause I really lose it when I can’t find that.
And yes, my friend, I know that I’m hooked.
I’m only an open book when I open my book.

In the morning I’ll be all right, my friend.
I’ll be quiet, I won’t write, I’ll fight again.
I’ll push it all down and I’ll bottle it up.
I’ll keep it inside though I gotta erupt.

Nobody really understands, no.
They can’t know the love I can’t show.
How I go to the place where feeling awaits,
and they conversate, “Is it real, is it fake?”

I hold self-destruction in my hand
in the form of a pen, and since it began,
I’ve been hooked, just look in my eye.
It’s not the same since I took to the sky.
Track Name: Save The Children
Who really suffers tomorrow for the sins of the father?
The sons and the daughters. Who’s beginning to bother
with fixing the problems that either we’re causing
or letting continue ‘cause it’s cheaper than solving.

It’s deeper than all this, it’s deeper than lyrics.
It’s deep as a foundation—it’s deep in the spirit.
For people to hear it, it comes as a shock
that we turn to religion but we’re running from God.

And the ones at the top, they do what they want
and throw caution to wind to improve on their lot.
They’re building up walls, to hide them at Wall Street.
They’re putting up ceilings, the type that we all meet.

They’re constructing a structure so the under ones under
-stand it’s tough as a buffer, and the younger ones suffer.
The ones up above us run off with the loot.
They brought us the guns, the movies taught us to shoot.

They brought us the drugs; they bought us the jails.
They taught us to buy, and they taught us to sell.
No tortoise and hare in this brand of the vision
where demand is positioned as capitalism.

And the side of supply they decided to hide,
it lowers the low and highers the high.
And hires the high to work for the low
wage in the business dispersing the homes.

This person has no insurance or hope
because the police do work for the goal.
The judges aren’t just; the lawyers aren’t loyal.
They’ll put you away, though you avoided the coil.

They’re destroying the soil, we put gardens in cities
to grow our own food, ‘cause the market is shifty.
The artisan in me better get building
up for the future like Everett Hilden.

Though never appealing, whenever the feeling
to think of yourself comes, remember the children.
My letters revealing my thoughts on my family,
my sister Alana, and all that she can be

if given the right opportunities in
her living her life which is soon to begin.
And whether or not I’m next to her side
each step in her life, I’m not best as a guide.

But who gets to decide how, other than her,
she uncovers and learns and discovers the world.
Let’s recover the earth to give to the children.
Less death and destruction; more living and building.

It isn’t until then we have something to offer
as mothers and fathers to our sons and our daughters.
If we can muster conviction. We must con
-sider the younger who really will suffer
Track Name: God Is Love
So, I’m not the biggest fan of religion.
I rank it up there with…capitalism.
‘Cause some choose to believe in it blindly.
That’s why I chose to leave it behind me.

That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in a God.
I know what I can’t handle, I leave it to God.
I believe in an omnipresent being.
God is in everything. Inside of us, guiding us in every single

step of the way. I see him everywhere.
A baby hugging her teddy bear—he’s already there.
I see him in head nods, handshakes.
Or in walks around the block in red sky landscapes.

Cigarette breaks to open the vocal cords.
Supporting your local stores. Or focusing focal for
whatever you love, but don’t go overboard.
It’s all good in moderation; hold to sober form.

Love gets so deformed, it becomes jealousy.
A jealous God isn’t love, that’s what I still believe.
So I don’t put up with it since God’s covenant.
Even if you at odds slugging it out, ‘cause your

brother was running his mouth, but there’s something about it.
Straight to his face not ducking around it.
That’s brotherly love, not the same as a mother’s hugs.
But all he asks of us, we give each other love.

It’ll put you in good mood like cooked food.
A role model you look to that took you
to a higher state of mind. Knew that I’d’ve stayed behind
due to primal place and time. Who could find a way to rhyme

what I impart, if I didn’t have a love for the art
that comes from the heart? Searching for an
inner flock of doves sent from God above.
God is love, and I find him inside of us.
Track Name: Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)
It’s like the keys played on the piano.
I see green in each channel pumping out the speaks’ panel.
I see green like the ecology, and follow the
change in its color up to dollar green.

If we look at “green” as “greed,” we can see what needs to be seen,
and see the need that seeds seen.
And “green” means both ecology and economy;
the capitalist struggle between each harms our progeny.

Of course I mean greenhouse gases,
but I also mean not having enough teachers to lead our classes.
Even giraffes win with a head start, though the cheetah fastest,
and in the background are the hyenas laughing.

You don’t need reading glasses to see between the lines.
How do we free our minds, when we find
our whole environment keeps us shackled and chained?
Thus those without money keep asking for change.
Track Name: Right On
Land right on the track where I write all my raps.
With the pen in the right arm I write on with that
a fight song, an icon, the python of wrap.
Squeezing your breathing like siphon-ing gas.
Hit you with a Cycloptic blast from my psychotic past
when I got the mic on connect.
I write on my desk or I write on my bed.
I write with no pen or the light’s on instead.

Or I write in my head,
when I’m headed away with no pen or a page
for minimum wage to fit in a cage, get him in a rage,
and get in the way of my gentleman ways.
Turned venomous snake. Words, I fit them in ways
ahead of his weight class-ic as sick
as Citizen Kane as the cinemas say.
Ripping it—wait, that’s it, that’s it!

Rap gymnastics, acrobatics, back-to-back flips.
Packed in action-packed kits.
Matter ‘fact the fact is I don’t have to practice.
That sick—packing packs of jackets.
Got a mask, you could say I’m Jim Carrey-ing.
Hear me, kid, you never know what them carrying.
And the way that them varying,
him marrying? No.

Marion Jones of the area code,
running up in ‘em in various homes.
Couldn’t carry a tone but I wrote nefarious poems
laced with hilarious jokes.
Apparently folks don’t get the metaphors.
Intercourse with the rhythm but I never get divorced.
In a sentimental instrumental benefit of pen and pencil
written visions into sets of fours.
Track Name: Wholy Holy
People, we’ve got to come together.
Society is ill, and feeling under weather.
Even if no diamond formed from the pressure,
we can make a stone to stand on that can nothing weather. The foundation,

to make it sound, must be found to be arable,
as in the parables of the sower and the mustard seed. However,
even in America, it’s out of reach. We need
to break down like beats the boundaries between.

Some debate between hate being fact or fallacy,
but I’ve woken, opened up my eyes, and seen its actuality.
Hate based on race and nationality,
sex and gender, and class realities. Some of us

are sound asleep, see no boundaries,
but hate gays eight days out the week. And now we feed those jails
with government-funded crack tipping kilo scales.
Still women guard their purses from black and Latino males.

We justify our racism through blaming children
in poor white schools for our blank vision and failing system.
And the whole Palin-Clinton for women.
Palin pales in comparison. She was an embarrassment.

I’ve read Malcolm’s autobiography, Lani Guinier,
and “Why We Can’t Wait” for democracy here.
It’s been made properly clear that we’re not wholly whole,
and where we go from here really God only knows.

But the homonym shows another meaning of “hole,”
the kind that makes a chain strong. We need to be in that role.
We need to accept but get past our differences
to better the environment that we’re living in. Listen.

People, we’ve got to come together.
Society is ill, and feeling under weather.
Even if no diamond formed from the pressure,
we can make a stone to stand on that can nothing weather. We’ve got to come together.
Track Name: Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)
Inner city “blues?” That’s just an expression.
What I’m seeing now is a full-fledged depression.
The inflection reflecting aggression,
but they couldn’t quiet the voices through compression.

The ’67 riots didn’t end the silence.
Time is money, thus it then incentivized it.
Add police, it’d end in violence.
They sold the middle-class a dream, thus the middle tend to buy it.

I question that type of stuff,
so now I’m told I’m not white enough. Told me to lighten up.
What’s that supposed to mean?
Unless it’s them double-guessing, questioning those hopes and dreams?

For the Hip-Hoppers with the past knowledge,
the same thing that happened in the Bronx happened in Black Bottom.
They demolished the homes, laid highway cement.
Demand for new homes made outrageous rent.

The roads led out to suburban encirclement
where the middle-class dream sellers made the perfect pitch.
Racial harmony meant something different,
‘cause all-white suburbs closed their ears to black dissonance.

Black citizens trapped living in red lines,
but this type of fact isn’t in headlines.
They do their best to suppress it, especially in Klan-infested nests.
Who better to protect investments?
Get the message?

Nearly forty years after Berry Gordy,
what’s changed when we hear these stories of his territory?
Still at war, still ecology and economy
on our mind ‘cause of failed philosophies that lead to poverty.

Look at Kwame, or GM.
Only to point out problems do they peek in.
Sneak in money for those in view, the chosen few.
Bury a word in the face of closing schools.

Those are true inner city blues.
The gritty news that some of us already knew.
Still some of us go along, though we know it’s wrong,
so I write give you a small idea of what’s going on.