Wynton Marsalis has covered all the bases. Race. His role in removing Confederate statues in New Orleans last year. His deep antipathy for rap and hip-hop. And the damage he believes gender inflicts on African Americans. “I think it’s a lot more of a racial issue than tearing down the Robert E. Lee statue,” Marsalis told me in the last episode of “Cape Up”. “There are more niggers in there than in the Robert E. Lee statue.”
Marsalis began composing “the ever-funky lowdown” in 2015 and was still writing when we sat down in the Jazz at Lincoln Center offices on May 14. “Not only am I still writing, but I still have a long way to go to write. I’m not close,” Marsalis told me after singing and streaming parts of his new work.
In exploring America’s relationship to race, “the always-awesome truth,” Marsalis said, “just hinges on the question of ‘who are we?’ That’s the question. The composition takes the listener through a series of games with a protagonist named Mr. Game. Ultimately, Marsalis said, we learn that the always great truth is “that you will act absolutely against your best interests because you want more to get that person…because you’re obsessed with who you think your enemy is.” .”
Marsalis went on to explain how the always funky truth also shows up in the consumption of harmful mythology about African Americans.
It plays on how you think – what you think – the mythology given to you. You’re given this mythology – all these movies and shows. Black people commit crimes. Blacks are called niggers. Black people call themselves bitches. Black people – all that. Everyone lives in drug-infested communities [ph], everyone shoots, they have no respect – every black person has no integrity. You could have a movie without black people, the only black person in it would be the one with no integrity. It’s just mythology. So if I can get you to buy into that, okay, that’s the always great truth.
After hearing Marsalis say that, I couldn’t help but ask him what he thought of “This is America” and its lead singer, Childish Gambino. “I applaud his creativity and what he does,” Marsalis told me before throwing the hammer. “From a social point of view, it’s hard to decry something you’re describing. It’s difficult.”
I then asked Marsalis what he thought of Kanye West. You’ll recall the rap phenom said during an interview with TMZ earlier this month, “When you hear about slavery for 400 years. For 400 years?! It looks like a choice. You’ve been there for 400 years and that’s it? It’s as if we were mentally in prison. Marsalis was unimpressed, either by what West said or by the significance given to what he said.
“I think Kanye West is making product. He’s going to release his product and he wants his product to sell,” Marsalis said of the rapper, who has a lot of “product” in the form of new records that are on the market. about to come out soon.
“I wouldn’t take what he said seriously, that way. Okay? This guy makes products. He’s making money for him, he’s probably released a product he’s selling. He says stuff. People talk about him. They are going to buy his product,” Marsalis said. “It’s not like Martin Luther King said, a person who knows or is aware of a certain thing. … [H]We are entitled to whatever he wants to say. The quality of his thinking lies in the products he makes.
Listen to the podcast to hear Marsalis talk more in depth about “the always great truth” and how he came to help New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu remove Confederate statues from his hometown. “It’s really two middle-aged people who played trumpets in high school, who’ve known each other for years, sitting down, having breakfast, talking,” Marsalis said humbly. And he goes deeper into his issues with rap and hip-hop.
“You can’t have a filth pipeline as a default position” and not have a societal impact, Marsalis told me. “It’s like the toll the minstrel show has taken on blacks and whites. Now, all this ‘nigger this’, ‘bitch that’, ‘ho that’, it’s just a fact at this point. For me, it wasn’t a default position in the 80s. Now that it’s the default position, how do you love me now? Do you like what it gives? Something is wrong with you – you need your head examined if you like it.