Dallas’ Jamil Kelley is a thought leader. His medium is hip-hop, a canon he contributed to as Buffalo Black most notably on the soundtrack for Spike Lee’s Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. The director himself picked Kelley’s “Enter The Void” and the rest of the songs featured in the film.
It was just about this time last year that Kelley released the dystopian, sobering track “1984.” In it, Kelley likens America’s system of surveillance and white supremacy to the authoritarian state George Orwell imagined in his novel of the same title. “War is peace / freedom is slavery,” Kelley spits in the refrain, the aural equivalent of head-in-hands anguish and confusion.
Since that release, Kelley says he’s watched a civil rights-regression Al Sharpton referred to as James Crow, Jr., Esquire continue to sabotage American lives through police brutality, racism veiled through institution, abuse of power and allegiance to capitalism. Nothing’s changed there, he says. Kelley’s angle in responding has, though, in a new song called “American Colors.” He explained this to Independent radio journalist Lyndsay Knecht for this week’s music segment “Cut In. ” (The segment also airs on “Texas Standard,” but got pre-empted for breaking news.
American Colors – Buffalo Black ft Freddy Sans
Jamil Kelley is not suddenly patriotic. Like San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, he says he’s just found a way to show how a formalized love of country can be expressed through a formalized critique of country. The two men happened to be sorting through the same question at the same time and came up with a similar answer: take back the language and symbols keyed to patriotism by disavowing the institutionalized racism and injustice that contaminate the threads of American virtue.
“‘American Colors’ was like coming out on the other side of [the “1984” America], a shedding of that cynicism or numbness – a desire to overcome that habitual pattern,” Kelley says.
According to Kelley, the core of the problems America faces is simple. People want love, freedom, and power. That third desire wrecks the chance for everyone to have equal access to the first two.
Vitriolic responses to Kaepernick’s choice to kneel during the national anthem, Kelley says, have “shown a very stark divide between cultures in our country – those who are so tied to a nationalist sort of perspective that we’ve lost sight of our constitution.”
“As a Black man born and raised in America, if you listen to Kaepernick and his critique and why he did it – because while we’re Americans and we’re proud to be Americans, we see much greater things for America. We see a document we haven’t lived up to.”
“American Colors” feels as much like a traditional rallying cry as an acknowledgement of struggle. Your love equals my love, and I dream just as you dream, Kelley intones as Buffalo Black in the new song. His phrasing is as relentless as always, and the deep heart of Freddy Sans’ voice only intensifies the track: “I am from the land of the free, we are free to bleed for more,” she sings, “free to struggle on, braving what we are: united under God.”
Kelley says his hopes to repair the bridge between American symbols and the Black experience comes from his life as a soldier’s son in a military family. His father served in the Army; his grandfather fought in the Korean War; his uncle in the Vietnam War.
“There’s always been a fascination with the military for me, not the political aspect but the nobility of it,” he says. “It doesn’t mean I can’t critique contemporary society.”
“American Colors” is the first single from The Black Market EP, scheduled to drop sometime this fall.