Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Dissection of Aloe Blacc's 'The Man'

Aloe Blacc as Malcolm X
Photo: Vevo
These days it’s very rare to find music that raises my consciousness or is thought-provoking, but when I do find one, I listen to it over and over again until my ears beg me to stop. This is exactly what transpired last weekend when I happened upon Aloe Blacc’s song The Man on TV. The 70s vibe of the video and the hook of the song captivated me, and I've been dissecting it non-stop in my head and on YouTube ever since. Yes, the song and accompanying video are that good! You can watch it here and see for yourself.

On first listen, The Man sounds like it’s espousing conceitedness, but on second listen one can perceive that it is far deeper than the hook suggests. As a friend of mine pointed out, it’s a rallying cry for the dreamers bogged down in the trenches.
I agree it is that and much more as enumerated below.

[First verse]
“I believe every lie that I ever told
Paid for every heart that I ever stole
I played my cards and I didn't fold
Well it ain't that hard when you got soul (this is my world)
Somewhere I heard that life is a test
I been through the worst but I still give my best
God made my mold different from the rest
Then he broke that mold so I know I'm blessed (this is my world)”

In the first verse, there’s an acknowledgement of wrongs committed in the past, and the need to make amends for them - which shouldn't be difficult if the ego is suppressed (it ain’t that hard when you got soul). It is apparent that our world would benefit from this kind of attitude if apologies were uttered whenever hearts were broken. Furthermore, the verse urges us to put up a brave front, and give life our best shot regardless of the curveballs it throws at us. The last two lines of the verse are a celebration of our differences as individuals - we've all been blessed with unique gifts to perform different roles on earth, thus we should strive to fulfill our purpose for the betterment of all in the world.

“Stand up now and face the sun
Won’t hide my tail or turn and run
It's time to do what must be done
Be a king when kingdom comes”

In the bridge, he’s exhorting us to have the courage to stand up for our convictions. We should actively support the causes we believe in - not merely pay lip service - and be prepared to nail our colors to the mast when the situation demands it. In the video, this idea is depicted in several scenes from protesters demonstrating against the Vietnam War to the march that was organized by Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Alabama to protest the obstruction of voter registration for African-Americans. Aloe Blacc also portrays the human rights activist Malcolm X and the boxer Mohammed Ali - who refused to be inducted into the US army as it was against his religious beliefs, even though that meant forfeiting his boxing license for three years. He is famously quoted as saying: “I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong”, when asked the reason for his aversion to being drafted for the Vietnam War.

“Well you can tell everybody
Yeah you can tell everybody
Go ahead and tell everybody
I'm the man, I'm the man, I'm the man”
The catchy hook can be interpreted as a proclamation of one’s self-worth to oneself and the world. We all have the right to say “I’m the man” because we’re worthy and we matter. We all have the right to be heard and respected as human beings. As Oprah remarked, “People want to be know: Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say matter?” Everyone wants to be validated. Everyone is worthy.

[Second verse]
“I got all the answers to your questions
I'll be the teacher you could be the lesson
I'll be the preacher you be the confession
I'll be the quick relief to all your stressing (this is my world)
It's a thin line between love and hate
Is you really real or is you really fake
I'm a soldier standing on my feet
No surrender and I won't retreat (this is my world)”

The second verse encourages us to take the time to listen to people’s concerns; to be a safe refuge for them and extend a helping hand to those in need. It also cautions against not being true to ourselves as failure to do so can easily turn people’s admiration for us (love) to contempt (hate) once the fabrication is uncovered.

Consider the preacher Jimmy Swaggart, who was caught with a prostitute, and lost a huge percentage of his congregation as a result of his sexual escapade. In effect, he was viewed as a fraud because his congregation couldn't reconcile his preaching with his actions.

The last lines of the verse advise that we not only practice what we preach, but also fight against oppression of any kind, because it’s our world and the onus is on us to make it habitable for all.
It’s remarkable how several important messages were squeezed into a four minute music video without making it somber or serious. I wish there were more songs and music videos out there that inspired people and made them think, or at least learn something new about themselves and/or the world at large.  

Music Video Trivia: The first scene is a tribute to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On album cover. It’s interesting to note that the album centered on injustices and social ills plaguing American in the 60s and 70s. The final scene pays homage to two African-American athletes (Tommie Smith and John Carlos) at the 1968 Olympics, who were expelled from the Games for giving the Black Power salute on the podium during their award ceremony.