New Music Reviews

MY POWER: Showcasing the best Women in African and American Hip Hop

Beyoncé constructed and starred on The Gift, a record inspired by Disney’s The Lion King, way back in 2019. However, it was re-released in a deluxe version in 2020 to coincide with Beyoncé’s visual album Black is King on Disney + about a month ago. This is the loophole I live for, because it gives me an opportunity to review this amazing track under the new music banner. Technicalities are the best.

Before we jump into MY POWER, it is important to give some context on The Gift and it’s impact on music. The record was originally commissioned to come out at the time of the rebooted / live action(ish) version of the Lion King, complete with Beyoncé’s single SPIRIT from the movie. In the vain of Kendrick Lamar’s Black Panther record, Beyoncé included music from the movie alongside new music inspired by The Lion King. The Gift became a celebration of African and American music with a number of prominent artists from both Africa and America taking centre stage. A number of artists used this record as a springboard to further success. In fact, we will feature one of those artists in our next new music review this week. The record boasts of names such as: Kendrick Lamar, Jay – Z, Childish Gambino, Pharrell Wiliams and Burna Boy all contributing to the record. The 2020 deluxe version includes all the tracks from the 2019 pressing, but adds Beyoncé’s new single Black Parade, which we will visit in a future review.

Thematically, The Gift tackles issues of ancestry, blackness, forcible removal for slavery, gender and power. MY POWER addresses these issues and casts them within a modern context. Before we dive into the lyrical complexity of this track, we should pause to take a closer look at the myriad of artists featured on this cut. Much like the record as a whole, MY POWER features both prominent and up and coming hip hop / pop artists from both Africa and America. Busiswa, Yemi Alade, Moonchild Sanelly and DJ Lag (who provides the beat) bring it on the track and showcase African, predominantly South African, hip hop talent. Holding up the American side of the track is an amazing hip hop artist in Tierra Whack, songwriter / singer Nija and, the Queen herself, Beyoncé. On the face of it, you might be concerned that having so many artists on one track would be too crowded, but each woman has a verse to herself to explore. Moreover, each woman has a unique style and delivery, so you can appreciate each person’s skill in isolation. However, the key to the track is how DJ Lag ties all the verses together with a fire beat to create an energetic and lyrically complex track.

MY POWER kicks off with Nija in what will become the chorus “They’ll never take my power, my power, my power.” Contextually, this power refers to the power within the black African and American women having their voices heard within the track. To put this verse upfront is a call to action, which is reinforced by DJ Lag’s deep pounding beat and having the vocals in the forefront of the mix. MY POWER is strong and defiant from the start, which signifies that their voices will be heard and you will listen.

Tierra Whack comes in the first hip hop verse with my favourite verse on the whole record. She kicks off dispelling gender myths asserting strength and how that strength can destabilise the white male power structure, “…never seen so much rage from a queen / Rage from a queen, queen so strong, thought she was a machine.” She continues to evaluate social contractions of gender and race when she raps, “Ebony and ebonics, black people win / They say we bein’ demonic, angel in disguise / I hate to have to disguise it, why you gotta despise it?” She asserts the power she has as a proud black woman in the face of white society and how she will no longer be quiet. This sentiment is underlined in her final line, “Carry all the power, it’s time to realize it.” Tierra exposes social gender and race stereotypes as constructs created to force her to hide her power, however, she will no longer play the game.

Beyoncé’s hip hop verses have become more prevalent and tighter since her work on Lemonade and The Carters. Her work on My Power is no exception. She declares, “This that burn, this ain’t no perm / This that nappy, this that herb / This that kinfolk, this that skinfolk / This that war, this that bloodline / On the frontline, ready for war.” Beyoncé asserts beauty in blackness comparing her “nappy” to a “perm” and then links it to pride in her African ancestry in the middle of the verse. References to “skinfolk” and “bloodline” also harken images of slavery and the forceable removal of Africans, in how many slave traders referred to bloodlines in early American history. Finally, she links these to a modern context with a call to action as she, and other black women, assert their power.

The frontline war and connection to Africa comes through with the next verse by Busiswa and Moonchild Sanelly being in Zulu and Xhosa. These verses are delivered with DJ Lag placing other vocals back in the mix, which gives this section of the song a call and response vibe. You feel as if you are at a protest march, as opposed to listening to a record. Moreover, this links the African and American experience, which Beyoncé introduces in the previous verse. Busiswa and Moonchild Sanelly find power in their African voices, devoid of any translation. What comes through is a raw power that is both personal and inspirational. Yemi Alade comes in at the end of the verse with her warm and soulful vocal, which gives the track the vibe of these strong women coming together as a group. Her vocal is short, but it brings everything together in a cohesive message.

Even though MY POWER is a collection of strong women, each asserting her voice, it never feels like they are competing for space. The track succeeds in how they compliment each other and call into question constructs of African society, blackness, gender and power. As the listener, you feel drawn into the movement. Into the frontline. Most importantly, MY POWER upends societal power constructs, while also demanding that you to evaluate how you define power.

Listen to MY POWER

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