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New American Songbook

Afro-Pessimism And Afrofuturism | NAS

Brian Tamborello

Among the many critical perspectives that are useful in listening to and thinking about hip hop, two in particular are relevant to a lot of the music being produced recently: Afro-pessimism and Afrofuturism.

Both are frameworks concerned with questions of Black diasporic identity, the structure of racism and Black aesthetics. Put very simply, Afrofuturism tends towards science fiction themes, reimagining historic events through futurist frameworks, while Afro-pessimism is concerned with the continued appearance of and resistance to forms of racism and slavery in contemporary life. While Afro-pessimism is the more difficult of the two to pin down to actual works, Afrofuturism has many recognizable practitioners, including Sun Ra, Parliament, some of the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Octavia Butler.

A recent work that incorporates both frameworks comes from the conceptual group Clipping, and their album “Splendor and Misery." The album is both gorgeous and surprising, documenting an unexpected awakening on an interstellar slave ship.

Fans of the rap musical “Hamilton” will recognize the voice of Daveed Diggs. His performance and writing on this album are outstanding, no small part of the reason it became only the second piece of music ever nominated for a Hugo Award, science fiction’s most prestigious honor.