It seems like every time we turn on the news, we’re getting closer and closer to the world ending. Fires, genocides, police brutality, war, famine, and the global pandemic we all know as COVID-19. We’ve been cooped up in our homes, baking bread and watching TikToks to keep a sliver of sanity. If you’re like me, you’ve been leaning on music to get through these trying times. I spoke with several artists, including Tayla Parx, Action Bronson, Kojey Radical, Samm Henshaw, Ric Wilson, and Lucky Chops, about the music that has uplifted them through recent tough times. Hopefully, it can uplift you as it has uplifted them..
Trombone player of NYC’s Lucky Chops, Josh Holcumb, takes us back to the 40s with Louis Armstrong’s Thanks a Million. It’s a song that Josh has been listening to every morning. Louis starts with a trumpet solo and then serenades us with his subtle yet raspy voice. You can hear the gratitude in Louis’ voice and horn as it floats on a jazzy tune. It’s a gratitude that makes you happy to see another day
Billie Holiday’s music is the kind you want to fall in love to. I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me is a song that Lucky Chops’ tenor saxophonist, Daro Behroozi, has been “singing along to so [he] may be in contact spiritually with the spiritual force that comes through in Billie Holiday’s singing.” The piano sparks a musical conversation where each instrument has something to say. Even the static ambiance subtly sings, adding to the perfect balance of sounds. Billie eases her scintillating voice to lead the conversation to a place we all want to be.
When I spoke with Chicago rapper Ric Wilson and London-based singer Samm Henshaw, they spoke highly of Peter Cottontale’s album Catch. I listened to the album, eager and curious to hear how the album uplifted two different people living on two different continents. After hearing the album’s first track, Do Your Thing; I instantly got it. A soulful voice and snap create the path for a choir and hip-hop percussion to walk on. It’s one of those heartfelt concoctions where the lyrics and melody are on the same page, a page that seems to say, “Everything is going to be okay.”
For Ric Wilson, he’s not just listening to songs during quarantine but marinating in albums, one being Al Green’s I’m Still In Love With You. A perfect-fitting song for the state of the globe is For The Good Times. The song has a somber undertone, but Al reminisces the good times over violins, organs, and his classic percussion combo. He uses his handsome voice to spread needed positivity. His background singers harmonize with him to amplify the message of good times, goodbyes and the hope for a good tomorrow.
Using an asterisk as a tear on his song CRYBABY :*( , Baltimore singer Dijon admits he can be a crybaby. He does it with an R&B flair that embodies the energy of a new generation with much to say and even more to create. It was understandable for Tayla Parx to list Dijon as one of the artists she’s been listening to during quarantine. Instrumentally, Dijon is minimalistic on this track. He chooses to let his harmonies and cheers be the stars of the song. His voice makes vulnerability seem cool. He’s confident in his tears, showing us it’s okay to cry.
When I spoke with Samm Henshaw, we took time just to appreciate the greatness that is Lauryn Hill. We both agreed that The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is timeless. Everything is Everything is one of the many bops on the album. The violins punch through the track as Lauryn sings a vague chorus telling us that everything is everything. It’s one of those tracks where Lauryn reminds listeners that she can sing and spit a verse. The song is a ride, with the final destination being an “aha moment” where “everything is everything” simply makes sense.
Ebo Taylor stays true to his Ghanian roots with his song Christ Will Come. It’s a song that lets the music do the talking. Action Bronson put me on to this gospel groove. “It’s spiritual for me. It’s African funk, soul, and gospel. It’s from Ghana, it’s unbelievable. It’s unreal,” said Action. Ebo finds a way to combine a familiar Motown sound with a unique African funk. It’s a song that invites listeners to dance and smile while they do it.
One thing about Kojey Radical is that he radiates confidence. So I wasn’t surprised when he told me he’s been listening to his music during quarantine. On Same Boat, Kojey and Alabama singer Mereba keep things heartfelt and hopeful in a letter to their moms. Kojey seems to integrate a trap beat with a lullaby as if to undertone his yearning for success with an innocence that only moms easily understand. The song is a message and a promise to oneself never to stop chasing dreams. In a time where it feels like the world has halted, Kojey and Mereba remind us that our dreams don’t have to.