I hope so. Now that we’ve made it through the first month of 2019, I have been trying to take stock of the musical landscape for the coming year. January is usually a slow month for music releases, but the slow trickle of releases is starting to pick up into a proper stream of new music. And two of the best albums I have had the joy of hearing so far this year attempt to take stock of what it means to be a black woman in America in 2019. These albums are direct line to My Creator by duendita and new breed by D∆WN.

Before diving into these albums I want to offer a brief caveat: at this time last year I thought 2018 was going to be year of the Brit-punk revival, with excellent albums being released by Shame and Shopping in January. That turned out not to be the case, and there were few other transcendent Brit-punk albums released last year. So, if anything, this is more wishful thinking than a legitimate prediction. On top of that, duendita’s direct line to My Creator technically came out at the end of 2018, but not only did I not hear it last year, I didn’t hear anything about it either. So, I may be cheating a little, but for all intents and purposes I’m counting it as a 2019 release.

duendita, like D∆WN, has released a really impressive album of avant-R&B. What makes both of these albums so special to me is that they are attendant to the intersectionality of their artists in a way which is rare in contemporary music. They explore issues of race, gender, sexual identity, romance, and politics all filtered through their experience and embodied subjectivity. The personas presented in these songs are flawed, as we all are, but these flaws and moments of vulnerability only make their critiques of contemporary society more incisive.

duendita’s direct line to My Creator

duendita, working out of New York, describes the goal with her music as ” to create art that provokes listeners to express themselves and begin journeys of purpose. ” She goes on to add that her main source of inspiration is “her spirituality and a love for the human experience.” direct line to My Creator accomplishes both of those goals. She offers incisive political commentary filtered through the lens of empathy rather than militarism. Such as on the moving “blue hands”:

send help i’m drowning in this air
you can’t see it but it’s there
everytime i sigh i’m reminded i could die in blue hands

this is a prayer for my kind
i wish you a long, long, long black life
this is for the girls that vanish in the night in blue hands

The call for action against abuses by the police and police brutality is filtered through duendita’s own empathy. She does not pray for violence or militarism, but for “a long, long black life.” A life that is only possible with broad systemic changes to the social structure of the United States, but her affective appeal approaches the issue from a new angle, an angle borne from hope instead of despair. On “pray” her appeals to love and compassion are even more clear:

get lost with somebody before the world ends
grab the first human being you see
tell them you love them

get lost in somebody before this shit ends
grab the first human being you see
tell them you love them

Her desperate plea for love and compassion on “pray” is not founded from a disconnection with the troubles of reality, but rather as a way to live with the dysfunction of society. The musical compositions on direct line to My Creator are varied, but the message and the compassion are not. duendita acknowledges the board systemic flaws rampant in contemporary American society, but somehow manages to maintain a sense of hope and purpose:

i’ma take care of the Earth, i’ma take care of the Earth
i just want to thank You,
let’s have daughters, i want to make a better me
she’s gonna have my eyes, she’s gonna have my eyes
i want to see You

D∆WN’s new breed

Dawn Richard has had a fascinating career in contemporary pop music. Her first recognition came when auditioning for Making the Band 3, before joining girl-group Danity Kane. She then became part of the short-lived Diddy group Diddy Dirty Money for a spell before finally going solo in 2011. new breed is D∆WN’s fourth solo album (fifth if you count the 2005 album Been a While released under the name Dawn Angelique). Her solo output has made an abrupt and sharp turn away from the radio-friendly R&B of her days with Danity Kane and Diddy Dirty Money, instead opting for a more personal, political approach to her work.

New Orleans, where D∆WN hails from, is a central, living force in her creative output and references to New Orleans abound on new breed. The central argument of new breed is that D∆WN, and black women like her, will rise to the top of the social order, but not this social order. This society is corrupt, racist, and sexist all the way up from its foundations and a new social order must be constructed and only then can D∆WN be crowned. On “new breed” for example, she sings:

I am a lion
I am a woman
Nothing can stop me […]
I am the new breed
But your crown don’t fit me

On new breed D∆WN is also open about the struggles of trying to make it as a black woman in the music industry. She acknowledges the psychic violence and abuse of the music industry, but also credits her upbringing and background with allowing her to rise above a corrupt system. Allusions to New Orleans, specifically the Ninth Ward, abound on the album, particularly on “spaces,” where she sings:

Somethin’ about them girls from the nine
Somewhere between Hollywood and Vine
I lost that girl from Jon Lee Drive, hah
I had so many men in power telling me I was too brave, too confident, too black, too ugly, too thin
That girl believed them
But deep inside, the girl from the nine said fuck them

D∆WN acknowledges that for a time she lost herself, but that even lost, the strength to persevere and overcome was always present inside her, and she credits New Orleans with giving her that strength. Elsewhere on the record, D∆WN again acknowledges a period where her self-worth and self-belief failed her. She acknowledges her imperfections and questions whether she is worthy of being loved on album standout “vultures | wolves”:

But I keep getting in my own way
And I know that I’m fucking up but I’m really hoping to stay
I’m willing to stay, baby
And I keep giving my demons away
But please believe me that ain’t me
It ain’t me

Something about D∆WN’s voice on this track just gets me every time. The frank admission that being a better person is hard, and not just a matter of mindset resonates with me, as well, and it is a rare glimpse in contemporary R&B of vulnerability also married with strength and conviction. The second half of the track shifts, perhaps revealing the roots of some of the demons D∆WN sings about earlier in the song. In its second half she again indicts the music industry, but also the entertainment industry more broadly for its rampant predatory practices:

They show their teeth like white pearls coated with meat
From all the girls they’d like to eat
I prayed I wouldn’t see these wolves haunting me
They’re running fast, see their feet
Those packs of wolfs with suits and deeds
Tempting the girls with pretty things
To share them piece by piece

You can’t spend a decade in that world and emerge without any scars, but I really hope D∆WN is able to stay and keep battling her demons. I want to end this piece with another quote from D∆WN’s album, this time from “we, diamonds.” I think it is a lovely summation of the message of her album and the empathetic activism of duendita’s album as well:

It’s not a compliment when you doubt my success in a polite way
I’m used to being the underdog ’cause black girls who have minds and a cause are stifled with leashes and clichés
But we new breeds