by on October 17, 2019

Posted in: Rap, Talk

(My radio show is loosely based around my journey through In the Wake: On Blackness and Being by Christina Sharpe. I am going to try and put that in conversation with Noname on her verse in Ghetto Sage’s new song Häagen Dazs. A lot of this analysis was shared by Noname in a post I will have below.)

I. Basement: Noname does most of the analytical heavy lifting herself: “In this verse I write about sadness as it related to my partner’s body being synonymous with death.”

“Grateful for my everything, his bodies a casket
The lining cherry wood
That pussy turned him ashes to ashes”

For context, Noname is talking about a lover, and pretty plainly making him the image of American version of death, a casket. Sharpe opens her book by talking about her distant family, specifically a young black man, for me eerily but unsurprisingly named Caleb (see: interchangeability, when does the word ‘body’ apply instead of person, family?) who was killed at the age of 20 by gun violence. She writes “Caleb’s life was singular and difficult, and it was also not dissimilar to the lives many young Black people living in, and produced by, the contemporary conditions of Black life as it is lived near death, as deathliness, in the wake of slavery” (my emphasis).

Cool. The layer underneath the arguments of Sharpe’s book, in Noname’s verse. Blackness is inherently linked to death. Easy.

II. Cosntruction: Noname goes on in her explanation to talk about the unique pain of knowing that there is nothing she can do to keep her lover safe, and that he know the same of her. She says, “In some rare instances this knowledge has informed [our] experience and share physical intimacy.” The verse is about when sex is a form of escapism, in the way that drugs can alcohol can be.

“Whole world steady crashing and burning
Niggas just carry on, carry on
Cry, cry, cry, get right back to the money
Then carry on, cry, cry, cry hop right back in the pussy”

But she makes clear that these moments of escape are healing for her. In her explanation she writes: “Our society is constantly saying we’re not enough and sometimes I’ve used sex to show/feel like we are . To feel totally human and totally free.” And in the song she says shortly “Oh I wish he, I wish he would fuck me happy too.” I would describe all that by saying that Noname is writing about particular sexual experiences where some understanding of her relationship to death (because she, like we* all, experiences life within death already) created space for a different kind of care and pleasure, both given and received, that not only offered an escape but some kind of healing/connection.

Sharpe wants “to propose that to be in the wake is to occupy and to be occupied by the continuous and changing present of slavery’s as yet resolved unfolding.” Slavery’s continuous unfolding for her is a life with death, as if one is already dead. She is asking what if we know we are here? What if everything we do comes from this place, the acknowledgement of this place? Specifically, what do thinking and care look like? This project, of imagining care and thinking from this unfolding is what she calls wake work. About it she says “I am trying to find the language for this work…I am trying to find the words that will articulate care and the words to think what Keguro Macharia calls those ‘we formations.’ I am trying to think how to perform the labour of them.”

III. Conversation: What if what Noname is describing is wake work. Two people sharing care (specifically in a sexual way). Two people who were a we*. What Noname describes as the specific feeling of knowing you cannot keep your loved one safe if you tried (see: powerlessness, frustration, anger, fear), and that understanding being reflected back to her, feels like being in the wake. And the care/love/intimacy that came from the wake is the escape from her position in the wake and feel “totally human and totally free.” And in this instance, that was about sexual pleasure/intimacy but care can take many forms: platonic, romantic, sexual, familial, communal, with messy combinations making infinite shapes for care. And beneath what Noname and Sharpe are both talking about is an awareness of the wake, and a moving within.

IV. Lighthouse: In In The Wake, Sharpe says “[This book] is a work that insists and performs that thinking needs care, and that thinking and care need to stay in the wake.” I think that is what Noname is describing here. What if these moments that Noname described were always? Sharpe writes: “What does it mean to defend the dead? To tend to the Black dead and dying…always living in the push towards or death? It means work: Hard emotional, physical and intellectual work that demands vigilant attendance to the needs of the dying, to ease their way, and also the needs of the living.” Wake work is always. Wake work is how we* don’t let each other go without. It is constant. But it also looks like Noname raps, just: “Oh I wish he, oh I wish he would fuck me happy too.”

This is now a Ghetto Sage radio station.

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