Few years in the new millennium have presented as much divisiveness and unrest on all fronts as 2020 has, but even as this difficult time seems to rage on with no end in sight, there are artists like Jonathan Lykes who are committed to making a soundtrack encapsulating the moment. In his new single “I Love Being Black,” Lykes wears his racial pride on his sleeve and spreads a swagger that could be some of the most beautiful stuff I’ve heard in a single in quite some time, and if you like anything from pop to folk, I think you’re likely to agree.
There’s a profound intimacy to the relationship between the vocal and the strings in this song, and yet it’s never robbing any of the pizzazz away from the harmonies generated by numerous voices here all by themselves. Though as different as they can be, Lykes’ singing and the textured instrumental melody find a way to come together all too seamlessly in “I Love Being Black,” as if to suggest the same is indeed possible for all seemingly conflictive entities currently trying to cohabit the same environment. It’s a subtle cue, and a fine cosmetic feature in general.
We never get a disingenuous moment from Jonathan Lykes in this performance – on the contrary, I think it is pretty obvious no matter what lens you’re looking at this song through, just how invested he is in the narrative and what it means to spread it throughout the world. His heart is in the struggle to get the rest of the plant to finally acknowledge that Black life matters, and whether he’s communicating that through the lyrics or the harmonies conceived solely for the purpose of conveying them unto us, he’s not backing down for anything here.
“I Love Being Black” is devoid of a percussive component entirely, but the Black Youth Project 100 Choir – who help out on additional vocal duties in both the song and the music video – does a good job of creating some movement on the backend of the mix that feels larger than life itself. We don’t need any drum-led framework in this single, mostly because it simply would have cluttered the final product and given us too much physicality when what we really need is the substance of melodic songcraft. Lykes thought this out ahead of time, and that’s clear even to the most novice of critics reviewing his new release.
One of my favorite single/video combos to have debuted this September so far, I think Jonathan Lykes’ “I Love Being Black” is unmissable indie content if there ever were such a thing, and compared to what the commercially-backed element of this sound has similarly produced in the American mainstream, it’s far and away the more passionate of the two choices. It might not be the only time we get a hit out of this singer/songwriter, but for the moment, it breaks off a signature style I haven’t been able to get enough of.
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