This may be the first album I’ve covered for Shakefire where I feel intrinsically incapable of giving it a fair review. E.G. Bailey is a hip-hop/spoken word artist who’s originally from Liberia. This album, American Afrikan, feels like an ode, both to the land of his birth and to the current land of his residence. That’s not too surprising, given the album’s artwork. But the struggle I faced as I listened to this record is that it almost feels like it’s a little too much inside baseball. There are so many references to Africa and African culture and lore that I must admit that I spent much of the album being somewhat lost. Part of me wants to just chalk it up to being a white boy from the suburbs.
Now perhaps that was part of Bailey’s intent when he created this. Maybe part of the purpose behind this album is conveying a sense of being a stranger in a strange land. I’m not sure. I am a big fan of certain types of hip-hop (the socially conscious stuff for the most part), but the appeal of this CD escaped me on the whole. Tracks meander from one to the other. Much of the album simply seems to provide a musical bed for Bailey’s spoken word performances. The music itself isn’t that interesting, so that leaves the words to capture your attention. Some of it is fantastic, like the opening track, “Professor Goodwin’s Preface”: by unpacking the assumptions and ideas that are wrapped up in the terms “brown” and “black,” this professor humorously points out identity based on purely skin color ends up wrapping whole people groups together who in reality have nothing in common.
But to be brutally honest, most of this didn’t do anything for me. It just didn’t connect or resonate at all. Again, given my background and the background of this album’s creator, perhaps that was bound to happen. This might really spark your fire and catch your attention. It’s worth checking out at least once, but I doubt that I’ll be returning to it any time soon.