On Saturday, Beyoncé dropped a new song and music video for “Formation.” The move, in effect, broke the Internet. I could spend this time talking about the video and its numerous messages, layers upon layers, that need to be peeled back, taken in, and digested before I can provide any adequate analysis. Others have already done a better job at that aspect than I ever could, partly because I have never truly been a fan of Beyonce’s music, so her music and songs have never really affected me. However, “Formation” presents multitudinous images that remind me of Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright.”

Rather than focusing on Beyoncé or Kendrick, I want to examine Lecrae’s short film, Church Clothes, and the four songs that populate the seventeen minute movement. The film dropped, unexpectedly, in the same manner that “Formation” and “Alright” did. Lecrae released Church Clothes 3, his third mix-tape, on January 15, 2016. While the masses are praising Beyonce’s song and video, as they should for the message it conveys, they also need to take notice of Lecrae’s album, one that, like Beyoncé, plays with the past and brings a message to the present. It must be noted, though, that the video does not confront white supremacy in the same way that Beyonce’s and Kendrick’s do. Each of those videos contain a police presence, subservient in each instance. Lecrae’s video does not contain a white presence, which is interesting. The songs confront a racist system, but the video only focuses on intraracial interactions.
The short film contains four songs from Lecrae’s mix-tape: “It Is What It Is,” “Gangland,” Deja Vu,” and Misconceptions 3.” Moving from one song to the next, the videos draw a path from Lecrae in his house tripping over his children’s toys to images of gang violence to images of a family scene with a young boy and his mother and finally to an image of community. One of the most interesting images in the film occurs near the very beginning when the camera zooms in on an eight-track tape case that contains various albums.
Following the trajectory of the film, it could be argued that Lecrae presents the same message as Beyoncé, one of community and relationships. In this manner, the presentations reminds me of Beyonce’s call to action and unity in “Formation.” Lecrae’s representations remind me of Ernest Gaines as well. Gaines, while he does present racism in full view,  also limits it to the margins at times, focusing on the ways that that oppression affects those in the community trying to exist in a space where they are continually subjected to surveillance and restrictions on their movement.

Dissecting every aspect of Church Clothes would take more time than I have here, but I want to take the opportunity to highlight a few aspects in the video and the songs that accompany it. To begin with, the opening scene shows a man getting into a car and opening a box of 8-track tapes. Within the box, we see Lecrae’s Church Clothes amongst a handful of other tapes. The labels on most of the tapes cannot be read; however, immediately below Church Clothes is Dueling Banjos: From the Original Soundtrack of Deliverance from the Southern Gothic book and film of the same name.  At the top right hand corner, Lynn Anderson’s “Rose Garden” can clearly be seen. I cannot make out the other items. It does not appear that any Motown, blues, jazz, or soul albums occupy the case. With this image, the film takes on a place, notably Southern, and a presence. I do not know much about Anderson’s song, but I do know that when people hear “Dueling Banjos” certain connotations arise in their minds about the South and its inhabitants. As I said before, the film does not forefront overt confrontations with oppression and racism by white society, but in the placement of the Lecrae’s mix-tape among Anderson’s and “Dueling Banjos,” the film does comment, subtly, on the community on the margins, as in Gaines’s work.

After “It Is What It Is,” a song and video portion that focus on Lecrae’s life as someone who has escaped the “ghetto” environment, has kids, and lives a successful life, the color scheme switches to black and white as “Gangland” begins. Here, the video traces the path of a young African American male becoming part of a gang in the community. Lecrae presents a history of activists and fighters who worked for equality and unity within the community to battle against a society that subjected people, and continues to subject them, to poverty and oppression. He references Eldridge Cleaver, Bunchy Carter, Geronimo Pratt, Medgar Evers, Fred Hampton, and Martin Luther King Jr. Even when the community tried to help itself, the hegemonic power structure worked to keep it down, and the second half of the song focuses on this aspect. Lecrae comments that the “perfect storm” arose after segregation when the inner cities saw white flight and companies fleeing for cheaper labor, all leading to increased unemployment and poverty. Along with this, the movement of drugs coming in led some to see a quick way to get money.

Perhaps the strongest verse in this song comes from Propaganda who begins with the irony of Robert E. Lee High School in Alabama. He raps:

There’s a high school in Alabama named after Robert E. Lee And it’s 89% black, you don’t see the irony?
What it do to a psyche, it’s simple, you don’t like me.

Propaganda’s lines ask what having African American students attend a school named after the most famous Confederate general does to the psyche of an oppressed teenager. In many ways, his comments mirror those of Hosea Easton who asked what the use of the term “nigger” did to both whites and blacks in the early 1800s. The use of language, and symbols, has an effect on one’s psyche, whether you are using the language or the recipient.

Last week, I went to a Mardi Gras parade here in town. During the parades, vendors walk the street selling items for the revelers: stuffed animals, hats, cotton candy, etc. On one cart, I saw a couple of flags waving in the air that caught my attention. Initially, I had to look twice to see if I saw what I thought I saw, and then I realized that I had. I gazed at a Confederate Battle Flag rolling down the street on a cart for people to see and possibly buy. Across the barricade, on the other side of the parade route, I saw a group of individuals enjoying the festivities. Tucked into the back of one of the party goers was one of those Confederate Battle Flags, moving with him as he cheered on the floats hoping for the trinkets they would bestow. In between floats, marching bands and other organizations from the community march in the parade. A lot of the bands are high school bands from the area and across the state, and most are made up of predominately African American students. When the bands went by, I watched the reveler interact with the musicians, dancers, and parent volunteers. I could not hear what he said to them, or what they said back. It appeared that no one confronted him, but I could tell that some of the marchers looked at the party goer with apprehension as they approached. As I stood there, with my daughter by my side, I couldn’t help but think about the effects of that flag, attached to that person, on the marchers and on some of the other party goers at the parade.

On Thursday, I’ll finish the discussion on Lecrae’s film. Make sure to come back for a discussion of “Deja Vu” and Misconceptions 3.” Until then, let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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