Wynton Marsalis was ahead of the game. The jazz trumpeter's most recent album, "From the Plantation to the Penitentiary," released in March, confronted many of the same issues now being raised in the wake of the Don Imus controversy. On the album, Marsalis, long an outspoken critic of rap music and hip-hop culture, includes lyrics critical of the music he has denounced as "ghetto minstrelsy." Considering how the album's themes have reappeared in the public eye, author Francis Davis' take on "Plantation" in the new issue of the Village Voice -- a month after the album's release -- feels like it has arrived right on time. Part of the review is excerpted below. You can read the whole thing here.
"By virtue of being so closely identified with jazz -- which most kids think of as a safe haven for burned-out swells in suits and ties -- the one area in which Marsalis truly remains an outsider is contemporary popular culture. On 'From the Plantation to the Penitentiary,' he branches into social criticism. That's the hype, anyway, though in proselytizing for jazz, when has he ever held back from taking swipes at the infantization of pop and black self-stereotyping in the name of keeping it real? He's just more specific here, making his debut as a lyricist and rapper (the latter thankfully only on the closing 'Where Y'All At?') to call out 'thug-life coons' and their white 'safari seekers,' 'raggly public schools,' rampant materialism, the burgeoning prison industry, '60s radicals who 'started like Eldridge and [wound up] like Beaver,' and hip-hop's 'modern-day minstrels and their songless tunes.'"
-- David Marchese