From the gifs that cracked us up to the books that blew our minds, your friends at Colorlines have some very strong opinions about the best of 2017. Today, editorial director Akiba Solomon reflects on the guilty pleasure of “Mask Off” by Future.
Some background: In another, younger life, I was what some people called a ”hip hop journalist.” At The Source, Essence, Vibe Vixen and a short stint at BET, I focused on politics and “hard news” through the lens of hip hop and youth culture. I did a serious hip hop adjacent book and a bunch of serious speaking engagements grounded in what I saw as the radical political possibilities of this social movement. I believed, and this made for some strange ideas about the world.
During this phase, I genuinely believed that appropriation would lead to excommunication. I believed that “hip hop” and “Black” were interchangeable. I didn’t think we would elevate the music and the fashion, but rule the rest of the culture obsolete. I thought women rappers in sweatsuits could get just as much burn as those without clothes if only their music was hot enough.
The bit-by-bit destruction of these beliefs could fill a pitiful tome that I won’t write but will narrate to my nephews when I’m 88 and too old for them to tell me to knock it off.
Still, I have one core belief from my days of “hip hop journalism” that I have not let go. It is that music can be ignorant as fuck and enjoyable as fuck, at the same time.
This explains why I still lose it when “Hard in the Paint” pops up on a playlist. How I can still listen to Biggie Smalls despite his history of violence against women. How I play Rick Ross songs that are at their most poignant when they reference lemon pepper chicken at Wingstop.
This also explains why my favorite song of 2017—a year when Kendrick’s “DAMN,” Jay Z’ s”4:44” and Rhapsody’s “Laila’s Wisdom” came out—is “Mask Off” by the Atlanta scoundrel Future.
“Mask Off” has zero nuance. It is a drug carol—the hook literally begins with ”Percocets, molly percocets.” It transitions into misogynistic materialism with “chase a check, never chase a bitch.” And for the finish there’s, “Mask on, fuck it, mask off. Mask on, fuck it, mask off.” Yet the melancholy flute and spare-but-persistent trap drums crafted by wunderkind Metro Boomin’ whisper “This song is special,” and “This song is excellent,” and “This song is awesome” to the chakra that provokes body rolling.
Look, we’re living in an upside down world where the president of the United States tries to make policy via misspelled tweets and is always girl-talking on the phone with Vladimir Putin. In this strange world, I can pretend that “Mask Off” is really a metaphor for the opioid epidemic or a reconfiguration of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “We Wear the Mask.” “Mask Off” is so ignorant that it’s smart. And that’s why you’ll find me chair-dancing to its incantations of drugs, bitches and riches. Knowledge is power, yes, but taste makes no sense. And I’m kind of fine with that.
TV Show: Tie: “Queen Sugar,” “Stranger Things”
Movie: “Get Out”
Music Video: ”DNA,” by Kendrick Lamar
Podcast: “Combat Jack”
Book: “Hunger” by Roxanne Gay
Creator: Chris Robinson, director of “The New Edition Story”
Meme: “Fuck Yo Statue.”