These days the general public is well used to mass media outlets cramming their dose of “Black History” into the year’s shortest month, but Michigan rapper JYoung the General obeys no calendar’s restrictions when it comes to celebrating and educating on his heritage and culture. “Black History Year: Installment Two” is a fine EP that finds a deft MC with a cause.
“The Re-Education of the Negro” opens the EP in grand fashion, chronicling his own education of African-American history and pointing out the shortcomings and disparities he saw before college, then shouting out everybody from Langston Hughes to Alice Walker, hoping listeners will “burn everything they learned in their textbooks”:
“I sat up reading in social studies class
The formulaic way we used to learn our past
I used to ask, ‘Teach
Why we only learn about civil rights, slavery, and Martin’s speech?’
My ancestors came from kingdoms in the motherland
Noble civilians, so it’s hard for me to understand
The way that’s all forgotten, stripped to a lesser size
In favor of a portrait more westernized”
In an effective and well-versed argument, JYoung discusses how primary education only tells half the story of black history, ignoring key artists and revolutionaries as well as factors and circumstances that led to landmark events. Perhaps what’s most impressive is that he doesn’t come off as preachy, angry, or bitter, but simply as an educated guy who’s been there and sees a better way. “Panthers” features standout performances from Mae Day, J.A.E., and Michigan luminary One Be Lo yet maintains the inspired focus of the album’s concept, calling for justice over a beat that sounds like it came from a Binary Star album. JYoung also shines on the intensely personal “Letter to My Mother,” a particularly soulful number backed by soaring violins courtesy of producer KuroiOto and strong female vocals from Yellokake.
Nick Speed produces seven of the eight tracks on “Black History Year: Installment Two,” and soul instrumentation is the name of the game. However, he injects some subtle African sounds via the percussion and interludes to evoke the EP’s theme musically. Buff1 and T. Calmese appear on “Red, Black, and Green,” and on the excellent “Gentrified State of Mind,” JYoung and Red Pill tackle the evils of urban gentrification. On the startling and clever closer “Slaves (The House Vs. the Field),” JYoung is joined by P.H.I.L.T.H.Y. as the two rappers assume the perspectives of two American slaves. The depth and conviction they inject into their characters is truly stunning and in fact exceeds any of the somewhat similar concepts on Nas’ “Untitled” record.
There’s no doubt that some reading this think Afrocentricity in rap went out with the Native Tongues, but when presented in a manner this creative and intelligent, don’t be surprised if we see a renaissance. Positive, appealing music is always in style, and JYoung follows in the tradition of B.D.P. by providing real “Edutainment” on “Black History Year: Installment Two,” a delightful EP that’s somewhat nostalgic yet undeniably fresh. JYoung the General sports technical excellence, effective concepts, lyrical inspiration, a boatload of wholesome black pride, and a literacy exceeding a few of my own English professors on an EP that’s somewhat nostalgic yet undeniably new.