Amerykahn Promise is, quite possibly, the track I underrated most on "Nu Amerykah." That's probably due in part because I wanted to groove when I first got the album, I wasn't really listening. It is also due in part because Track One kinda freaked me out even though I really didn't understand it at first. Nearly 9 months later, and with yet more perspective behind me, I have a better grasp.
But I am still vaguely surprised that I haven't heard much more about hearty amount of critique Ms. Badu levies of contemporary notions black, racial and political identities with this album, with this track even. It initially reads as a commercial, and then sashays into a freestyle riff over funkadelic background, "Promise Promise, Amerykahn Promise." The song lays out all of the things that we uphold as part of the Amerykahn Promise. She speaks authoritatively to a presumably largely black listenership about our over-consumerism, our addictions, our intra-racial color consciousness, to name a few things. But yet and still, she cultivates a kind of maternal sensibility with the audience, via her always compassionate reflections- "And I salute you Farrakhan, 'cuz you are me"(Just Me, Track 3). It's one of the things that makes her a great artist to me - that she give the air of a decent human being.
"Hold On-- MY PEO-PLE!"
The relationship I have with music is like that of me and past loves. There is a kind of intimacy I feel listening to it - the getting to know you. And I admittedly will play a song or album to death because I thrive off of the energy that enjoying the music brings - sorta like the honeymoon phase. But at some point you burn out, and you just need to take some time to flush your system of the overload - the break up.
I take space from Erykah's music like I do breakups - each time knowing there will forever be that lingering familiarity. It reminds me that I miss her presence, her depth and eventually I come back around to remembering why I appreciated even her quirks in the first place.
I've started playing "Green Eyes" more lately, sort of as an act of mourning [from an actual break-up] and at the same time an act of discipline and humility. That song invokes a level of emotional vulnerability and honesty I'm sure many of us find difficult to muster. But after being humbled by all of the things that it reveals to me about myself, I felt like I needed to tap into a different spirit of Erykah.
And so, I reached for "Nu Amerykah" once again.
It is my album for 2008, partly because it raises so many questions pertinent to this era and about just showing basic decency to one another. If folks listened a little more closely that I think would obviate the stupidity of some of our greatest struggles, even today, between one another (be it race, gender, sex, sexuality). With the election at our backs, a Black President in place, gay rights on the fritz - and the race debates emerging as a result, I was in need of perspective. I've been needing to write.
1. I honor virtue
The 42 Laws of Maat
Early into my the listening session this afternoon. I took it upon myself to look up the quote from the end of "Amerykhan Promise" when the little girl, who I learned is called when Ma'at, asks "Has anyone seen my 42 laws?" I came upon the following.
The 42 Laws of Maat
2. I benefit without conflict
3. I am non-violent
4. I respect the property of others
5. I affirm that all life is sacred
6. I give offerings that are genuine and generous
7. I live in truth
8. I regard all altars as sacred
9. I speak the truth
10. I consume only my fair share
11. I speak words of good intent
12. I relate with understanding
13. I honor animals as sacred
14. I can be trusted
15. I care for the earth
16. I keep my own council
17. I speak positively of others
18. I remain in balance with my emotions
19. I am trustful in my relationships
20. I hold purity in high esteem
21. I spread joy
22. I do the best I can
23. I communicate with compassion
24. I listen to opposing opinions
25. I create harmony
26. I invoke laughter
27. I am open to love in various forms
28. I am forgiving
29. I am kind
30. I act respectfully of others
31. I am non-judgmental
32. I follow my inner guidance
33. I speak without disturbing others
34. I do good
35. I give blessings
36. I keep the waters pure
37. I speak with optimism
38. I praise divinity
39. I am humble
40. I achieve with integrity
41. I advance through my own abilities
42. I embrace the all* These laws were rewritten and updated from the ancient texts by 9 Priestesses of the Temple of Isis (California) travelling in Egypt from Nov. 22 to Dec. 22, 1995
If this isn't a dignified code to live by, I don't know what is. I could go off on a riff about how under the laws of Maat, a gay marriage ban probably would not have existed. But I have other thoughts to spit on the aftermath of the election. And while my first thought was "Why do we carry on traditions of bigotry and hatred, but forget or deny benign and peace driven principles like those above?" I followed it with another of Erykah's lyrics:
"They be tryna hide the history/ but they know who we are." (Soldier, Track)How many of ya'll know about the 42 Laws of Ma'at?
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