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Welcome to Switched-On Pop. I'm musicologist Nate Sloan, and today we very exciting guest is a member of the midnight hour. He's produced for entertainment greats ranging from Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar to the Wu Tang Clan. He's composed for television shows such as Marvel's Luke Cage with Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and he owns the Linnear Labs boutique record label and an analog studio. And he's co-owner of Jazz is Dead. He has a new project that he calls his most important creative accomplishment.


We're eager to hear more about it. Adrian Young, welcome to the show.


Hey, thank you, man. Glad to be here.


Adrian, you have a new multimedia body of work. Yes. What is it and what are the component pieces?


Well, the nucleus of this new world I'm creating is called the American Negro, and that's the title of the LP.


So it's an album, a short film called Tanne and a podcast called Invisible Blackness. This world was created to essentially give an unapologetic critique detailing the systemic and malevolent psychology that really afflicts people of color, no matter the pejorative.


We are black, unlike the car they used on their faces to reinforce the stereotype their stereos don't like, and I say this because I am of sound and the sounds that reverberate in my mind are never confused by the volume of this information, programming the minds of them to show the evolution of our freedom from what I like to call pre slavery to equality.


Like I really break down the evolution of racism in America.


Why is now the moment for this project? Well, it's interesting. I conceived this project a couple of years ago and I knew what it would take a lot of time for me to really pull together.


So when quarantine started, I set up everything shut down. I might as well put myself in the position to do something I would not otherwise do right now, so that by the time everything gets back to normal, I have this project, this project I've been waiting for, this project I've been yearning to do so.


I started at the beginning a quarantine.


And while I'm literally probably halfway through the album, did George Floyd thing happen?


It just felt like the right time to do it. Black people listen to your own music. A linguist told tensions teach an audience it was never intended for, and it's not just an arm, it's a podcast.


It's a short film. Yes. What drew you to this multimedia approach?


I was a law professor for a few years, and I love teaching. And one of the things I really loved about teaching is the concept of the law. Who makes the law substantive law versus natural law. When you study law, you get to see who the law was actually made for. In doing this, it leads you to slave codes and black codes, Jim Crow laws in America. We're a country that was founded or established as a slave society, not a society that happened to have slaves.


Our economy was based on the concept of slavery in the billions, and our laws helped to further ferment this new way of thinking because, yes, slavery was going on for thousands of years, even before the transatlantic slave trade. But what America did was pioneer a new way, a capitalistic way, where we're not just property, we're property in perpetuity. We're property, our offspring's property, the 50s are this ceiling carries over even after it's all done.


And it's one of the reasons why we see such a disparity today. So I wanted to make a multimedia project that really helped to educate people on why we are in this situation that we are now hearing about.


Your experience as a teacher really resonates. When I listen to this album, there's a lot of spoken narration on this album. Yeah. Why was that important to you to include? And maybe you could talk a little bit about the sonic quality of it as well. There's an echo. Yeah. Voice. It's got this. Yes. Grandeur to it. Yeah. To tell us about those choices.


So I wanted to take a professorial approach to the creation of an album I want to make of what's going on type Marvin Gaye album. But I wanted to make it in a way as if a black scholar like James Baldwin hooked up with Marvin Gaye to make of what's going on. The album produced by David Axelrod.


This minstrel dance took centuries to develop, but his creation exposes the prodigious clockwork behind racism and hate in Western society. Have we learned anything? Do we know who we are and where we belong? Those are asking reasonably elicit fear and negative judgment. Can we uniformly agree that my culture is far from uniform?


So it's like it has a soulfulness as as psychedelia, but at the same time it's extremely academic. So I'm talking, you know, for a few minutes and breaking things down and then going into a song that reflects what I just talked about. It's really an educational tool, but at the same time, it happens to have some really, really, really deep music. When you're making something like this, you know, as an artist, you're taking yourself to another level because I'm not just making a song about falling in love or making a song about this EMCs better than that one.


It's like you're making a song that's going to teach people how their actions affect others.


I definitely hear that when I'm listening to the album, there's something about the sound of your voice that really pops in a way that it's not just a monologue, it's something more. There's an artistry to that narration.


I am an evolving term that we can glean a multitude of colors. Some can't quite process a portion and arrive as a jump ball. Even though I was never up high in the sound of America, the distance they created to talk about the echo and everything.


Right. So everything and everything I do is analog, right? I record I there's no computers in my recording system.


So when you hear a new music that are recorded in a way that seems arguably archaic to people, but it's still fresh and brand new and makes people listen to a different you know, it sounds organic.


So the echo I'm using real tape echo like a tape machine echo and all that kind of stuff. To be honest with you, from a creative standpoint, I want it to be something that is gripping and hypnotic. Like if you're listening to this album, I want to be captivating. I want it to resonate in a very cavernous way.


And if music is the message for the Negro, the music is the black critique, it's our tool to analyze the ignorance behind the face of the malignant genius.


I want it to be something that's not background. So I made it as if when you're listening to this album, you're in a different dimension, a different world, and that's all that matters. And then when you get out of it, then you're out of it.


But that was the purpose and really having those effects on my voice and all that stuff.


Listening to this album, there's a lot of rich musical references. Yes. To great artists like some of you mentioned, Marvin Gaye, Gil Scott Heron as well. Curtis Mayfield. Mm hmm. Does analog recording also help you connect with those influences? Absolutely.


I mean, to me, there is no greater recording medium than analog to digital tries to emulate analog. So first of all, when we're listening to these luminaries that created all this great music, first of all, let's use the format that they did. Secondly, something that most people don't know is that on this album, I played all the instruments with the exception of the orchestra, which I wrote for. I'm playing drums to saxophones, the flute, you know, to clarinet, to vibes, to keys, all that stuff.


Right. And I'm kind of like forcing myself to be different kinds of musicians.


I would have been in the sessions with the Marvin Gaye's, with the Isaac Hayes, with the Curtis Mayfield playing vintage instruments recorded on tape takes you back to that time, the Edem as being a golden era of music.


So all these little elements, me being able to transform into these different characters from back then, but for today, it does bring me closer to them, you know. So with this album, I wanted to continue the conversations of these greats and say in a way that resonates today, but still serves as a conduit to the past.


That makes me think of a line from the album opener, which is revisionist history.


Yes, the musician is the document, not an oral transcription of experience and perception through the vantage point of self.


How does this project fit into that lineage that you're describing?


If you study black history, the difference between traditional African history and Western history is that African history is more of an oral history, whereas Western was more written.


Now we from Africa to now have passed on history with this concept of soul and rhythm. You know, and that's why I say that the musician is the document because we document our history through sound, an oral transcription, an oral transcription, a Eurail transcription. So I always say that soul is just you speaking with the help of your ancestors, you know, and we're just continuing these conversations back then. When they're creating music, they're creating music for that time and they're creating music for the posterity of the people to come together, you know?


So like I look at it as this album is essentially an album where I'm continuing what they were doing because jazz jazz is freedom music.


You know, this a soldier has all about this freedom music. It's it's us not being trapped by what people tell us that we have to do.


You know, we can hear a little bit of what that sounds like on the single revolutionized. Yes, you are to do like a broadcast amplified by the struggle of frequency syncopated sound like a light transmission with a dark image of black and white static.


This transports the listener into a world of radio spoken word, soul funk, Philadelphia style strings. Yeah. And you narrate that you are tuned into the black consciousness.


Yes. What musical references are you are you bringing out in this track and why?


So definitely this is like straight out some Gil Scott Heron. You know, the revolution will not be televised. The revolution will not be televised. The revolution will not be brought to you by Xeroxing formats without commercial interruptions. The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon going up and leading the charge by John Mitchell, Jerome Abrams and Spiro Agnew. It was confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary. The revolution will not be televised.


One of my jazz brothers, Brian Jackson, who worked with Gil Scott, you know, wow, I spoke you know, I speak to him, spoke to him about just what music meant to them and their fight in. All entities, you know, like 19 years old when we're doing this stuff, they were younger, you know, I wanted to tap into that. Yeah, the lyrics are you are tuned into the black consciousness broadcast, amplified by the struggle of frequency, syncopated and sound.


You are tuned into the black consciousness, a light transmission with the mission, a dark image on black and white static. You are tuned into the black consciousness. Don't adjust your antenna. This is Channel Me. You are tuned into the black consciousness. A forecast from the past with an image versus identity drama live on simulcast.


I'm basically.


I'm saying that you are tuned in to my black psyche, you know, and it's like this is what's going on. This and in the instrumentation from the drums to the strings, there's a whole bunch of chaos. But then it's like an organized chaos. And then the strings when they come in and there's this crazy like these swirls and these orchestral arrangements are supposed to represent this concept of black excellence. The drums are supposed to kind of represent jazz and hip hop, coupled with the bass line and then the hook being revolutionize how we see our lives.


Said with the brother. Black is beautiful. You're revising the way that we see ourselves, because when you are of a darker hue, you look in the mirror and you have a double consciousness, you see yourself through the eyes of yourself, but then you also see yourself through the eyes of mainstream America. And as a black man, we are the face of evil when we're constantly told that we are the reason why there's welfare and drugs and robberies and crime and all that stuff.


And they say, well, hey, it is you guys, look who's in the prisons. It's this overdetermined concept that we are responsible for all the ills. A lot of this is just proliferated by American stereotypes of how minorities are perceived. We are the face of evil. That's what it is.


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If there's anything I feel like I've really master this year, it's cabin fever and frankly, it's getting pretty tiring. I am eager to get out. I want to go travel and once it's OK to do so, I want to get out and try a new language and speak with people and meet people and go order food at a restaurant. And thanks to Babul, I'll be ready. Batbold makes it easy to learn a new language with bite sized lessons that you'll actually use in the real world.


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There's the ancient and systemic inequity. Yes. But then there's also a celebration of the struggle. And in the light that people have found in spite of that. Yes.


Is there a musical corollary to that that you're thinking of?


Well, the real objective here is to educate, but not to live life with a dead soul.


So I know people that are so wrapped up in politics and like one to revolt for this or that, and they live their life in that. They don't see the beauty in life. And when you do that, when you live life looking in the rearview mirror for too long, you're going to crash. So the point of me having these euphoric moments is because, yes, we're in this situation still. Yes, things need to happen. But a lot of things have happened and life is beautiful and, you know, be happy with whoever you are, whether you're white, whether you're black.


You know, all of that is just about as being equal in treating ourselves with mutual respect. There's happiness in that. There is an interesting juxtaposition because I have a song called Margaret Garner in that song. It's a very upbeat kind of Stevie Wonder type song where I'm talking about, you know, the beauty of a black baby.


But most people don't know when this when they listen to this, they won't know that that song is really not just about the beauty of the black baby, it's about Margaret Garner, who was an enslaved person that ran away and when she was captured, killed her babies so that the baby wouldn't have to deal with this. And there's so many cases of enslaved people killing their offspring just so that they don't have to deal with the ills of slavery. There's a strange beauty in that.


Yeah. And is super dark at the same time, you know. Yeah.


But you choose groove. You choose beauty. It makes me think of a moment that really captures that feeling of of beauty and joy. And in the title track. Yes. Where you have a chorus of singers. Yes. Proclaiming that we need to feel more love. You've got to give more love. The American Negro is the title song from the album The American Negro. And in this, you know, I start off by asking, what is your pejorative of choice?


Most people don't know what to call black people because a lot of times white people say, oh, no, it's African-American because I know my black friend gets mad if you call them black or no, it's colored, though, it's Negro or this or that. We've been through so many names from coon to tar, baby to pickaninny to, you know, but I mean, there's so many different pejorative names that we have.


And it's interesting because these are all names that were forced upon us and we had to kind of choose a name to embrace, you know, to be honest with you, one that we actually really did embrace as black. Most people don't think about the fact that us black people were the only culture that came to America and do not have our own language. You know, we were forced to give up our language. We're the only culture that is deemed derivative of a nation that we don't necessarily connect with.


At the same time, you know, my family's from Guyana and South America, but on a census form of considered an African-American, you know. Right.


Like, what does that really mean is that, you know, of course, I was from Africa, but at the same time, Mitochondrial Eve, the first person ever, is from Africa, you know, so we're all essentially from Africa.


Do we call white people white Americans? We call them Americans, right? Yeah. But if I'm black, you know, you could hear the term black American or an African American, and that's all. Yeah, that makes sense. But you never say, yeah. Oh, I got a couple of friends. I have a couple of white American friends, you know, like white, you know. So it's it's like, what's your pejorative of choice?


And guess we do we we need to feel more love and you know, we have to edify ourselves and just be the best, you know, respectful. You know, I actually have a question for you. Like when you listen to this music, how do you interpret this music? Like, do you hear this music like you're listening to a new album or do you hear music like you're watching a movie? Like what does it even mean to you?


When I'm listening to this? I think there's I'm kind of experiencing it on two registers.


You know, one is this kind of like visceral reaction where I'm nodding my head, I'm grooving. I'm like feeling just the tones in the sonic frequencies, the strings. I remember the first time listening to the title track in that choir came in the chorus of voices. I was just like floored, you know, just the sound of it. Yeah. And then at the same time, I'm listening to the lyrics and I'm like having this more kind of intellectual response and like trying to pass them, I'm trying to think about what this means for you and what it means for me.


I'm trying to I think about like, where do I fit into this, you know? Yeah. What's my responsibility in a way as like someone listening to this? Yeah. To not just to not just groove along. Yeah. But, you know, to think about how black music has always been political and. Yeah. That, that I want to listen and enjoy, but I also want to digest and challenge myself.


And so it's, I don't know, it's so unique. It's a unique listening experience in that respect. Well thank you man. Listening to this title track, it's so dense with instruments and vocals, could you take us through building a track like that? I mean, when I think of you playing all the instruments, it's a little hard to wrap my head around. Like, how how does a track like that get made from start to finish?


When I'm writing a song, if I'm writing a song right now, I could write a song on drums, I could write a song on keys, I could write on base. And that song, The American Negro, I wrote on Keys first. So I got on my keyboard and just started writing it, start writing an arrangement that said, OK, this is where I'll have a chorus is well have this is where I love that. So then what I do is I'll record a metronome track on tape.


So on track one on record. Let's just say that that's 90 bpm. I recorded Metronome at nine p.m. then I'll play keys on top of that and then the next thing I will do is play drums on top of that. And in my head I'm listening to what the song is going to be at the end because I hear it. I know what it's going to be. And after that I'll pick up a bass guitar, play bass, then play guitar, then play vibraphones.


And then the next thing I did, I played horns on that. So I think I think I played on that one. Bass clarinet, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone and baritone sax and kind of put them together and harmonize them to establish the melodies that are going to be my lead melodies. And then I write lyrics and then I leave space for orchestra.


And then after that I write all the notes for the orchestra, then bringing in strings and all, then recorder to tape as well, and then kind of put it all together. So basically when I write a song, I create a roadmap of what the song is supposed to be, and I leave space for all of it, leaves space for the proper frequencies and and then just do it, you know, as it's created, you know.


Yeah. Sounds pretty easy now when you break it down. Well, you know what?


You know what it is to be really good.


But to be honest with you, yeah, it's a lot of work is laborious, but it's easy and it's and the reason why is easy is because I've been doing this for so long, you know, like, I practiced so much. And I always tell people that when people ask me about advice and what they could do, I say the most important thing you could do is finish. Most people start things, but they can't finish things. So when you have years and years of self-discipline where you must finish certain things, you open up new pathways in your brain to the point where you can never suffer from writer's block because there's so many different ways you can go to you see.


So when you're doing that for so long, it gets to the point where it's actually easy for you. It takes a while because you're playing someone's instruments, but you're just doing things in real time. So like when you do things in real time, it just takes a lot longer than a full band coming in to do it. But the rewards are greater because now you get to sculpt every single piece of what's happening.


Something you said earlier in our conversation came back to me when you were describing that process, the idea of the orchestra, the strings symbolizing black excellence.


Yeah. Could you say more about that relationship? Yeah.


So as a producer, as a film composer, what I found is that producers or directors that may be interested in hiring me for film probably won't look at me as they do. They could pull out a piece of pen and sheet music and write for an orchestra.


The strings for black culture, it's our assimilation of Western music, you know, jazz is a combination of Western music and black people thinking through the lens of classical music, but with our own soul and breaking all these rules, using these Western theories with breaking the theories, learning theories and breaking them. That's what this is so like as a black dude, when I'm writing for orchestra, I write differently. I write in a more funky way and it comes off differently.


You could hear it like when I have these players in a classically trained I use the same players like record for Star Wars, you know. So when they're in here and I'm asking them to do these different kind of syncopated moves, they have issues doing it and they have to rerecord things certain times because hard for them to get the groove. But when it's all there, it epitomizes my black syncopation, my rhythm, my soul and all that. And that's really encapsulates that black excellence, because black music, you know, historically was always looked at as race, music or urban music.


It was never fully considered something that was all the way up here on top. So when you bring those elements in, it's kind of hard to for others to have a whole different perspective like that.


You're releasing this project during Black History Month. How can music communicate history?


Like I said, music is a document. Music is timeless. And people may not feel like listening to somebody talk, but they're willing to listen to music. People might not want to hear somebody do a speech, but they're willing to hear them do that speech in a movie. Somebody may not want to go to class and hear professor talk, but they'd be willing to listen to a podcast of a professor talking about something that they're interested in. So when you kind of trick people into listening to the message, you know, you win because I get a gratification of sharing my message.


Whether the listener believes me or not, I get the gratification in that because I'm trying to do something that is virtuous, trying to do something that is egalitarian move. You know, I love to use music as a message because even with this album, it was a real choice to have parts where I'm literally just talking about history.


America pretends to be blind with complacency and hides behind the shadows of the past. But our past is sanitized through the textbooks, creating the illusion that the remnants of racial injustice have perished.


Revisionist history one two one three one four one five one oh six 12. The first 18 presidents were enslavers.


The safest thing for me to have done with this album is just have street music and they'll talk it. But to me, the message was more important than the music. I can make music whenever, but I don't get chances to talk to people about this subject and kind of bring them into my world like this, you know. So that's Adrian.


Where can people find this project again? In the world of the American Negro, there's companion pieces. So Tan is a short film and that's going to be on Amazon towards the end of this month. It's my directorial debut.


It is essentially a movie where people are in Purgatory and they're dealing with a myriad of issues regarding racism or just bigotry in general, but the kind of learning about themselves in this different dimension. It's like a Twilight Zone episode. So there's that. And then I have a podcast that's out right now on Amazon music, and it's called Invisible Blackness. And it's a really deep dive into how America pioneered racism. I mean, it's a super deep dive. It's one of those things where if you listen to the podcast, it's as if you read a whole bunch of books because I'm really breaking it down.


And in this podcast, I have people like Chuck D to Ladybug Mecca, just different artists, filmmakers, scholars to provide their perspectives. And then the main thing that we're talking about here is the American Negro, which is the LP, which is the album, which is the nucleus of this idea. What is germane to starting this whole world? So you got the American Negro album tend to film an invisible blackness.


Adrian, thank you so much for joining us and breaking down some of the influences and meanings behind this project.


Thank you. Switched-On Pop is produced by Charlie Harding, Bridget Armstrong and meet Nate Sloan, executive producers are in the shop, Corowa and Hanna Rosin, remixed and edited by the talented Brandon McFarland, and this week by the equally talented Bill Lintz. Iris Gottlieb does our amazing illustrations. And Abbey Bar handles social media. We're a production of Vulture and the Vox Media Podcast Network. We drop new episodes every Tuesday and you can find them anywhere. You get podcasts.


And if you want to talk to us, reach out on Twitter or Instagram at Switched On Pop. Tune in next week. We're talking to JP Sachs, who has penned the Grammy nominated Song of the Year. If the world was ending, that might sound calamitous. But as you'll discover, there's a lot of hope and love even in there as well. Until then, thanks for listening.