Dr. Maya Angelou, one the most distinguished and esteemed voices of the 20th century, iconic American writer, poet and Grammy Award winner, is posthumously subject to a unique musical collaboration that blends some of her most revered works with a contemporary Hip-hop beat. The album released on the 4th of November via Smooch Music, takes the title from her 1969 classic I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.
The record, produced by Rivera and RoccStar in Los Angeles and Angelou’s North Carolina home brings an entirely new perspective to Angelou’s poems, which are epitomized in the words of her Grandson Colin Johnson and founder of Caged Bird Legacy, “one of the things that she speaks to, for me at least, is our humanity, and where we can go as a people coming together… It’s a valuable message, no matter what generation. And I want that message to continue on for many different years… She saw (Hip-hop) as this generation’s way of speaking and conveying a message”. It is through Johnson’s comments where we can observe and understand this new perspective. It is the importance of her words via the medium of music that channels the spirit and messages of his grandmother to the new generation.
The Pulitzer Prize nominee herself also promulgates the significance of the record. “This project is important… It’s woven into the tapestry of our lives, and we’re being serious and giving and kind about it. So obviously, it’s going somewhere. And we have to release it to go there”. The record highlights new approaches to poetry. The medium of delivery is indubitably the best way of connecting with the younger generation, as it subsequently makes her works more obtainable to a larger demographic, a method in which the new generation can also be moved by her art while simultaneously stressing the importance of literature.
Nevertheless, this is not the first instance where Maya has appeared on record. In 1957, Angelou released the LP Miss Calypso and in 1996 was joined by Ashford and Simpson for the release of Been Found, which would then go on to win three Grammy awards. She also featured on Commons’ 2011 release The Dreamer/The Believer and also collaborated with Roberta Flack and Wynton Marsalis. A recurring theme throughout these records is her dedication to social activism, a theme that fits perfectly in the context of Hip-Hop.
The lyrics seem to flow effortlessly with the music; Dr Angelou’s utilsation of colloquial slang and stylish execution of streetwise commentary merged with a contemporary Hip-Hop beat creates an enthralling exhibition for her inspirational and sometimes poignant messages. These messages, accompanied by a comprehensive variety of stylistic inputs that not only incorporates Hip-Hop, but R&B, Blues, Pop, Funk and Surf Rock, inevitably adding diversity to the gripping nature of the record, yet in many ways it feels like a sequel to Miss Calypso.
The lyrical content and choice of melody, rhythm and social contexts highlight the struggles and injustices of the urban experience through prose, something that can be inextricably linked to modern Hip-hop, which is one of the many reasons that makes this record so compelling and powerful. The album illustrates the importance of her observations on family, racism, equality, identity and travel, reminding us of the timeliness of her messages while simultaneously being accompanied with an infectious modern twist. It is a record that definitely requires a listen, for not only its wise words that changed American culture forever, but also for the thoughtfulness in its approach and the proficiency of musicality that is executed throughout. It is a factor that is exceptionally relevant to the modern urban experiences of modern Hip-hop and contemporary literature.
Purchase: Maya Angelou – Caged Bird Songs (iTunes)
Words by Alex Clarke // Edited by Ayo Adepoju