By Jackson Ibelle
This morning, as I untangled myself from a sea of knotted covers and squinted my eyes at my phone screen to see it was 10:00 AM, I silently congratulated myself for beginning my day early. Unable to rise from bed quite yet, I scrolled through Twitter for twenty minutes, trying to decipher what we are mad about today: COVID surging as parties rage across the country; Barstool sports being Barstool sports; Cam Newton making less than Matt Schaub.
Not in any rush, I moved on to Instagram, because who knows, maybe I’d see something of note. Nope. Instead just a bunch of videos from House of Highlights of teenagers dunking on eight foot hoops. Finally I moved on to the last stage of my morning routine before ultimately standing upright — checking my email for good news, maybe even a job interview. Still nothing.
Along with over 44 million Americans, I am now entering my fifth month of COVID-induced unemployment. What began as a somewhat pleasant respite from the daily grind has transformed into a monotonous slog. In the Pre-quarantine world, you’d often dream of days without any responsibilities, but now, unable to actually do anything, it’ll have you longing for the times where you barely had a second to think.
The soundtrack for today is D’Angelo’s jazzy debut album, Brown Sugar, selected as research for my hopelessly pointless quest to choose the top five albums from every year. These types of self-created projects have been the key to maintaining my sanity while spending day after day indoors. Not all are as trivial as this, and one of the most frustrating aspects of this quarantine has been that no matter what I do I still feel painfully unproductive. It feels as if I have been sitting on my ass for months when in reality I’ve been reading nonstop;
I’ve taken up drawing; I’m cooking creative meals daily; I’m writing for the first time since college; I built a basketball hoop and a bookshelf from scratch, and have gotten further in learning Italian in the past month than I had during six years of Spanish in school. I’ve joined my neighborhood Mutual Aid and marched alongside thousands of New Yorkers in one of the largest civil unrests in the nation’s history. And yet I wake up each morning feeling useless.
The album’s funky, laid back production, along with D’Angelo’s unmatched whisper are established immediately on the title track, a sexy ode to marijuana, deceptively disguised as a bedroom ballad. Somehow only 21 at the time of its release, the Richmond, VA singer was described by Pitchfork’s Marcus J. Moore as “equal parts Marvin Gaye and LL Cool J”. Somewhat of a child prodigy, D’Angelo, who wrote and produced nearly all of the album himself, won several of the iconic amateur night competitions at Harlem’s Apollo Theater as a teenager.
This serves as another reminder of the toll the pandemic has taken on life in New York City. Instead of announcing this summer’s renditions of the event that introduced the world to icons like Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown, the marquee above The Apollo simply says BE WELL. While online auditions are being held for amateur night, there will be no steamy summer evenings where patrons overflow onto W 125th, gazing in awe at the plaques of the Apollo’s Walk of Fame, hoping to see the next D’Angelo rise from obscurity.
“Ooh wee baby you’ve redefined my vision of love it seems,” D’Angelo croons on Me And Those Dreamin’ Eyes Of Mine, the album Brown Sugar’s fourth single and a personal favorite, as I finally rise out of bed for the day.
The responsible thing to do now, I know, is to scroll the job market, and see what types of new prospects are out there for a furloughed beer salesman looking for a career change.
The reality now is that, as states begin to prematurely reopen, the millions of jobless are being forced to choose between risking their health by returning to work at restaurants, bars, and other high contact establishments or continue on with the insecurity and frustration of unemployment.
Attempting to change jobs — and I’m far from the only service worker with this plan — seems nearly impossible. It’s hard not to feel angry when, here in New York City, over 22,000 people have died over the past few months from COVID-19 and we are expected to return back to the way things were, well before the problem has been solved.
By the time the album hits the positively undefeated Lady, I’ve given up on the search for now. Evidently a 24-year-old who grew up coding Paul Pierce wallpaper and Lupe Fiasco songs into his Myspace page doesn’t have enough social media experience to run a corporate Instagram. Besides, what’s another day at this point?
On the track, D’Angelo sings, “You’re my lady” approximately 100 times over the course of nearly six minutes (having more than enough time to count I can tell you that the number is actually 36) and yet somehow it seems to sound better each time. What came next has been discussed and written about over and over.
His 1998 duet with Lauryn Hill remains a highlight on her groundbreaking debut album and Brown Sugar’s follow up, Voodoo, was a critical and commercial smash. Then, a controversial music video and his subsequent disillusionment with fame caused D’angelo to recede from the public eye for 14 years before releasing 2014’s excellent Black Messiah. Still, in a career spanning three decades, Lady remains his biggest hit.
The relentlessly cool baseline, performed by Raphael Saadiq who co-wrote the song, breathes life into me. It’s time to emerge from the darkness of the bedroom and *gasp* put on some pants. At this point the music has made it impossible to remain pessimistic — besides it’s basically the weekend (whatever that means nowadays). I step outside as the organs on Higher triumphantly kick in. “Cause you take me higher, further than the sky above.” The album ends with a bang; certainly in the top five for 1995. The sun beams down on this beautiful day in Brooklyn. I search for my next album and think that maybe this isn’t all so bad.
Jackson Ibelle was born and raised in Providence, RI and moved to Brooklyn in September. Prior to the pandemic he worked as a beer salesman in Williamsburg and Greenpoint. Now, with his newfound free time, he’s been volunteering with Crown Heights Mutual Aid and encourages anyone who likes this article to make a donation heree! Twitter: @j_ferrari23
Make a Donation
BK Reader is brought to you for free daily. Please consider supporting independent local news by making a donation here. Whether it is $1 or $100, no donation is too big or too small!