Gary Clark Jr.’s new single, “This Land,” isn’t the crawling-to-running, normal kind of growth, no, Gary went from walking up and down Sixth Street with a guitar in his hand, to flying. It’s not to say that Gary was ever immature at all, but, rather, to paraphrase Nayvadius Wilburn: the mask is off. This is the kind of evolution every fan dreams of seeing from their favorite artist.
“This Land,” the new single from Gary Clark Jr.’s upcoming album of the same name, is the spiritual sequel to Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright.” By that I mean: it’s an anthem — by one of our generation’s most gifted artists — that reflects the times; Nina Simone would be so proud.
“Alright” was released in 2015, as we approached the final lap of Obama’s presidency, and offered a vision of resilience in the face of an endless barrage of videos of police brutality being visited upon young black children all across the country. No song better captured the spirit of hope of the Obama presidency than “Alright.” It was soon adopted as a chant by youth social justice movements across the country who asked only that we we affirm the value of Black life to counter that barrage of negative imagery. Imagine having a problem with that! Couldn’t be me!
Before “Alright” found and rode its wave, Gary Clark Jr. was there all along, at the White House performing blues standards like “Catfish Blues,” “In The Evening,” and a personal favorite of President Obama, “Sweet Home Chicago.” Musically, Gary was always in touch with his roots in a way that was unquestionable, but he hadn’t yet figured out how to connect those very real blues — the same blues that were written under segregation, born out of slavery — to the present moment. That was a switch that wouldn’t be flipped until life happened to Gary. I guess, as Buddy Guy once said, “If you don’t have the blues… just keep livin’.”
As Buddy Guy once said, “If you don’t have the blues… just keep livin’.”NPR, 2015.
The moment that “Alright” existed in has passed. The man who once rapped about how Ronald Reagan stopped the Black Panthers is these days seen parading around in a MAGA hat spewing the same rhetoric of a college frat bro who has never bothered to open a book. Since his last album, Sonny Boy Slim, was released, Gary married Nicole Trunfio, an Australian model, and mother of their two children, who has found a voice as a breastfeeding activist.
[Editor’s note: we here at SMNTCS support Nicole and think women
should not have to hide or fear being shamed while breastfeeding.]
Gary also found his voice outside of music, too, joining many of his contemporaries — fellow musicians Tom Morello, Talib Kweli, Vic Mensa, Ladybug Mecca, and Kam Frnaklin, along with actors Danny Glover (Gary’s former co-star in The Honeydripper), Rosario Dawson, and Jesse Williams, and civil rights icon Angela Davis — in calling for the release of Palestinian children from Israeli jails.
Texas, for all the talk of its liberal hubs like Houston and Austin, is a land of deep-pocket conservatism. Trump won in nearly 90% of Texas counties. Though Gary is undoubtedly the golden child of the city of Austin, an interracial couple with interracial kids will still turn heads in Texas in 2019. We now have a president who speaks more kindly about white supremacist groups than he does about Black people who march just for the idea that their lives might have inherent value. In other words, it’s an environment where those rubber-necking folks feel comfortable gawking. It’s safe to assume that all these factors combined forced Gary to feel that he could no longer remain silent.
After a spooky opening synth reminiscent of Big Lurch’s “Texas Boy,” a “paranoid and pissed off” Clark sings, “Now that I got the money / Fifty acres and a model, eh? Right in the middle of Trump country.”
The bright hope of the Obama years has become a flickering candle next to an open window. Uncertainty and fear have taken its place. Black folks tried to warn us about Trump, and we collectively ignored them. Now, with a president who condones their behavior, racists feel emboldened, and so Black people get shot up in a Waffle House and the All Lives Matter crowd is glaringly silent. The demographics of the country are shifting, our elected officials are finally, barely, starting to look more like us, and even though this progress is very new, it scares the hell out of racists because it’s a hint of what real democracy looks like.
“This land is mine” is a hook made for “the unheard” that Martin Luther King once spoke of, Gary is barely concerned with being catchy. This isn’t the time for for catchy. “Fuck you, I’m America’s son,” Gary shouts loud enough to reach the deepest of deep red counties. In the accompanying music video, a group of Black kids burn a confederate flag, a noose, and shackled chains. Racism is not a “gotta hear both sides” thing. Let’s not be naive about what that flag represents, and what that army was fighting for. For every redneck kid in high school who rolled into the parking lot with that same flag draped across the back of their truck, for every family that has the flag hanging over their fireplace, or over their hearts, or their eyes, this one is for you.
I ain’t leavin’ and you can’t take it from me /Gary Clark Jr., from “This Land.”
I remember when you used to tell me /
Nigga run, nigga run /
Go back where you come from
It’s an image and a line that has people in the comments sounding very uncomfortable. Gary’s message is clear: to lead with love, we have to rid ourselves of the totems of hate we cling to. To do that, it might be uncomfortable, but that discomfort is what growth feels like at first. So let every confederate statue and flag come down, let every gerrymandering politician be voted out, and let every young Black kid’s imagination be filled with the kind of joy and love that Gary radiates at the end of the video.