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In this jaunty and intimate collection, Kevin Young invents a language as shimmying and comic, as low-down and high-hearted, as the music from which he draws inspiration. With titles such as “Stride Piano,” “Gutbucket,” and “Can-Can,” these poems have the sharp completeness of vocalized songs and follow a classic blues trajectory: praising and professing undying devotion (“To watch you walk / cross the room in your black / corduroys is to see / civilization start”), only to end up lamenting the loss of love (“No use driving / like rain, past / where you at”). As Young conquers the sorrow left on his doorstep, the poems broaden to embrace not just the wisdom that comes with heartbreak but the bittersweet wonder of triumphing over adversity at all.
Sexy and tart, playfully blending an African American idiom with traditional lyric diction, Young’s voice is pure American: joyous in its individualism and singing of the self at its strongest.
Taking its title from Danger Mouse’s pioneering mashup of Jay-Z’s The Black Album and the Beatles’ The White Album, Kevin Young’s encyclopedic book combines essay, cultural criticism, and lyrical choruses to illustrate the African American tradition of lying—storytelling, telling tales, fibbing, improvising, “jazzing.” What emerges is a persuasive argument for the many ways that African American culture is American culture, and for the centrality of art—and artfulness—to our daily life. Moving from gospel to soul, funk to freestyle, Young sifts through the shadows, the bootleg, the remix, the grey areas of our history, literature, and music.