Late last night, The-Dream made like Beyonce and surprise-released a video for “Black.”
Odds are the song has been set for a while; as noted by Buzzfeed, The-Dream has been working on a project since March, one he’s been “teasing with black and white photos of Civil Rights leaders on Instagram.” But it’s been a real banner week for racism, and it makes sense to read the video (or at least, the timing of its release) as a response to Donald Sterling, the just-banned-for-life owner of the Clippers. Even if the video was already in the works, clearly The-Dream had some last minute additions: there’s a quick cut of the faces of Cliven Bundy, Vladimir Putin, Joseph Kony, Donald Sterling (a real murderer’s row of racists, right there) lined up with the lyrics to “never be impressed with / a man with no message.” Not quite as on-the-nose as Plies’ track, “Donald Sterling: Racist Muthaf–ka” or Cassidy’s remix of “Move That Dope” which addresses Sterling by name and says throws the gauntlet of “if you not racist, you should never go to a Clippers game,” but, you know, it’s not not obvious what The-Dream is getting at there.
Though the refrain is “I feel real black right now” and the dominant images in the video constitute a highlights reel of Civil Rights stars—MLK, Jackie Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Malcolm X—there’s the clear sense, both in the visuals and the broad sweep of the lyrics, that The-Dream sees all oppressed people as part of the same team. References to modern-day racism abound, like the juxtaposition of Naomi Campbell catwalking with lyrics about Tommy Hilfiger’s alleged (though denied by Hilfiger and never verified) claim that if he’s known black people were going to buy his clothes, he never would have designed them. And plenty of video real estate is occupied by Occupiers holding “We are the 99%” signs, with Pussy Riot in bright ski masks, with Harvey Milk in parades.
The video closes with a statement that calls back to Kanye West’s comments on Jimmy Kimmel’s show last October: “Black isn’t just a color. Black isn’t just a race anymore. It’s a feeling and a place from which one feels isolated by the world of the governing elite. Classism is the new racism. This is what black feels like.”
A few questions: There’s this moment of the Obamas, chins-to-chest in what looks like a moment of silence, as the lyrics “There ain’t been a lot going on” play. Is it a critique of the President, or of whatever tragedy the President is mourning in that photograph? And what is the significance of the famous, gut-wrenching photo from the Newtown Massacre, of crying children walking single-file with their hands on each others’ shoulders?
Also, there’s this: According to reports from The Daily Mail and TMZ, The-Dream is allegedly wanted by police for punching and kicking his then-pregnant ex-girlfriend, Lydia Nam, last April. Reports are still unconfirmed.