By Christian Breen
Young, Black & Blue is a window into Idris Lawal’s spirit, dedication, and resilience when face to face with hate, facing mistakes, dealing with heart-aches, and trying to find one’s place in the world. The influence of Lawal’s multi-cultural upbringing luminesces and emits passion, truth, and self-reflection, and fuels the celebration of his family, heritage, and unique identity.
The album opens with “Drop” an Afro-bop neo-soul vibe with an infectious beat paired with lyricism that continues to resonate long after it’s over. Opening with an acoustic melody while police sirens race past in the background, masterfully illustrates the continuous theme of innocence being haunted by the awareness of senseless prejudice; that has been a life-sentence for too many. “Drop” combines Lawal’s aspirations of wealth and fame with an overwhelming desire to not be perceived as complicit because of his skin colour.
“Gung-Ho” is an emotional and powerful song utilizing a quiet storm highlife vibe with roots deeper than the oldest oaks, amplified by Jelani Watson’s soul fueled saxophone. Originally inspired by lyrics from Billy Joel’s “Goodnight Saigon,” “Gung-Ho” represents Lawal’s difficult transition into adulthood while reflecting on the hardships his parents faced and the advice and values they passed on to him. We see Lawal embracing his passion for music while being driven by the knowledge that his actions are not just his alone since younger generations of his family look up to him as a symbol of inspiration, achievement, and persistence.
“Medals” is a jazz Afropop fusion with magnificent lyricism and a slower tempo that was set in motion in 2016 after Colin Kaepernick’s historic kneel as a response to the prevalence of racism in sports and life. The Young, Black & Blue album cover was inspired by the 1968 Olympics, where Tommie Smith and John Carlos were expelled from the games and received death threats for standing up for their beliefs of human rights. Lawal reflects on how people of colour are still facing the same issues in 2020 that they were facing in the ‘60s, and expresses anger and powerlessness when constantly seeing POC be murdered by police only to have their identities reduced to “hashtags & headlines.”
“Hey Colonizer” has a unique and peaceful melody with lyrics that depict a man who opposes violence and wants to be free to live by his own devices, “I’m no Django for hire, I just sing my desires, do my dance till I tire.” Lawal celebrates his African heritage while also making it clear that he will do anything to keep his family safe. “Hey Colonizer” is a work of introspection and brilliance that showcases Lawal’s resilience and drive to succeed and be happy no matter what prejudice he faces.
“Fools” is an AfroBop song focused on those “adolesenselessly in love” who are tasting the bitterness of a relationship nearing the end while creatively blending Yoruba (Lawal’s native language) into the lyrics. “Fools” takes us to a vulnerable part of Lawal’s persona when he was young and reckless and was not yet the man he has become.
“Omoge” follows the similar theme of love and the worry of experiencing heartbreak the same way that he experienced heartache when he was younger. This Afro-soul song calls back to his father’s advice, “always learn from your mistakes.” We see how Lawal has grown over time because he passes on his parent’s advice “look right, look left” to the girl and implores her to think twice about what she wants instead of jumping blindly into love.
“Heal” is an introspective and meaningful song that presents Lawal’s dreams of a better world full of universal acceptance. He faces the painful truth that the road to this paradise is difficult and that “life’s hard enough without being young, Black & born a target.” The song captures Lawal’s ability to look inward for strength even when he is faced with overwhelming troubles “Brain heavy like mojo-jojo, Make me wanna blow my roof off, Powerpuff & blow my sorrows in the air & then I cool off. When I ain’t know how to feel, I dig deep & I heal.”