It’s the fiftieth anniversary of the release of Marvin Gaye’s landmark concept lp What’s Going On, which explored themes of drug abuse, poverty, the environment, the Vietnam War, and racial discrimination.
What would that great man make of the world, half a century later, in which none of the subjects listed above have been eliminated? Some are actually WORSE. And feel free to replace Vietnam with any armed conflict you choose.
And, as chance would have it, as this article is being worked on, the first anniversary of George Floyd’s killing has been commemorated.
Dope Sagittarius frontman Luqman Brown brings us up to speed: “When I wrote ‘Black Empress’, back in 2016, it was because I was fed up with the killing of unarmed Black people by police that year and throughout American history. Sadly, not much has changed since then. This is my way of saying that, if we can’t stop this senseless killing, the world will end in chaos and violence.”Luqman Brown, Dope Sagittarius
‘Black Empress’ is totally in your face. Squally, groove-bound, punk, electro soundclash. It’s quite remarkable. It touches on jazz with the brilliantly discordant violin provided by freestyle composition artist Mazz Swift. Hip hop legend/political commentator Mike Ladd weighs in as well, pulling no punches.
‘Black Empress’ is the latest single taken from Dope Sagittarius’ monumental new lp Sacred Places, which is an eclectic affair with contributions from a galaxy of jazz, funk, reggae, and soul superstars. Indeed, Brown must be doing something right if he can get Corey Glover to pitch in with backing vocals on the ‘Define Love’ single. Check out the effortlessly cool video below:
‘Define Love’ is a really special song for me and the first real love song I’ve written. I had Micah Gaugh (The Veldt, Burnt Sugar, The Arkestra Chamber) playing sax, jazz luminary Marc Cary (who’s played with Dizzy Gillespie and Meshell Ndegeocello) on piano, the incomparable Corey Glover (Living Colour) on backup vocals and, finally, the Master himself, Ronny Drayton (who’s played with everybody from The Persuaders and The Chambers Brothers to Defunkt, Nona Hendryx, and 24-7 Spyz) on guitar. Unfortunately Ronny passed away in 2020. He inspired me by teaching me to be a better guitar player and just because of how great and good he was. The video for this song is dedicated to him. (RIP)Luqman Brown
Indeed he recently experienced his own brush with death.
This album was supposed to be released in 2017, but I had a stroke as a result of severe complications with my heart. In 2019, I underwent heart surgery to place a left ventricular assist device in my heart to keep it pumping. At the time, I thought that myself and this album would never make it out into the world—as proud as I am of it. Nevertheless, I slowly came back and now the world will get to hear what it’s like living in NYC everyday—hard times, staying alive, and taking the time to have a good brunch along the way.Luqman Brown
Sacred Places is out on vinyl and available on Apple Music and Spotify. It can also be ordered via Bandcamp or from Buddhabug Records. Why not give yourself an hour to check it out? It’s an amazing collection of songs that, individually, stand up to scrutiny but come together to form a deeply satisfying album.
As Luqman Brown says, it chronicles modern-day life in one city in the United States. Unfortunately, some of the situations would be painfully familiar to what Marvin Gaye was protesting against five decades ago.
Cover photo by Jana Jeroz.