In the latest edition of Rolling Stone’s Spoken Dialogue series, the writer and poet Hanif Abdurraqib sits down with critic and scholar Daphne A. Brooks for a personal, genre-spanning conversation.
The two writers spoke about the interrelated themes of their new books: Brooks’ Liner Notes for the Revolution, a canon-redefining history of black feminist sound, and Abdurraqib’s A Little Devil in America, a book of essays on black performance. Touching on rock criticism and black feminist critique, the two writers discussed everything from Josephine Baker to Toni Morrison’s Jazz and Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” as they offered up new ways to think about popular music.
Brooks spoke about the importance of making “the black listener audible, visible and affectively present” in writing about music, as well as what she calls “historical opacities”: gaps and holes in the historical record that lead to insufficient acknowledgement and accounting of black female musical history.
Abdurraqib talked about the challenges of writing about the artists, like Josephine Baker, about whom little public information is available, and the specificities of black performance. “So much of the legacy of black performers,” he says, before speaking about Aretha Franklin’s Amazing Grace, “is reminding people what they’re capable of.”
Brooks also discussed the legacy of Sixties rock criticism and Rolling Stone, and talked about how she used to rip out the cover of the magazine as a teenager whenever the magazine put a black artist on the cover.