James T. Green is a conceptual artist, radio producer, writer, and educator from Chicago, Illinois, and now in Brooklyn, New York.

thoughts + feelings

96: Please Leave a Message

The voicemail tape slurs to a start.

When I first listened to Kendrick Lamar’s good kid M.A.A.D city a few years back, I was not only taken aback by the serious story-telling and beats that rattled my cheap-ass white earbuds, but there was something more that felt personal with the story, and that was the series of voicemails that punctuated several acts of the album. In the last three years, it seemed the crunchy aesthetic of low-fi voice recordings were swirling through every choice of a new album to stream. Nostalgia is the lazy answer behind these reasoning of these aesthetic choices, but I think there’s something more behind these deliberate efforts.

Peppered throughout albums are synthetic effects of swirling tapes, ringings of phones, and calling back to a slower time. Presets and downloadable packages of old sounds that are easily swappable replace the authentic ambience. While Adele’s Hello harkens to a specific type of white nostalgia, I wonder what it is that my culture looks to grab onto when they say hello from the other side of the iMessage read receipt.

The voicemail tape clicks to a halt.

I think about my peers and a desire to rewrite our history, to make sure that our voice is told and imprinted in the future, beyond the videos of our killed comrades, but pieces of joy that emit black joy. The voicemail. The voice recording. The grainy cell phone camera at a family reunion of your granny doing the Dap in a warmly lit kitchen. There’s something dynamic about owning your image on your own terms.

  Old forms of audio production found while snooping through  my partner's  grandparents' home.

Old forms of audio production found while snooping through my partner's grandparents' home.

The voicemail tape rewinds.

I’m harkened back to the sound of the early aughts where futuristic bloops bled from blog house and into the house synths of Kanye West’s Graduation; American Apparel outfitted futurist seeking youths with threads that wouldn’t look out of place from an episode of The Jetsons. We had these looks that screamed futurism but we still carried phones in our pockets that played a mean game of Snake on a bitmapped 150x150px screen. What is it about the current state where our aesthetics harken a past but the technology moves beyond a bleeding point? We grasp for a time of yesteryear in order to take back control.

So that brings us to the present day, where we are in an exciting place in futurism and music. Future, the namesake himself, creates music that comes from the hurting pain of addiction and pain, sloshed in a hedonistic pursuit of pleasure in a dark world. Pusha T’s King Push project is doing the same, creating a firm combination of using sounds of the past while sounding darkly futuristic. It’s as if the futuristic thoughts that we imagined in the early aughts did not come true and we are coming together to shatter that expectation through darker, textured, flawed cultural production.

It’s likely that we will be recording police injustice using devices as thin as credit cards while our surroundings appear more decrepit. It’s likely that we will be sharing the latest inequality of our queer identified family through digital HUD eye implants. Perhaps the warm hiss of a tape recorder brings ease to our lost expectations of the future.

James T. Green