Gary Clark Jr. takes aim at the system in new single “This Land” with ferocious lyrics, a delivery reminiscent of Predator-era Ice Cube, and music that sounds like the angriest Lenny Kravitz has ever been.
Can you still call it the blues if the predominant emotion is anger? This is the question that comes to mind listening to blues star Gary Clark Jr.’s new single “This Land,” a biting indictment of 2019 America — and we mean biting.
Stream: “This Land” – Gary Clark Jr.
With ferocious lyrics, a delivery reminiscent of Predator-era Ice Cube, and music that sounds like the angriest Lenny Kravitz has ever been, this isn’t the Sonny Boy Slim who emerged from Texas to change blues music earlier this decade. And yet it still bears a lot of the same similarities — those moving solos, the silky yet pained vocals, and that irresistible swagger — making it clear this is the same old guy, just with a message he wants to share. The message? America’s racism has been around much longer than President Trump, it’s claws are everywhere, and frankly, he’s had enough of it.
This vitriol just drips off his words, the chorus rife with years of righteous anger and frustration at the way he has been treated:
Well I know you think I’m up to somethin’
I’m just eating, now we’re still hungry
And this is mine now, legit
I ain’t leavin’ and you can’t take it from me
I remember when you used to tell me:
“N—- run, n—- run
Go back where you come from, uh
N—- run, n—- run
Go back where you come from
We don’t want, we don’t want your kind
We think you’s a dog born”
Fuck you, I’m America’s son
This is where I come from
This land is mine
This damning indictment of America continues throughout the verses too, with tales of white people desperate to call police on him for being in their neighbourhood (even though he lives there too) and constantly being paranoid of racists catching up with him.
However, it’s the nuance of the lyrics that move this song from angry ranting to intelligent criticism. The opening line references the unfulfilled promises of 40 acres and a mule made by abolitionists, not just modernized but made even more American, with the mule replaced by the signature car of the roaring twenties:
Paranoid and pissed off,
Now that I got the money,
Fifty Acres and Model A
Right in the middle of Trump country
In the second verse, a subtle reference to his previous song “Grinder” — a track about pursuing money at all costs — opens up a whole new understanding of the song. Coupled with lines about the racial bias within the system, it’s a powerful point of view Clark Jr. is presenting:
Up ’til the sun comes up
No, I can’t start grindin’
And I can’t let ’em break me
No, I can’t let ’em fire me
You can meet my friend the governor
Only if you wanna try me
Or you can meet my other friend, the judge
Just in case you think I’m lyin’
Perhaps the greatest reference however, is the entire song itself: It’s a rebuttal — or at least a different take — on American folk legend Woody Guthrie’s patriotic “This Land is Your Land.” Recasting this song with ire and references to slavery and the American dream places the song into a league of its own; both cerebral and immediate.
The music supports all of his anger. While no more distorted than usual, there’s a tension and urgency not usually present in Clark Jr.’s other songs, building in a way that feels symbolic of his frustration. This sentiment adds to the mood, meaning his ripping solo serves as well-earned breather before one last chorus.
Gary Clark Jr.’s crimination of the system — and noticeably not just Trump — is an excellent example of a modern day protest song. Recently Clark Jr. told Rolling Stone, “I think it’s only right at this point in time, if you have a microphone louder than others, to speak out about that anger” — and sometimes that means yelling in righteous rage.
Stream: “This Land” – Gary Clark Jr.
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? © Frank Maddocks