Our Take: Sudan Archives’ ‘Natural Brown Prom Queen’ Never Fails to Surprise

Natural Brown Prom Queen - Sudan Archives
Natural Brown Prom Queen - Sudan Archives

Sam's Take

9 Music Quality
10 Sonic Diversity
10 Content Originality
10 Lyricism
10 Memorability
8 Arranging
9 Production
The core tenant of Sudan Archives’ sophomore album, Natural Brown Prom Queen, is reinvention: The record throws so many curveballs and surprises to the listener that its label of ‘R&B’ doesn’t begin to cover all its bases.
Stream: ‘Sudan Archives’ – Natural Brown Prom Queen

The core tenant of Sudan Archives’ sophomore album, Natural Brown Prom Queen, is reinvention.

Across its 18 tracks, the record throws so many curveballs and surprises to the listener that its label of ‘R&B’ doesn’t cover the bases of all this album does. Touching on themes of self-improvement, love, and identity, Prom Queen houses some of the most memorable and important tracks of the year.

Natural Brown Prom Queen - Sudan Archives
Natural Brown Prom Queen – Sudan Archives

Brittney Parks, the Cincinnati-based musician known as Sudan Archives, gained notability for her work as a violinist and rapper, especially on her debut, 2019’s Athena. Her violin-playing comes back spectacularly here, on tracks like “Selfish Soul,” but it’s difficult to nail down one thing about Prom Queen that makes it so endearing. She’s a human that deals with our same problems like fake friendships (“Omg Britt”), romance and identity (“Home Maker,” “ChevyS10”), and even while you get the sense that she’s creating music like no other, it’s never an opportunity to be anything but down-to-earth. “I just wanna have my titties out,” she admits on highlight “NBPQ (Topless).”

Album opener “Home Maker” is the first instance of how clever Parks’ writing is: by joining together romance and a sense of self cultivated in one’s home, by inviting someone in, it takes on multiple meanings. “Don’t you feel at home when you’re with me?” she asks, prompting a measure not only of her personality and warmth, but of her home’s atmosphere. “I just got a wall mount for my plants / And hoping that they’ll thrive around the madness,” she opens.

Sudan Archives © Edwig Henson
Sudan Archives © Edwig Henson

Another intimate moment blown out to a sweeping, glorious instance is “ChevyS10,” the album’s six-minute centerpiece. It starts similarly to “Home Maker,” a spacey, liminal R&B beat surrounding Parks as she talks about wanting to call someone, get away quickly, go anywhere. In the first of the song’s switch-ups, a pulsating beat arrives behind her, along with her violin, signifying the moment she’s in the car. “I wanna rock out hard / And he’s wearing daddy’s diamonds / …He drivin’ fast as fuck.” And then, again — again! — it switches gears, transforming into a danceable house anthem, once again showing her ability to master a breadth of music genres.

“All of the pain
Even when the sun’s out it just feels like rain
You’re the only one who embraced the change
People think that they can handle my ways
But they all bounce eventually
Don’t even try, I’m not the one to play
I got something special, bring it to my plate
I got big plans for this home I made
And you couldn’t handle me anyway
I’m just sayin’”
– “Home Maker,” Sudan Archives

OMG BRITT” is a more straight-forward diss track. The previous song, aptly totaled “Loyal,” describes how good of a friend she is — unless someone stabs her in the back, like how someone in particular clearly has done here. Over the heaviest beat on the album, Parks warns, “Those friends over there say you got your back / Seem to never be there when you need a hand.” And on the second chorus, she ramps up even further, where the beat sounds industrially-generated, manufactured to kill: “Girl, let me tell you about this incident with this chick… / I was there for you, even on your birthday / I bought cake, macaroons, and a fucking pony.” She continues, saying that while she wishes the ex-friend well, she can’t hold onto this one-sided friendship any more: “I ain’t got the time for it / Next time, I won’t hold back,” she ends. “Dear God,” you can’t help but wonder, “that was you holding back?

“Girl, let me tell you about this incident with this chick
We had a friendship, but it wasn’t really even legit
You knew my life has been weird since I moved to LA
So it should make sense to you why I’m acting this way
I was there for you, even on your birthday
I bought cake, macaroons, and a fucking pony
But these days you the one that’s acting fucking phoney
You little party-ass bitch, pin it on the donkey
Why you twisting up what I say to you?
I messed up to think I should have put my hands on you
A choke, hug, and a tug would have done you good
Then you never would have thought to come around my hood
Don’t get it misunderstood, I wish you well
And I hope you find someone to deal with all that
‘Cause I ain’t got the time for it
And next time, I won’t hold back”
– “OMG BRITT,” Sudan Archives

Parks is considered somewhat of an outsider in the industry, simply because not many people can do the same things that she can. Before this album, which received critical acclaim, she hadn’t got much recognition for her work. On the title track, she opens, “Sometimes I think that if I was light-skinned / Then I would get into all the parties / Win all the Grammys, make the boys happy.”

However, one of the greatest strengths of Prom Queen is its enduring ability to make what Parks sees as flaws into strengths, resulting in an all-encompassing self-confidence. “I’m not average,” she repeats later in the song, and discusses her body on “TDLY” — “That fat ass, yes, that’s homegrown land.”

On the album’s most joyous and perhaps creative peak, “Selfish Soul,” she discusses her worth as a Black woman and the extent to which cutting her own hair off affects her self-image. “Okay, one time, if I grow it long / Am I good enough? Am I good enough? / About time I embrace myself and soul / Time I feed my selfish soul,” she sings, ultimately gathering the confidence to act in whatever manner she pleases. “I don’t wear no struggles, I don’t wear no fears,” she chants over a beat assisted by her own violin-playing, a testament to her effortless ability to morph into a one-woman wonder.

“If I cut my hair, hope I grow it long
Back long, back time like way before
If I wear it straight, will they like me more?
Like those girls on front covers
Long hair make ’em stay little longer
Stay hair, stay straight, though we feel ashamed
By the curls, waves, and natural things
Curls, waves, and natural things”
– “Selfish Soul,” Sudan Archives

Sudan Archives © Edwig Henson
Sudan Archives © Edwig Henson

At 18 tracks, the album can sometimes suffer under its own weight, producing tunes generic enough to feel out of place. She hovers above a City Girls-like beat on “Freakalizer,” a sex song whose best line is the wonderfully earnest “No, I don’t wanna be lonely / But these hormones are making me horny.” “Homesick (Gorgeous & Arrogant)” is really the only song where her vocals feel out-of-tune: she can whisper to produce a chilling effect on “Omg Britt” or shout to make herself heard on “Selfish Soul,” but here, it just sounds forced. There’s also three interludes, the best of which is a voicemail from her mother, urging her to simply “play for the glory of God.” She ends with, “Get up there and do your thing.” The mixing, as well, often crunches under the weight of the multilayered beats presented — songs like “Selfish Soul” and “TDLY (Homegrown Land)” are unable to be enjoyed to the fullest extent.

Natural Brown Prom Queen is a once-in-a-lifetime album –

one where everything just clicks and the scope of one’s vision is so clear and translated with such grace and joy you’re grateful to be alive at the same time as the musician. It has its faults, sure, times where a particular song could be sung by anyone, but Brittney Parks achieves something incredible: Music that matters. Self-confidence flows through Sudan Archives’ sophomore album, and will undoubtedly transfer to its listeners. Natural Brown Prom Queen is consistently baffling within its scope of music, lyrical ability, and meticulous vision.

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