When we hear something new, our impulse is to put it in a box. This is not unreasonable. The making of categories is the essence of rational thought. When we identify a piece of music as “baroque” or “indie” or “delta blues”, we separate it from all the other sounds in our head and begin to compare like with like, place what is new in relation to what is known, discern, make meaning. This works, except for when it does not.
Everything about Foreign Goods subverts the usual process. Let’s start with the name – “foreign goods”, property from elsewhere, chattel, different from land or buildings, something that is moveable. West’s Encyclopedia of American Law makes the ominous point that “it may be animate or inanimate.”
Let’s consider the first track – “Atlantis”, the island from myth, where, before it sank into the Mediterranean, Southern Europe touched the Sahara. We want to call it Jazz, but of an especially dreamy nature, post hard bop, that place between Pharaoh Sanders, Alice Coltrane and electric Miles. Into that thing we know is brought something unaccustomed, a rising vocal line, keening, an ethereal chant anchored by drums emphatically holding back from the beat. The percussion destabilizes us and offers more unfamiliarity into which is introduced a new element – a rap of gathering velocity, and what was once dream becomes corporeal – “this is our time/this is our town/do not get wet/we will not drown.” We gain some footing, only to be yet again knocked down by a badass, hard rock vocal, its R&B roots front and center.
This is not fusion, where the whole is less than the sum of its parts. This is something different, a Black American Music that obliterates linear time, where jazz, hip hop, rock, R&B, gospel exist not on an historical continuum but as co-equals in a continuous present. We can think of each of these genres as a “foreign good”, a property from elsewhere, something that is moveable. That all of these begin as “black” music forces the understanding that American Music is Black American Music. With this understanding comes the deeper insight, that “foreign goods”, that property from elsewhere, chattel that may be animate or inanimate – this is the core of the American Experience, our Original Sin, the heart of our darkness, and the place where we might attempt our redemption. - David Ravel