- An album of brash and soulful beats that say a lot even without words.
- "It's as if she's from another time somewhere, an ancient future where it meets and warps together, and she walks out of it looking like the female Jimi Hendrix, the young Marcus Garvey, swinging music like Stevie Wonder," Erykah Badu recently said to the New York Times about her sometimes collaborator Georgia Anne Muldrow. Always creating, Muldrow skips through—and sometimes creates—genres with the cool quickness of an African griot. When she puts out music, it feels like a priority. And she puts out a lot. In under 20 years she's released such a massive discography that it could come with its own filing system. From R&B ballads, beat tapes and re-imagined Charles Mingus compositions, her albums would sit in different sections of a record store.
VWETO III is the latest instalment in Muldrow's psychedelic beat tape project, continuing her tradition of outside-the-box hip-hop arrangements. She rides at close range with contemporaries like Dibiase, the late Ras G, even Teebs at times. She cooks up tracks with earworm hooks and choruses that flow. Right from the jump, "Old Jack Swing" does what the title says, with a fuzzbox bassline, tree-trunk thick kick drums and melodic piano lines. It makes for a warm and bluesy start.
The drunken funk of "Passin Ouuut!," with its '80s "Cookie Puss" synths and barebones refrain, hits like a three-minute mood. At a concert it would be the kind of thing that perks up the crowd between songs, getting the head-nodding going. The strident refrain on "Unforgettable," sung confidently yet subdued by Muldrow, almost has you believing there are lyrics—but the words are left for the listener to fill in.
"I made the song 'Unforgettable' with the hope that people can make themselves unforgettable in a positive way," she says in the LP's press notes. "People can hype themselves up in the mirror. Dance and decorate themselves in such a way that they feel that they have that kind of impact on their communities and their families. It's like a mantra for your own selves: 'You are unforgettable.'"
Muldrow's music usually comes with a message like this. She keeps asking the same questions at different tempos, heating up the conversation at different temperatures. Out of the soulful 17 tracks here, clocking in just under an hour, it's "Mufaro's Garden," inspired by a folktale book illustrated by John Steptoe, that articulates the trajectory her one-of-a-kind career has taken. Meshing the "on-the-one" Parliament-Funkadelic feel with her own West Coast vocabulary, it's a coup of a jam that points backwards and forwards at the same time.
I remember watching Muldrow years ago in a YouTube tutorial about making electronic music, telling the younger upstarts to seek out older artists, because they have knowledge that doesn't always make it into the books. Muldrow knows this well. The daughter of two jazz musicians—Ronald Muldrow (guitarist with Eddie Harris for ten years) and Rickie Byars-Beckwith—she was made in the image of an independent singer-songwriter from the '70s. Think artists like Stevie Wonder, who took traditional R&B songwriting and pushed it somewhere synthesized and futuristic, blending blazing social commentary with deeply personal narratives.
As the world respectfully acknowledges the one-year anniversary of George Floyd being murdered on a Minneapolis street by the former police officer Derek Chauvin (and the video of the killing that inspired millions of Americans to join mass demonstrations), we're reminded that Muldrow has been calling attention to police brutality in the US, and the murdering of innocent Black people, since she started appearing on wax circa 2005. (Just think back to Erykah Badu comparing her to Marcus Garvey.) She's been in the game 16 strong years now, and shows no signs of stopping—we'll continue marching in the streets to this visionary Black woman's productions. VWETO III, arriving here and now, feels punctual and powerful. Even with so few words uttered, it's a vital entry in a vast discography that constantly seeks answers, building spiritual strength along the way.
01. Old Jack Swing
02. Synthmania Rock
03. Ayun Vegas feat. Ayun Bassa
04. Passin Ooout !
05. Slave Revoltalleway Boom
07. Throwback Baps
08. Slow Drag
09. Shana's Back! feat. Shana Jensen
10. Mufaro's Garden
11. Love Call Groove
13. Boom Bap Is My Homegirl
14. Action Groove
16. Afro AF