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This ain’t about skin color.

Using entertainment to score a modern day paper bag test, you could probably write an entire honors thesis on the subject of pigmentation in the African-American and Latino communities (I almost did) and you would have good reason. From passing to cab-catching, french vanilla, butter pecan and chocolate deluxe, issues of light-skinned vs. dark-skinned (and all shades in-between) have plagued people of color ever since that same test was used to divide, kill and conquer.

But this ain’t about that.

This is about the signaling of another pop music moment, where three works of our best and brightest are burning up my iTunes/Pandora/BlackPlanet Radio playlists through sheer force of talent.

Let’s start with Gary Clark, jr a 24-old wunderkind who’s been tearing up the Austin indie guitar circuit for a few years now with a brand of axe grinding we haven’t heard since…no, not Jimi Hendrix. (Note: To cease and desist the lazy legacy of comparing every African-American guitar player to the great Rainbow Bridge star, I’m officially using Clapton or Santana or Stevie Ray Vaughn as Clark’s references moving forward.) More than 15 tracks on Blak & Blu Clark channels the pleasure and pain, struggle and progress of Black life all into one collection of jams he’s not bothered few Black folks will ever have the courage to listen to.

Gary Clark Blak & Blu

The opening trumpets of “Ain’t Messin Round” are buoyed by the fierce guitar licks that drive the song forward into good grown-man falsetto land; “When My Train Pulls In” gets the real funk going over 7 minutes of in-the-mirror affirmation made true by the song’s 3 minute guitar solo; “ With Guitar World respect in pocket, Clark then elevates to higher ground with an inspired set of down-the-middle R&B records: “The Life,” “Things Are Changing” and the great “Please Come Home” will convert all the narrow minded through their song craft, the latter maintaining Clark’s rock-n-roll identity halfway through when it flips into a sweaty ballad of guitar pleading. Dope.

Miguel Kaleidoscope Dream

Miguel surprised me. When I first met the brother he walked the walk and looked the part, but somehow seemed like he was acting. With his purple outfits and 5’0 frame there was just too much of a Kravitz-like copy-from-the-past routine for me to find an individual identity. Miguel’s second album Kaleidoscope Dream, with its sexed-up storytelling and strong, catchy melodies, has just enough macho for the brothers and vulnerability for the ladies.

“Don’t Look Back” is the best here—the yell two minutes in tells you so; “Adorn,” already a #1 single, is perfect rhythm & blues, and “Use Me” will grind its way around your entire apartment until landing on the bed or the floor or the… (fill in the blank via Twitter @smokey) “Use me / with the lights on / I’m nervous / do you trust me?” he sings. It’s all about the danger and the sexual tension for Miguel for sure. And he didn’t have to use an electronic dance track to get his point across.

Rihanna Unapologetic

Not so with Rihanna. But make no mistake, the best pop star of our moment need make no apologies for the dance music that saturates her latest Unapologetic. My full review is on Huffington Post, so let’s summarize this way: Unapologetic is the best album of Rihanna’s career.  Blasting the sounds of global, post-mod youth culture through every track, she creates an emotional soundtrack not of some affected, stupid-rich celeb, but of a 24-year old survivor who rocks, laughs and cries.

So there’s my Three Shades of Black trifecta: a pop princess, a new found purple wonder, and our own new guitar hero. A colorful moment for sure. I love all our shades and all the ice cream…

The Smokey Show Blog: “Three Shades of Black”  was originally published on giantlife.com

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