“Ladies and gentlemen
Pimps and prophets
Queens and dope fiends
Hoes and hoteps
We got somethin' real special for you tonight folks”
As soon as I heard the opening lines of Topaz Jones’ ‘Mirror’, I knew I would happily spend the next forty minutes listening to the rest of his 2021 Junior album, Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma. A 23-year-old rapper, singer, and songwriter, Topaz Jones draws on influences like Prince and Funkadelic. However, it would be impossible to solely credit these artists when Jones’ sound is also reminiscent of his father’s career as a funk guitarist in bands such as Slaveand Aurra.
Combining seamless switch ups of flow underneath unique funk and hip-hop instrumentals, the entire thirteen song run is never boring. Jones uses the medium of music to tell a story about his formative years and the roots he has grown from. Each beat has distinct differences, yet they are creatively tied together without reproducing the same song twice. A recurring pattern of soulful adlibs and seemingly lighthearted lyricism pairs beautifully with more serious themes such as racial injustice and family dysfunction. This convergence of upbeat sound and an intentional message strings together Jones’ journey of reflection and self discovery. Tracks such as D.I.A.L. (dying is a lifestyle) and Herringbone comment on his upbringing and development through adolescence, painting nostalgic settings of cook-outs and high school
Following the album’s release in April of last year, I was even more excited upon finding out that DGTYM is a visual album, accompanied with a short film under the same title. With additional direction from Rubberband, the project won the Short Film Jury Award at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. The story follows the restructuring of the ‘Black ABCs’, a 1970s effort in Chicago to educate black youth through flashcards. Many scenes were recorded in his hometown of Montclair, New Jersey, while others include various interviews from family members, teachers, and activists. There is also film from Jones’ childhood and many dream-like scenes, one in which a group of children peer over at the camera, seemingly staring at the viewer.
“Do you think he’s real?” one mutters.
While watching, I was most impacted upon learning about letter C: code-switching. Code-switching is the process of shifting from one linguistic code (a language or dialect) to another, depending on social context and conversational setting. The use of AAE (African American English) outside of the safety of black homes and communities is ignorantly labeled as ‘poor grammar’ or ‘ghetto’ by those who don’t understand the major historical and cultural influence of this language. If society gentrifies words from black culture on the daily (‘period’, ‘slay’, etc.), the matter of code-switching should be much less of a problem than it currently is, and I hope this is something that society can become more aware of following projects such as DGTYM. I’m grateful that Jones utilizes his musical platform to bring attention to these prominent issues in an innovative way.
Five years after his Sophomore album Arcade, it’s important that we appreciate the time it took to create such a work of impactful art. Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma is an incredible visual album on the recollection of childhood that is worth any listener’s time and attention.
Topaz Jones is playing in Chicago on October 17th. His short film Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma is available on YouTube and Vimeo.
Similar Mainstream Artists: Childish Gambino, Anderson .Paak
Most Individual Streams: Black Tame
Strongest Hip-Hop Beat: D.O.A
Mainstream Influence: Denzel Curry, Amine and Smino
For the Lyric Lovers: Who? Feat. Maxo & Phonte
Key Lyrics: “I think I’m finally finding me, My whole life it’s been hide-and-seek, I used to suffer in silence, I never showed you that side of me, Hypnotized by society, All the people I tried to be...”
My Personal Favorite: Herringbone
Key Lyrics: “You know we just imitate what the parents show, The bad habits, the trust issues, the marriage woes, We inherit those, until the day we have some kids of our very own, And we pass it all down like a herringbone”
Shoutout to my cousin Reece for recommending this album!