The urban experience has always incited a sense of wonder within me. The fast pace of life, accessibility, and the drawbacks of living the city lifestyle are all something I’ve missed out on throughout my young adult life until recently moving into a city. There is something wonderful yet dreadful about living in a city, it is quite a beautiful mess. Dev Hynes addresses the obstacles that come with urban living.
My father was a young man, my mother off the boat
My eyes were fresh at 21, bruised but still afloat
Our heads have hit the pavement, many times before
You stroke his face to soothe him, while knowing that there’s more
Also known as Blood Orange, Dev Hynes is one of the most lyrically talented song writers of our generation. Hynes includes a quote from Confessions by Saint Augustine.
Late have I loved and chose to see
Skin on his skin
A warmth that I can feel with him
St. Augustine, a theologian and philosopher, was largely responsible for the spread of Christianity throughout the African continent. In the book Confessions Augustine writes “Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new: late have I loved you. And see, you were within.” The original quote describes Augustine’s conversion to Christianity at 36. However, it could be being used by Hynes to describe his sentiments towards his adopted home in New York City. This is illustrated in Hynes interview with Zane Lowe, excerpted below.
For my last album I felt like I was looking at New York through the lens of someone moving here,
but now I feel very much like this is home
The British singer and songwriter points toward the racist paradigm that continues to thrive in the United States. His lyrics echo the powerful sentiments of millions of distraught and disenfranchised Americans after the death of Trayvon Martin.
And no one even told me the way that you should feel
Tell me did you lose your son? Tell me did you lose your love?
Cry and burst my deafness, while Trayvon falls asleep
Hynes does himself justice lyrically and rhythmically in ‘Augustine’ showcasing both his ability to craft songs and execute them. He is both a lyrical mastermind and a musical genius. Created from only three instruments: piano, drum machine, and the guitar, the song is an adornment of personal feelings and global sentiments. It is both a dissent on modern societal constructs and a story that is driven by pure unadulterated musical creativity.
All, great points, John. Additionally, I’d like to add that Blood Orange is using this album as a way to continue to find a reason to stay in NYC. Elsewhere in the LP he says that he can’t stay in New York any longer. After losing his home, all of his demos/work and his beloved pet to a fire, that kind of -ish un-moors a person and how they define themselves in space and in a place. As an immigrant that feeling of connection to a place is temporal and tethered in a fragile way, even though it might not feel like it. You adopt cultures and you feel like you’re a part of a place, but when a traumatic event happens it can make you feel completely untethered and doubly so when you are, as Dev Hynes is, a part of a marginalized minority and someone who connects deeply with queer radical communities who have crafted space in a place that didn’t want them.
Dev Hynes deep homage and commitment to furthering the work of the 1980s POC queer community of NYC and the ball culture is what makes his work have an astounding layer of depth beyond a traditional (albeit moving) R&B track. Dev Hynes believes in the House of LaBeija, in the ability to use space and use your body to say ‘I am here, this is who I am; and I’m going to define myself even if you won’t let me’. You see the way that the House of LaBeija is imprinted on his heart by the way that the obliterates the divide between the masculine and the feminine in the Augustine video. His movements exist in a way that seems entirely natural unless looked at from the outsidethrough the lens of a dominant culture. And it’s admirable and courageous and true to a sense of humanity as fuck.
I do think Hynes’ connection to the radical queer elements of NYC highlight his sense of otheredness. Queerness is about being othered by a society that won’t have you and Hynes’ adoption of that feeling permeates his music and ‘Augustine’ at such a soulbinding way as to be beautiful and so contemporary especially as poc queer bodies continue to be ignored and pushed aside by an increasingly cis white homonormative queer culture that’s been taking over the US and places like NYC.
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