Close-up: m00nst3p – Soft

(written by m00nst3p)

“Being a token Black person has its advantages. You can get better jobs. You can get access to credit. Your landlord might let you adopt a dog. You still get stopped by the cops of course, but some of them are a little nicer to you once they hear the way you talk. And so on.

The price you pay for those advantages is: handing over your sense of self-worth to someone else. Losing anything that once brought you joy that isn’t in the token contract. Losing your identity.

This is a deal that I took as a teenager. In the late 2000’s I was a walking contradiction: a Black punk with dreadlocks at a preppy Manhattan school. I was the lead in a few school plays, led the school anime club, fronted a punk-metal band, and taught tennis for cash. But somehow I never found a real friendship group.

When the band kicked me out because I was “too into rap” and “cared about the lyrics too much,” I didn’t know what to do. I deleted all my music — solo and band recordings — and decided that I would pick a lane and stay in it. I wouldn’t apply to music college, I would apply to the prestigious colleges my parents wanted for me. I wouldn’t grow out my dreadlocks to cover my face or dye them red, I would cut them off entirely. I wouldn’t be completely “me,” I would be just a little “me,” enough not to upset anyone. I would be soft.

It took me almost a decade to realize that the choice I made was actually forced upon me by systemic racism. Of course I felt the need to give up my music school dreams: in America, a Black person with a college degree is less likely to own their home and on average has a lower credit score than a white high school dropout (source). Of course I felt the need to cut off my dreadlocks: not once in my life have I interviewed for a job where the interviewer was Black. Of course I felt the need to be less “me.” I’m Black. And the places that dole out the best opportunities are overwhelmingly white.

“Soft” is a song born of the pain I feel from coming so close to losing my true self. America forces me and people like me to prove my worth over and over again, to prove that I’m not dangerous, to prove that I’m not trying to steal anything, to prove that I’m not slacking off. To prove that I’m not just happy to be here but grateful for the opportunity. This easygoing, naive character seeped into my identity and almost eradicated it, and that’s something I can never forgive.

It’s no accident that this track about tokenization and fitting into white society is abrasive, jarring, a little unnerving, and generally uncomfortable. The relentlessly, maniacally pleasant chorus belies the implicit threat of the verses, in the same way that society tells Black people like me, “be happy, or else….” And yet, while the lyrical content of the song is compliant, it is fundamentally a rule-breaking track, with unannounced genre swings, a general disregard for panning balance, an inane chorus melody that’s practically an anti-hook, and cinematic events and scenes that intrude on the groove and demand attention.

Ultimately, my objective was to form a flatly defiant track that speaks no actual words of defiance in its lyrics. Personally, I believe I achieved that goal. I only hope that this song helps at least one other person in the world to remember who they are, and to reclaim their identity for themselves in whatever way they can.”

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The ‘Close-up’ series contains insight provided by artists about their work.

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