Black Listed. by tylonn sawyer

Earlier this week my friend and fellow artist, Tiff Massey dropped a song titled "Detroit is Black" a collaboration with Dirt tech extraordinaire Jeedo X.  Check out her Kresge Arts Fellow video and some of the most beautiful people under the sun. 


Saturday January 30, 2016 at Cass Cafe' Sydney G James, Lamar Landers and Bakpak Durden will unveil "Trivium",  a group exhibition showcasing these artists amazing work. Be it drawing, painting, photography or mixed media, I am excited to see what trio brilliant has cooked up.  

Friday January 29, 2016 at 6pm Rashaun Rucker presents a solo exhibition of drawing and print making at Marygrove College.  If the work Ruck has been producing over the last year is any indication of the work in this exhibition, then I am sure he will be the talk of the town. 

Congrats to the brilliant Taylor Renee Aldridge and Jessica Lynne for their write up in the creators project for ARTS.BLACK.  For those rare moments when I seek a second opinion concerning the arts, ARTS.BLACK is where I go to get familiar.  Get familiar!  


Dennis Nawrocki at Essay'd wrote a lovely piece about my art practice, community work and ideas on being an artist.  When I am interviewed, I never know how these things are going to turn out.  I think it turned out brilliant and honest.

Also I am excited to be invited to Baltimore, on MLK Day, to participate in the "Men of Courage" forum sponsored by Ford.  MOC is a forum in which black men who seek to change the perception of black men in America come together to share their experiences, values and insight as we form a common narrative and movement forward.  Supreme! 

Nina Revisted: A Tribute to Nina Simone (Track x track review) by tylonn sawyer

Greetings beautiful people 

Here is a quick track by track review by yours truly on "Nina Revisted: A Tribute to Nina Simone."  It's quick, straight to the point, and has just the right number of typos to make an English major have a stroke.

Nina Revisted: A Tribute to Nina Simone

Lisa Simone “My mamma could sing”

Lisa Simone over Robert Glasper production.  A match made in heaven.  Even though this is an intro, it’s still magical.  Love the introduction into this collection.   


Ms. Lauryn Hill “Feeling good”

I heard this a few weeks ago and was pretty impressed. Lauryn’s voice fit’s nicely within this classic composition.  I get the impression it’s the song she relates to the most from Simone’s catalogue.  While I wish vocally this version was as polished as the original, I can except the subtle changes as I literally got the same feeling from listening to this as I do when I hear Nina’s version.   


Ms. Lauryn Hill “I’ve got life”

This was a rap song that drank too much caffine.  While I suspect the lyrics are though provoking enough to move mountains, they are barely audible.  Lauryn is rapping a 1000 miles an hour and has deleted melody.  It feels more like a insane rant of someone trying to tell you the secrets of the universe while they are being dragged away from the mic at a press conference they interrupted.  Although I’d love to hear the instrumental.  The drummer is supreme.  


Ms. Lauryn Hill “Ne me quitte pas”

Don’t leave me?  It’s pretty difficult to stay when the production / mix is this bad.  Lauryn’s voice sits on top a beautifully intricate composition we never really get to hear because of the lack of compression and sloppy engineering. Sigh.


Jazmine Sullivan “Baltimore” 

Considering I am not an admirer of Jazmine’s music, I found this to be a wonderful cover.  I’ll be honest, I never really liked the original version, but this reggae interpretation really moves me.  Also Sullivan is at her best when she is subtle and uses restraints when it comes to runs and rifts.  This is a lovely cover.  


Grace “Love me or leave me”

No, no, no, no.  This song was not for me.  It had all the things I detest in music.  An average singer, who sounds like a diet version of a good singer, and there is jazz flute.  At the end of the song Grace scats to impress us, but I swear she said ,”Yabba Dabba Do”  Given the choices set by the song’s title, I choose to leave her. 


Usher “My Baby Cares for me”

This is basically the Fugees version of  “Killing Me Softly”  applied to Nina.  Which actually ends up sounding pretty nice, but remains unoriginal.  Yet Usher’s voice is supreme.  His layed back delivery and crooner tonality captured the mood of this classic, while making sure it’s contemporary (at least 1996 Fugees contemporary"  


Mary J. Blige  “Don’t let me be Misunderstood”

I was excited to hear Mary cover a song with angst and trepidation in the vain of her early work.  This was the perfect moment and the original had all of the elements to project the frustrations of artist and lover.  Yet, the changes here, alter the mood and while it sounds good, it sounds too good.  It’s a lovely groove, but the lyrics get lost in the reverberating guitar licks and keyboards.  The song no longer urges me as a listener to empathize with the orator, but rather listen to the whole composition, which while sounding good, does’t capture the sentiment of the song.  



Gregory Porter “Sinner Man”

Reinterpreted in an interesting way.  Not as edgy and completely removes the energy of the driving baseline and arpeggios of the original also takes the urgency out of the song, but replaces it with a gospel wail seldom heard by someone with Porter’s jazz refined soul. 


Common and Lala Hathaway “Young, Gifted, and Black”

If you love Common’s non melodic, spoken esque flow, over light keys and a steady groove, then this is the track for you.  Lyrically it’s though provoking.  Hathaway gives us about 25% of her mojo.  In the end it’s nice to listen to, but it doesn’t resinate with me on the visceral level I wanted. 


Alice Smith “I put a spell on you” 

This is one of the most beautifully haunting covers I have ever heard.  If layered guitar distortion,piano chords, triplets, and deep base are a planet, then Alice Smith’s voice is the sun, the oceans, the very air.  Simply brilliant.  


Lisa Simone “I want a little sugar in my bowl”

Such a lovely sultry voice.  It’s juke joint jazz.  It’s cigarettes and brown liquor.  It’s great and at the same time it’s tragically typical.  There didn’t really seem like an attempt to make the song anything but "okay" and in that I feel they succeeded.   


Ms.Lauryn Hill “Black is the color of my true loves hair”

Lauryn’s performance on this collection of tribute songs continues to disappoint.  It’s challenging to listen to a voice that was once both emotive and empathic, now fall flat and cold.  There’s tons of uncontrollable vibrato through almost every phrase.  The production is unrefined and not in an appealing way like indie rock.  In the end, I don’t know if I’m convinced that black is the color of her true love's hair.  I see some brown roots.  The most interesting part of the song is the experimental keyboard signal that concludes the song.


Ms. Lauryn Hill “Wild as the Wind”

This song starts off in the climax of a horror movie and slowly moves into a romantic ode that’s enchanting.  The pianist on the song is a god.  It is here that I find Lauryn’s voice works best in this nuanced sound scape.  Vocally good choices are being made (more often than not).     


Ms. Lauryn Hill “African Mailman”

This has some thought behind it.  It’s a fairly well produced cover with some interesting chord progressions on the synths.  I wish the pianist had some of the facility of Simone while playing, so that the keys could be the hero instead of just being a soldier in the war the song wages.  


Overall this is an acceptable collection of tribute songs.  I wish that the artists had chosen to be a bit more edgy and experimental.  With the exception of Alice Smith, I don’t feel anyone here really pushed the boundaries of their music or voices the way Nina Simone did in almost every performance.  While I can’t speak for Nina and I don’t think anyone could, I don’t get the impression she’d like this body of work.  Yet I think the public will enjoy it.  It’s easy, smooth, and employs all the pop music tropes to capture our attention.  Everything that was not Nina Simone. 

Till next time.  


Yo brotha, 



Black Masquerade by tylonn sawyer

"3 Graces" Nina

48" x 64"

Oil on Canvas 



"Black Masquerade" is a cult work series depicting a dark, surreal view of black unity.  As a point of departure from portraiture and highlighting the individual, these works aim to show the confluence of collective identity and anonymity

These images feature ascetic African Americans uniformed in black & white, hiding their identity with masks.  The masks cut out images of iconic civil rights activists and artists.  It is my intent that this regalia be viewed as sinister, in alluding to the art direction seen in David Lynch or Stanley Kubrick productions.

Through my earlier portrait work, I sought to "make images that are big, beautiful, and have a vast presence to dispel the sense of 'smallness' people of color are made to feel.”  I am certain that the police have not received the message.

In this current cultural climate, when having brown skin registers as aposematic coloration, how does the black body ever feel safe?  How does the black body project an image of peace?  How does the black body garner respect or be seen as an intellect rather than simply a dangerous beast that must be culled?

I don’t have the answers.  Yet my brain goes to a dark place.  A place where blacks, rather than hide behind masks, use them as armor.  Blacks become a perfectly imperfect presentation of past archetypes, while being prototypes for a new black consciousness.  Rather than rage against the machine, what if blacks learned how the machine worked? How to drive the machine?  How to be the machine?  I believe then and only then will blacks have arrived rather than just be here.

These are the “what if” plot elements of a movie that was never filmed and may never be.  Yet it’s a script I continue to write, in hopes that someday they’ll be actors to play these roles. 


Tylonn J. Sawyer 

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