Motown releases ‘Fire in Little Africa’ from Tulsa hip hop collective to commemorate race riot centennial

Rappers and musicians come together to drop a brooding album, and new music video, that both amplifies the tragedy of the Black Wall Street race riots

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Music has been the vehicle that has sustained, informed and uplifted us through the hardest of times since we were first taken to this nation. This week marks the Centennial of Black Wall Street and the massacre that destroyed it.

READ MORE: Angela Bassett, Courtney B. Vance to produce MTV series on Tulsa race massacre

On May 31,1921, the prosperous Greenwood business district of Tulsa, Oklahoma, populated by wealthy, autonomous Black Americans and businessmen, was burned to the ground, as over a thousand Black residents were killed by white rioters. The riots began when a Black teen was rumored to have assaulted a white woman he casually knew.

The Fire in Little Africa project is a new and significant work created by a collective of singers, rappers and musicians native to the Tulsa area. Some members even having familial lineage to the massacre itself. Comprised of 21 tracks, the self-titled album paints ominous, indignant picture of what happens when Black prosperity, ingenuity and independence is crushed by white prejudice, jealously and deception.

Released on Motown Records/Black Forum almost 100 years to the very day of Tulsa riots, Fire in Little Africa is a multi-tiered marbleizing of dark hip-hop beats, seething blues vocal tones, incredibly deft and hypnotizing bass lines, and rapping ranging from scathing to sacred.

Right from the start, you get a picture of the kind of truthful mood the music is conveying.

The song’s openers, “Elevators” and “City of Dreams” illustrate a volatile fever dream of white women fetishizing the Black man, and the incarceration of said Black man based on the word the he was the violator. This narrative does mirrors the very incident that led to the awful riots taking place.

Tulsa race riot
Wikimedia: Tulsa Race Riot

Watch the premier of the “Elevators” video:

Other tracks like the brooding and confident “Shining” expresses the spirit of financial liberty and encouragement in the face of the white gaze, reimaging life in Greenwood prior to the riots. “Shining” was the first single release off Fire in Little Africa.

The intricately soothing “Crème of the Crop” points the finger at the white supremacists responsible for burning the city down, but is also a reminder of how much Black innovation is peerless and undying, and how much it can be used to heal.

A stand-out track is the nostalgic mid-tempo funk of “Plane Party,” which features Charlie Wilson and his non-aging caramel-toned melisma. The choice of featuring Wilson is far more calculative, as his former group The Gap Band not only hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma, but its very name is an acronym for the wealthy roads of Black Wall Streets: Greenwood, Archer and Pine Street.

“I am proud to see a new generation of talented Tulsans continue to tell the story of our ancestors,” Wilson said of the Fire in Little Africa collective in a press release. “They are opening the door for many generations to come by shedding light not only on the race massacre but the excellence of the Black Wall Street and Greenwood community.”

This dynamic musical experience was overseen by its executive producer Stevie “Dr. Drew” Johnson, manager of education & diversity outreach at the Woody Guthrie Center | Bob Dylan Center, who is partnering with Motown for its release.

READ MORE: Tulsa Race Massacre survivors deliver emotional pleas to Congress at hearing

Dr. Drew says he and the collective, comprised of unsigned members of Tulsa’s Hip-Hop community, are “excited that we get to share the flavor, history and legacy of Black Wall Street with the world.”

As always, music will be the soundtrack to not only commemorate the Black community’s losses, but be an anthem to its resurrection.

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