Deluxe album, limited edition remastered version.
Original release: November 1990. Rerelease November 2020.
Track 1: Offering (Intro)
Mymom saw Mami Wata decades before she dreamed of me. She found her at twelve years old. The number circled her body, daring to make a dozen destinies come true. They imagined how to build a woman out of water and blood. Because water carries minerals and memories, and blood makes the perfect shelter for spirits.
Track 2: Oceania Pt. 2 (with Björk and Kelis)
Turtleee reminisces on the distance between her breath and wataaa
takes her sweet timeee moving through the color bluuuu
Coral curvezzz into itself in blushinggg fuschia!/crimson!/amber!/gold!
Stingray hovers lowwww above the ground, studies her shadowwww
Seahorse buzzes softlyyyy against the wataaa
the coilllll of his tail a prerequisite to the wildddd
streams of kinks that would one day emerge from myyyy head
:Kelis’s vocals are crumbly and charred, mimicking the texture of earth kissed by sunlight. Björk has learned the art of creating new languages through sonic and aquatic playtime. She vocalizes sound effects for each sea creature:
Track 3: Eviction
She went to Ghana the year before I lived in her stomach. Had no idea she was pregnant. She was in pain the whole trip, came back home and the baby fell out.
Track 4: Anchor (featuring Kamasi Washington)
I almost didn’t make it, didn’t exist. Mymom had to get surgery done to carry me to full term. The doctor sewed her cervix, said this was the only way she could hold me without using her arms. The only way to direct me to heaven despite my infant body swaying towards hell.
:Cue Kamasi’s seven-minute saxophone solo with thundering harps and whispering drums:
Track 5: Wish Upon a Cloud (Interlude)
“I didn’t want to miscarriage you again.”
Track 6: Rainfall (featuring TLC)
And when I did arrive, I was all serious stares and quiet knowledge, already contemplating if I should go back to the sky I came from.
:Left Eye raps emphatically while T-Boz and Chilli harmonize in indigo and magenta vocals:
Track 7: Default Playa: Playa Hater remix (Featuring Biggie and Puff Daddy)
Myoldabrother and I watch wrestling and we fight all the time. His punches are four years older than mine. My slaps are four years into the future.
:Puffy contributes a nasty beat. Biggie blesses the mic:
Track 8: On the Cusp
When I turned five, Gramma turned fifty. We had a huge party at Afrika House. We wore matching white custom outfits with silver lace designs dancing through the fabric. Our sleeves puffed out like the wings of football players. Gramma’s skirt kissed her hips and thighs then poured itself around her legs like a mermaid’s tail.
I was mad about something, I don’t remember what. Maybe it was all the people crowding around us, watching us age. Maybe it was Mymom for running a hot comb through my glacial hair: a mass of black ice refusing to melt. Maybe it’s cause Aunty told me this was my little cousin’s party too, she three years younger than me, and born in October, winter’s daydream.
Gramma and mine birthdays were four days apart. We were sewn together by the audacity of November, the impermanence of fall and immediacy of winter. How can you divide a month that refuses to negotiate, that disregards the demands of seasons?
Track 9: Supporting Actress
Dadd had an event videography business back then called WAP: West African Productions. He cut out the neon orange font from Myoldabrother’s comic book covers. Glued it on his beloved camera, his own customized logo. Held the ancient, elephantine device on his shoulders. An offering to the gods. Perused parties and captured candids of full/giggling/annoyed/awkward Africans. An all-seeing eye.
There was a starlight quality to Dadd’s business, a performance within his calculated gait. He told me that during his downtime I should run up to him and give him a hug and kiss. Even cameramen dream of romance, of casual melodrama. It was the first time we learned to perform love with one another when someone else was watching.
Track 10: Incriminating Evidence (Featuring Mary J. Blige)
There’s a picture of Mymom and Dadd sharing a kiss. The only evidence of their affection. They’re on their knees on our scarlet and ivory carpet in the living room. Their eyes smize at me decades before Tyra Banks has a chance to coin the verb. The camera snaps right as their lips close around each other, like opening a new book to the center page.
I love reading random sentences between the cleavage of text. I always take home the book whose middle sentence whispers a secret worth waiting for.
:Mary is operatic and emotional while maintaining hood status:
Bridge: One day this living room will become my bedroom. It will carry my dreams inside the milky fabric of slumber. I will spill myself into the carpet. I will crave the magic of Aladdin and Jasmine’s night ride. I will wonder what it means to be rescued as my innocence stains the fabric.
Track 11: Blue Squared
The sky and water are one place, folded in half like a sheet of paper. I was ignited at the sharp line where the two disagreed. My makers are sapphire and cerulean, ocean and ether. They still argue over who first reflected the other.
Track 12: Stormy Weather Remix (Featuring Little Dragon)
I stopped telling my family the whole truth/nothing but the truth/so help me Gods because the first time I did, I got in trouble. Myoldabrother had his dumbass friends over for a teenage party when he wasn’t supposed to. I was eight or nine or some other tender color. Too busy deepening my own hues to care about rules.
Dadd sensed the furniture was out of place. Back then, his temper was a hurricane and he wasn’t afraid to damage anyone in his path. Our onebedroom home was so small that every piece of furniture had its place and there was no room for error. Our one-bedroom home suffocated me like the inside of a tornado.
Mymom pulled me into the bathroom and pressed me about it. “Tell me what happened. I won’t tell your father,” she cooed, staring at me with the same eyes that are buried in my skull. A small voice crawled out my throat like a cobra slithering to sweet music. “Yes, some friends hung out with us today,” I whispered. Mymom left me with the quickness, marched out the bathroom to announce the truth to Dadd. His wrath that night was the first storm I survived.
:Little Dragon’s instruments build and spiral around this stanza like a tsunami. Yukimi is steady and graceful through the rampage:
Track 13: Vacancy
Dadd’s dad is the first death I knew
I sensed something was there, like air all around me
but I couldn’t smell his death. The fragrance
of the atmosphere never shifted but Dadd did.
The air surrounding him thickened, birthing new life to his asthma
I watched him take a step deeper inside of himself
Closed a door behind his eyes, put the chain in the latch and
turned the light out like no one is home
Track 14: No Exit (Interlude)
We knocked and knocked and knocked.
But every man that answered the door was a father I didn’t like.
Track 15: Cast Away
Myoldabrother and I caught Mymom in the middle
of a dangerous act: crying
on the couch in broad daylight
“I’m gonna leave him,” she told us
as we held onto both sides of her shoulders
like a raft in the middle of the ocean
We exchanged a look, wishful/selfish
No more beatings with black and neon
electric cords and hangers
No more broken Usher cassettes and bruised bottoms
He never hit her, but he hit us all the time
It was culture but it was cruel
He never hit her, but they argued like running water
since his father been gone
Track 16: Hand Me Down
I offered to name the next one, to inaugurate him into this world. That is to say: I offered to choose him. To decide the title he will walk in, answer to, make a home out of.
I knew he was coming before Mymom told me. I watched her eat a small bowl of rice water for dinner while we ate mountains of rice and stew. I listened to the rice water swim up her throat every morning, her belly too crowded a river for it to live in.
It was easy naming him. I wanted him to have a piece of me, so I borrowed some letters from my name and used them to build his. I gave him three syllables and too many vowels.
I gave him better than a rib. I handed down a crown.
Mymom, with her round belly bursting below her curtain of breasts, like an actor peeking into the crowd, smiled in agreement when I told her the new one’s name.
Track 17: Spice Girls (Produced by Prince)
Girls are beautiful
I always knew they are more everything than men
More love more beauty more sexy more strong more
playful more dynamic more liberated more more
That’s why I have more Barbies and only one Ken
They don’t fight over him—they kiss each other
:Prince lends smooth, quirky background vocals while managing to play every instrument under the moon. He has grown three more sets of arms and has a periwinkle complexion with an orange afro:
Track 18: “Yo, you a virgin?” (Interlude)
I used to count all the boys I kissed
a chronology of candy-flavored spit, chapped lips
and ashy hands on my still blooming ass. By the time
I exit high school, the tally marks meet me at my half-life
Track 19: Sleepwalker (Featuring Aaliyah)
Then I started having more, doing more than kissing
So I began counting all the people who visited my bed
and all the beds I crawled out of before climbing back into my own
The coolness of the sheets when pulling
back my comforter was a greeting all in one,
the only lover I’ve successfully committed to
:Aaliyah layers over her vocals, creating haunting echoes that bleed into the next track:
Track 20: Compliments of the Corner Store (Produced by
Timbaland, written by Missy Elliott)
My first time was really fucking unremarkable
No fireworks, like on the Fourth of July
sitting on my Gramma’s fire escape, watching a kaleidoscope
of colors burst through the sky behind the Brooklyn Museum
Shit, not even any waterworks between my thighs
No moaning like the bass of boom boxes at the
block parties that Mymom forbid us to go to
cause someone always gets shot
My first time was short, safe and forgettable
like the second chip from a bag of regular Lay’s
I want a bag of Cheez Doodles that they sell at that corner store
I want the whole bag, twice
I want crunch and crackle and neon dust stains on my fingers,
evidence of our edible bodies bending in half
:Missy raps in reverse. Timbaland feels at home:
Track 21: Brown Sugar (Featuring D’Angelo, Robert Glasper, and Brandy)
The summer after high school left me hazy. Blurred by the fog of weed. We were the kids on the block getting high in our homegirl’s first floor apartment instead of savoring the bleeding sun spilling on sidewalks. We were held together by our sensual and agoraphobic friend: she, a Dominicana, brought us together from the globe: me, Ghanaian, he Cambodian, she Puerto Rican and Dominican, all of us American. We were shades of brown but my drip was the deepest, my caramelization the thickest.
I felt Blackest when swallowed by silver smoke. I felt Blackest when all their love interests were light skinned like them. I felt Blackest when we heard cops outside the window one night and I ducked under the bed while everyone else laughed. I felt Blackest cause I was scared that if the cops somehow knew we were high, I would be the one in cuffs. I felt Blackest when it seemed like my future could be stolen from me in an instant.
“You’re good though. You’re the only one of us going away for college,” they said one night, eyes filled with roses and glass, the brown sugar herb staining their breaths.
:Brandy offers raspy blue harmonies. D’Angelo dips in and out of maroon baritone and lilac falsetto. Robert is steady and contemplative on the piano keys:
Track 22: Fire Starter (Produced by Stevie Wonder)
I feel it this time when the Grampa I know dies
The power shifts, alliances fall, and everyone rushes
to claim his throne except for me
Mymom and Aunty use words as swords
Uncle casts away to the edge of the earth
Dadd slams doors
Cousins plot scenes through screens
Mybrothers are enclosed spaces and sharp corners
Grief married into the family on my maternal side
Gramma will never be happy again
I didn’t say goodbye to Grampa
Instead, he visits me in my dreams for a hundred days
Shows me a candle spinning in his living room like a compass
the wicked end ballooned into a perfect flame
It never touches the table, never burns the apartment down
It just spins, fast then slow then blurry
then so swiftly it’s as if it doesn’t move
“Do something,” Grampa challenges, telepathically
His gaze warns of the demise of our family
“I don’t want to/know how to/just come back to us,” I cry
:Stevie is effortless; a vibrant, humming entity:
Track 23: Broken Glass (with Nina Simone)
At some point I can’t remember if my memories are puzzle pieces or shards or broken glass scattered all over the floor. The difference is that one can be sewn back together with patience and determination, while the other is a danger to place my finger on. Is it worth the risk to draw blood just to know the truth?
:Nina remembers her first aches. Her voice is romantic, earth-shattering sorrow:
Track 24: Found Footage
I watch Black people fall from the tip of the earth
Hear their cries when they hit the ground
Witness their souls leave their bodies, translucent outlines
of sharp cheekbones, thick lips, wide, flat noses
Their ghosts are unscathed by white supremacy but
their bodies burn in the flames of racism,
their skin polka dotted with bullets
Between the folds of my mind I echo their names
Their ghosts flash before my eyes, smile bright
Black ghosts aren’t chalky white or smoky gray
despite what horror movies show us
They are silhouettes that move too fast for you to see
They learned their lesson in death.
Track 25: Ventriloquist
Somethin about my late twenties. Somethin about all these memories rushing back to the surface. Somethin about the child inside my bones. Somethin about this body that belongs to both of us and all of us. Somethin about someone else’s body on top of me before I know my voice. Somethin about the dark. Somethin about things that happen in the dark. Somethin about my throat always dry. Somethin about words being mad itchy when they crawl up my throat. Somethin about silence tasting better than sentences when there’s no light. Somethin about needing to be held. Somethin about needing to be alone. Somethin about chewin on the fat inside my cheeks. Somethin about my teeth being a cage for the truths I swallow. Somethin about learning to vomit my words so I can cleanse my stomach. Somethin about the scent of vomit in my mouth is better than soap. Somethin about the truth gettin out means I’m less mystery. Somethin about being evil means I’m more mastery. Somethin about how that last one was the only sentence with no red in it.
Track 26: Ventriloquist Pt. 2 (Featuring Meshell Ndegeocello)
I met the woman in white in a spiritual shop on Nostrand. I walked in one morning, lost—thought I was looking for a breakfast spot, but really was looking for answers.
She said she could see the emotional luggage I carry, the way I worry, the way my spirits consume me. I’m a Scorpio.
“So start acting like it,” she replied. “You should be more confident than this, more aware of your power.” Told me to write my troubles on parchment paper and send it to the water, let Mami Wata take care of it. I thanked her, bought some palo santo and the paper, and promised to visit my creator.
:Meshell’s aura is the shape of summer rain. She drowns herself into the chorus:
Track 27: Soundtrack of a Seashell (with Jeff Buckley)
I am all saltwater.
Too many tears stream down my cheeks like waves rushing to the shore, leaving only crushed rocks, shards of shells, and sand behind.
When the world covered itself in masks, I sat by the shore and wrote my nightmares into spells. I stepped into the water with parchment full of ink and let it disappear before changing my mind.
I used to think I was all saltwater. Too many tears.
:Jeff’s voice stirs and shatters, then cascades into a calm stillness:
Track 28: University of Life
My good nigga, Ocean, who is dipped in mahogany and stretched by the hands of some ambitious deity, says our souls fight to enter our bodies. They apply to the University of Life hoping their ethereal essays and esoteric GPAs will impress Spirit. If they’re selected, our souls choose our specific bodies and families to live in and intend to learn certain lessons that will elevate their cosmic narratives.
Every challenge we endure, every hardship, every battle, is all a part of an otherworldly design that we don’t remember signing up for. I want to kiss his cheek and tell him we must have met before, that our souls found our way back on this plane to remind ourselves of this invisible contract. Instead, I look into his eyes and hope he can hear my soul snap its fingers.
Track 29: Saturn Burning in Mami Wata (Featuring Solange)
I dream about dancing on Saturn’s rings.
My toes almost burn and the heels of my feet blacken, but I keep dancing to the wordless rhythm emanating from the planet’s core. She is as loud as my heartbeat. Her rings spin and revolve around each other like the bangles of a giant goddess. If I make one wrong move, I can get sliced by her sharpness. But this is what movement is. I can’t stay in place. I gotta move even if it means losing myself.
When the motion of her rings stops, she calls me to sit on them. Now they’re a glittery glass racetrack that Mario can race me on. I check my feet and realize the raw burning has peeled off all the skin. They’re replaced with iridescent black scales, fit for walking in fire, fit for walking at the bottom of the ocean floor.
There’s a crack in one of Saturn’s rings—probably from all my stomping, twirling, gliding. I keep it as a souvenir. A badge of honor for making it out alive. A strange seashell from an intergalactic shore.
:Solange creates new shapes with her body in the visual version of this album:
Track 30: Choose Your Playa
In another three decades, this cycle will begin again. I’ll question my existence, wonder if I should jump off the edge of the world. If I make it out alive, I will celebrate with the past versions of me, drink their blood like wine. We’ll cry ourselves into a swimming pool and compete for dominance. The last woman standing will continue living in this body.