“By Ourselves”: Blood Orange and Ashlee Haze Rise Above

A look at the powerful Ashlee Haze poem that kicks off Blood Orange's new album.
By    July 6, 2016

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Paley Martin is drinking a cup of punch, tropical every last Thursday of the month. 

Depending on how it’s delivered, the truth can set you free or leave you breathless. Either way, it marks the tone for whatever lies ahead and reflects the place it wants to leave behind. The first track off Blood Orange’s new ’Freetown Sound’ album, “By Ourselves,” does just that.

A somber choir met with wavering piano keys, the song opens slowly. Pawing around for its place, the keys come and go as soulful choir voices bend around one another. Eventually dissipating, they trade places with poet Ashlee Haze who serves her monologue with no breaks in between. Her lungs fight with the urgency of her message as each bar shakes more intensely. A yearning saxophone keeps her company.

Haze drills through femininity, black womanhood and black personhood in less than sixty seconds in this unembellished, unapologetic track. “By Ourselves” answers more than what feminism looks like and who it reminds us of; it breaks down what it means to stand for everything you’re told you’re not, to be who you never thought you could be, to transcend.

“By Ourselves” is a reminder of worth, an ode to power both shared and self-possessed. Haze comes as abruptly as she goes, but leaves an imprint in this truth-ridden track.

“For Colored Girls (The Missy Elliot Poem)” By Ashlee Haze

a brief history of womanhood in hip hop
or
your favorite could never
or
for colored girls who don’t need Katy Perry when Missy Elliott is enough

3rd grade. I’m in the hallway, when I’m sure I shouldn’t have been and Cory White comes up to me and asks “Yo! Have you heard that new Missy Elliot track?”
I reply “Who is Missy Elliot!?!”
at the time my parents only let me listen to the gospel and the smooth jazz station
but that day… i went home, ran upstairs to my room
and closed the door (a cardinal sin in a black mother’s house)
and waited on TRL to come on
then it happened. metallics and a black trash bag fill my TV screen
and I hear the coolest thing I’d ever heard in 8 years of living
*beep beep, who got the keys to my jeep… Vrooooommm!*
at that moment I had my life figured out
I was going to grow up to be Missy Elliott
I spent the next decade of my life recording and rewinding videos to learn dance moved
passing that dutch
getting my freak on
and trying to figure out what the hell she was saying in work it
there were so many artists I could have idolized at the time
but Missy was the only one who looked like me
It is because of Melissa Elliott
that I believed that a fat black girl from Chicago
could dance until she felt pretty
could be sexy and cool
could be a woman playing a man’s game
and be unapologetically fly
if you ask me why representation in the media is important
I will show you the tweet of a black teenager
asking who this “new” artist is that Katy Perry brought out on stage at the Super Bowl
I will show you my velour adidas sweat suit and white fur kangol I begged my parents for
I will show you a 26 year old woman who learned to dance until she felt pretty
feminism wears a throwback jersey, bamboo earrings, and a face beat for the gods
feminism is Da Brat, Missy Elliott, Lil Kim, and Angie Martinez, on the “Not Tonight” track
feminism says as a woman in my arena you are not my competition
as a woman in my arena your light doesn’t make mine any dimmer

Dear Missy,
I did not grow up to be you
but I did grow up to be me
and to be in love with who this woman is
to be a woman playing a man’s game
and not be apologetic about any of it
If you ask me why representation is important
I will tell you that on the days I don’t feel pretty
I hear the sweet voice of Missy singing to me
pop that pop that, jiggle that fat
don’t stop, get it til your clothes get wet
I will tell you that right now there are a million
black girls just waiting to see someone who looks like them