Kemba’s Latest Album is a Potent Reminder of Who Really Deserves the Throne
Entrenched within Ethiopian and Eritrean history, the word “Negus” has recently enjoyed a renaissance of sorts, thanks in part to Kendrick Lamar’s use of it on To Pimp a Butterfly‘s “i.” But the word’s rich cultural and contextual history stretches back millennia and while there exists debate about how it should be pronounced (in Ethiopian Semitic languages the “-gus” ending sounds similar to the English word “goose”), its meaning is not lost in translation. Denoting royalty, Negus is a proper noun and when used correctly, it infers a sense of power onto its subject. And, due to its being a term less known than words like “king,” it includes an element of the systematic silencing much of African history is treated with in the western world. For those reasons and more, Negus is a fitting title for Kemba’s latest.
Formerly known as YC the Cynic, New York City’s Kemba told Earmilk last week (July 22) “[w]hen I started on this album, I wanted to make something light-hearted, and bright. Then I went to Ferguson in October. The things I saw there influenced me to create something for the people who I walked those streets with.” Produced almost entirely by Frank Drake, Negus is a no-holds-barred reflection of life for Black Americans. Tracks like “The New Black Theory” and “Caesar’s Rise” are emblematic of the LP’s general themes: attempting to rid one’s self of shackles, both literal and figurative; rewriting chapters in history to reflect the oft-ignored contributions of Africa; giving voice to the voiceless; and several others intertwined in the kind of complexity that requires Heads to really listen.