Common, Brandy, Robert Glasper & Karriem Riggins’ Video Breathes Hope Into Hard Times

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Hip-Hop Heads learned about Common’s newest venture, a genre-defying collaboration with pianist/producer Robert Glasper and drummer/producer Karriem Riggins as the group, August Greene. The news came late last month with the drop of their single, “Optimistic” featuring Brandy. The record covers the Twin Cities’ R&B/Gospel group Sounds Of Blackness’ 1991 original of the same name, as produced by Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. Now, the positive affirmation has visuals (directed by veteran photographer/author B+) to go along with it.

The video plays with the concept of optimism in several literal ways. Viewers are first introduced to people of the Jackson, Mississippi community with anonymous images of children playing, a woman tending crops, teenagers hanging out, an older man and woman in their homes and the seemingly simple joys of life.

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Striking imagery is what drives the message of this song even further, a reminder that music is not just for entertainment. We see a child wrapped in the African American flag, teenagers kneeling with joined hands atop the steps of the capital building and raised fists throughout.

The impactful images are intertwined with shots of the four musicians recording in a dark studio lit with the beaming smiles of Brandy and Common, showing that an optimistic frame of mine really is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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As the video comes to a close, the viewer learns the identities of the characters, and their vitality in the community through snippets of their stories via text. For those looking to educate along with August Greene, this is what those captions say:

Hollis Watkins was born in Lincoln County Mississippi in 1061. He was the first local student to become involved in the Mississippi Voting Rights Project of SNCC. One of his first direct actions was a sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter in McComb. He has dedicated his life to human rights activism through SNCC and later Southern Echo, his grassroots community organization.

Frankye Adams Johnson was born in Pocahontas, Mississippi to a sharecropper’s family. A student activist, alum of Tougaloo College, Youth Secretary of NAACP’s Jackson Youth Movement, Member of the Black Panther Party, a proud Veteran of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement and a human rights activist. She is also a retired professor of English at Jackson State University.

In 2010 Dr. Cindy Ayers Elliot established Foot Print Farms in the city of Jackson. Previously she was an investment banker in New York and a CEO of Delta Enterprises in Mississippi Delta. She has come back to Jackson to grow organic food and sell it into underserved neighborhoods as well as create an educational tool for novice farmers.

Maddrama Performance Group are an activist theatre troupe based out of Jackson State University. They were founded by Dr. Mark Henderson. They strive to bring excellence in performance to the community.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba with Ebony Lumumba and their daughter Alake Maryama. He is the son of two life-long community activists – the late Mayor Chockwe Lumumba and Nubia Lumumba. Chokwe Antar Lumumba became mayor of Jackson, Mississippi on June 6, 2017, winning the city’s general election with 93% of the votes.

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August Greene is releasing their first, self-titled album on March 9 via Amazon Originals. As a note, B+ also published hardcover Hip-Hop photo-essay collection, Ghostnotes: Music Of The Unplayed late last year.