August Greene Unearth the Roses from the Concrete – Review

If Kendrick Lamar is this generation’s refreshing kale-berry smoothie, then August Greene is its deep-roasted coffee.

Augmented by a certain maturity that no artificial sweetener could replicate, the supergroup formed by Common, Karriem Riggins and Robert Glasper is continuing the story freshly laid by 2015s To Pimp A Butterfly.

That’s not to say August Greene is late to the race called black expression – quite the opposite. Each of its members has demonstrated the creative animus to impact the African American dreamscape.

Instead, the 11-track album takes the United States’ vulnerable socio-political atmosphere and injects pride and self-reflection into its cracks and crevices, with the goal of giving rise to roses through the concrete.

No sooner than the second track is Common distilling the spirit of a “Black Kennedy”, using his Chicagoland background as a testament to having earned success and in turn, giving back. But for every rapper who claims to revitalize their community, Common’s word is bond, especially against the backdrop of Glasper’s piano and Riggins’ kicks and snares.

“No matter how rich I get, I’ma pour it back/ The jurisdiction of justice, non-fiction of a hustler’s heart/ From dust we start/ And we must embark to passion mark the people,” isn’t empty prose, and August Greene’s ability to inspire belief over the album’s 50-minute runtime is unparalleled.

“No Apologies” arrives just in time, as does much of the tape, to coincide with the rally around Marvel’s Black Panther. “Government tried to swallow me, wish we had our own colony/ Black space odyssey, we land on property,” Common spits, painting the image of a futuristic black owned land not unlike Wakanda. Keeping an eye toward the future prevents August Greene from wallowing in despair, despite drawing motivation from that same locus.

Optimistic feat Brandy
Cover art for the single “Optimistic” featuring Brandy.

For every step August Greene takes towards empowering and uplifting, the group does so at the intersection of jazz, rap and spoken word. Be it Riggins’ drum work, Glasper’s instrumentation or Common’s lyrical savvy, neither usurp the others’ sound space. The same goes for the handful of features from Brandy and Samora Pinderhughes which aid the project’s optimistic tune. Unlike Glasper’s 2016 tribute to Miles Davis on which he enlisted help from a variety of figures to re-inspire one of Jazz’s most prolific cats, the tight-knit nature of August Greene does more for the album’s sincerity.

Unclouded by disparate voices with varying agendas, August Greene serves the perfect blend of black awareness and responsibility, inspiring the continued trek through the darkness to a personal, and universal, light.

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