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Examining Music’s Unlikely Fascination With Braille

Experts from the Braille community explain.

March 27, 2015

Earlier this week, Rihanna sent fans and bloggers scrambling when she shared what looked like a promotional image on her Instagram account. Accompanying hashtags indicated that it was in someway connected to her forthcoming album (which has heretofore been referred to as #R8) and a release date (#March26, duh)—but the title of the single that accompanies the art, "Bitch Better Have My Money," took some deciphering since it was written in Braille. (If you'll remember, the art for "FourFiveSeconds" featured Braille on the cover, too.)

Kendrick Lamar has also recently incorporated Braille in the album packaging of To Pimp A Butterfly; in the liner notes, there's a message written in Braille that loosely translates to "A blank letter by Kendrick Lamar" (a possible parallel to the subtitle of 2012's good kid, m.A.A.d. city's subtitle, "A short film by Kendrick Lamar"). The printing of the CD is exclusively marked in Braille.

It's possible that the use of Braille adds an air of mystery, or that it's a distillation of the belief that music should be felt. And in Rihanna's case, it offers a way around printing an explicit word on the cover. Curiously, though, in both cases the Braille is flat—meaning it is not tactile and thus holds no real utility to someone who reads Braille.

Ike Presley, a national project manager for the American Foundation for the Blind who has experience teaching Braille, says that the trend has piqued his interest, likening Rihanna and Lamar's usage of the language to its use in elevators. "Any time we can get information in the public eye—as long as it's not inappropriate or inaccurate—that's a good thing," he said, adding that the increase of awareness aides the foundation in battling "misconceptions and some of the other craziness that goes on."

He wouldn't go so far as to say that Rihanna and Lamar will increase Braille's overall visibility in mainstream culture, though. "It might make it cooler for Rihanna fans who happen to be blind," he laughs. "But they would never know that there was Braille on the album cover unless someone tells them."

"What makes Braille effective is the tactile nature of it," Eric Bridges of the American Council of the Blind explained, going on to note that Rihanna could go the extra step to emboss the Braille on physical copies of the single. "That would be useful."

Examining Music’s Unlikely Fascination With Braille