We chose faith, our current issue’s theme, before Donald Trump was elected president. That he could win was then virtually unthinkable, though it shouldn’t have been. And even if the election had gone another way, what prompted its result would remain true. People voted to endorse a man they thought would restore white authority. And while white supremacists are appointed to top White House posts, children of color are a majority in America’s public schools, and young voters lean left. Trump supporters are responding aggressively to change that is real, if slow.
If all the pain and dissatisfaction Americans are feeling is now more apparent to many, it’s been audible all along, and especially this year, when musicians like Beyoncé and Chance The Rapper produced ambitious work through a spiritual lens, laying bare our mutual demons and their own. In this issue, we sought to understand the role faith plays in the lives of a wide range of artists, and how their beliefs are tested, or provoked. With Ifa beads, 21 Savage finds protection from a world he refuses to sugarcoat. The members of Girlpool share a faith in each other that enables them to create confidently on their own. Ezale honors the community of Oakland and upholds its musical history, and five women describe how traditional religious practices guide their modern lives. In this dark winter, which now feels that much darker, people are finding ways to open up light.
Derek “Fonzworth Bentley” Watkins, the longtime Kanye wingman and one of the six credited producers of the 2016 spiritual “Ultralight Beam,” contributed a benediction to this issue. In the days after Trump’s triumph, he visited The FADER’s New York office and told a story about a conversation he had with Kanye ahead of this year’s Saint Pablo tour, where Kanye performed on a floating, illuminated stage. Bentley said that Kanye had asked him what he should say to his fans, while standing there above them. And Bentley told him he just had to be a vessel; that he would be positioned directly between his audience and something greater. That if he just channeled his calling and said what he felt, the crowd would have a powerful experience too. Everyone has to be grounded in something, Bentley told me. If not, you’re just self-medicating.
In the days since Trump’s victory, I have medicated plenty. Perhaps like you, I’ve tried to cry it away, and smoke it away, and sleep it away. I have felt more connected to the friends I have chosen, to the people I know who are now raising young children, to the young women who are savvier with technology than I was at their age, and to the men who have teed up women in the streets, shouting: “Her body, her choice!” I have asked myself and the people I love most: where does it hurt? I have worried that I will heal, or not remember how it felt to be this angry.
In an essay last year, critic Wesley Morris discussed the distinction between vertical and horizontal identity; the former being the traits we share with our parents, and the latter defined by values we embrace on our own. “We’re a vertical nation moving horizontally. We’re daring to erase the segregating boundaries,” he wrote. “The transition should make us stronger — if it doesn’t kill us first.” Maybe it will. It feels hallucinatory, that the progress which has been made against racism and homophobia may now pedal backwards. That contempt for women will be shared openly. But if anything grounds me at this time, it is the identity I have chosen for myself: a belief in music, and the people who believe in it too. I don’t mean to sound too optimistic. Kanye stood on that glowing stage and said some wrong things, because leaving your power to somebody else is dangerous. But I hope now that The FADER might be a candle for those who for whatever reason cannot see, giving a voice to marginalized people and making the value of their lives evident.
Thumbnail image via Eli Rusell Linnetz.