Intro: We tend to think of a single emotion dominating in any piece of music. Maybe it’s the injury and fury of a scorched-earth breakup anthem, or the sensuous ecstasy of a slow jam, or the righteous indignation of a protest song. But that way of thinking breaks down when you hear Chastity Brown’s song “Golden,” because it’s got a lot going on.
First, a bit of context: Brown identifies as Black and queer. She grew up in small-town western Tennessee, started playing out in Knoxville, made important professional connections in Nashville, and now calls Minneapolis home. She felt the simmering rage and grief in her city at George Floyd’s murder, and even had to spray down her fence with a hose, so that it wouldn’t burn in the uprising. And then one of her own family members became a target of police brutality.
“Golden” carries the weight of her witnessing those things and recognizing people’s indifference to them, but Brown reveals only as much of her rage as she wants to, and shows us a whole lot else. You’re about to hear her break it all down, from her yard in Minneapolis, for the latest installation in our Singled Out series.
Chastity Brown: You know, this is–I don’t know–a week and a half after George [Floyd’s murder]. My nephew is an amazing artist and trap music rapper based in Harlem. He also is a nurse. When the curfews were popping off in all the cities, he was on his way home from work and was jumped by four police officers, had a rib broken, his face all smashed up, and his friend caught it on video and posted it on Instagram. And I lost my mind. I just didn’t know what to do with myself: “I’m just going to go into the studio.” I started making a beat. I was like, “I’m going to just make this beat for Devonte and try to be try to be the coolest auntie.”
Oh, excuse me while
I tell my truth
And it rattles up
And rings in you
But you don’t know
What to say or do
So you stare
The “you,” I think, is anyone or any part of society that would make me feel like my experience wasn’t happening. I’m done trying to handhold in community spaces where folks ain’t even trying to change. So it starts out like that.
Got golden drops upon my lips
And golden eyes and golden hips
And there’s glory
In the power of my name
I have a friend that will say, like, “luxuriating in oneself.” And I love that as a phrase. I love that as a mindset of just being like, “Let me just really dedicate my time towards yummy, wonderful experiences, feelings, and loving my body.” I finally see myself as beautiful and not just cool-looking. White people often will say, “Oh, you look cool,” whereas like all types of brown and Black folk will actually say that I’m beautiful. So I’m like, “Oh wait, I am in fact beautiful–and I could get shot!” So what is that given any day of the week? Thus it’s like, “Well, I’ll tell you what, I want to have a good time.”
I’ve got joy even when I’m a target
If ya think that’s political
Don’t get me started
You know I’m golden and I flaunt it
You know its true
Everything I touch is golden
I am not allowing myself to be consumed by anger, even though it floods. It’s not me casting it aside; it’s me also saying, “Yes” and choosing this other type of momentum. Therein lies the complexity of choosing not to scream and allowing so many other components to relay this scream. There’s enough silence where you, as a listener, may even predict the scream is coming, and you can feel that tension of the scream not being there. Because I’m also singing falsetto. I’m singing so beautifully. I’m singing in a way that’s so controlled, so specific.
So why have I got to be angry
Oh, why have I got to be angry
Why have I got to be angry
Up in here
It has a tension. It doesn’t get released in the typical way. It does get released when everything goes away, and it’s just my voice. And I’m asking the listener, “Is this black woman’s voice too much for you? Oh, I bet you need me to sing it softer. I can do that.”
Does this Black woman’s voice
Have too much power
Would it go down sweetly if I sang softer
There’s a moment where it’s like it is confrontational. It is unyielding. Confrontation with my own joy behind it, with my own self-respect infused into it.