Photo by Jason Filmore Sondock
To say I was transfixed by the visual component of Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma — the new album by New Jersey’s own Topaz Jones — would be an irredeemable understatement. I savored the short film in the wee hours of a day-long Sundance Awards Pass binge; it was my first induction into the staggering strength of Jones’ visual language. By designating a snapshot of Blackness for every letter of the alphabet, Jones, in collaboration with rubberband. (a director duo comprised of Jason Filmore Sondock and Simon Davis), mapped the depths of his own (and a collective Black) lineage through vignettes and interviews from artists, cultural workers, and thinkers. The film offers time-warps to the self, from literal to surreal, grazing against what tomorrow may bring while treating nostalgia as a worthy asset, whether the memories are positive or not. It’s the next step in Topaz Jones’ vision, in full definition.
As much as Black music and cinema seems on the ups — potentially another gold rush in the perpetual parasitism on Black creativity — I’m often inundated with, and rarely impressed by, Black art that’s more interested in checking boxes than being in full definition. Now, the music of Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma is out, and I exhale with deep relief as a rap album, rooted in funk and soul, stands Black as fuck by simply being itself. Jones’ confidence renders him as a historian, a man of symbols and signifiers who’s well-acquainted with how the world makes him tick. He’s a Black man: a ray of sunshine, and a timebomb one wire trip away from going off. His illustrations of Black life are vivid and consistently engaging, written with an agility that finds him sliding between melodies and pockets with focus and finesse. It’s almost deceptive finesse: technically appealing enough to lure a listener with the familiar, with all the conceptual weight to give it wings.
Even the music’s interested in transcending time, often arriving via movements that find one rooted in the callbacks of tradition before being promptly jolted elsewhere. You’ll two-step, head nod, maybe even headbang. There are no cheap renditions of well-treaded waters, but history’s always in the building. This album’s inward, outward — a 360-view of Jones through the literal and surreal as well. One moment finds him politicking to get the girl, the next he’s rapping as a bug avoiding the bottom of a slipper. As he faces the pain the world granted him, he never distances himself from the pleasure; this balance makes Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma an even more rewarding and engrossing experience. Sometimes the truth’s tucked right underneath Jones’ smile, but the truth’s served at whichever temperature’s necessary. Much like its film component, this is an album best enjoyed in full, a modern update to the oral tradition that’s as groovy as it is grave. That’s to say, it’s real: the only thing Topaz Jones is concerned with being.
Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.