With the ’60s coming to an end, the revolutionary spirit of the times was so ubiquitous that it simply demanded more from its artists. We started to see this shift in rock ’n’ roll (The Beatles, The Rolling Stones) and in jazz (Lee Morgan, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock); it was time that pop and soul music followed suit. Marvin Gaye would release the seminal What’s Going On in May 1971, and while What’s Going On was pivotal in allowing Black artists to deliver popular music with a message that spoke to the times, There’s a Riot Goin’ On followed Gaye’s lead, but pushed the boundaries further. Sly Stone challenged what was possible for a Black artist in popular music, both lyrically and sonically.
Sly & The Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On was synonymous with the anxiety felt by all alive at that time — how to navigate this new decade, after all the turmoil experienced in the last one. It’s a bit of a “purple haze,” really. Artistically, Sly managed to harness the confusion that not only he felt, but that most people were feeling then.