The Who? What? When? And Where? of Afrofuturism.

By: Shanel Thompson

I never knew too much about what “Afrofuturism” was, but I knew whenever I heard it I would automatically think of something straight out of the 70’s & 80’s. I dreamt of something psychedillic, futuristic, and always “out of this world.” To some it also meant some good ole “high times.” But, I never thought I would find so much knowledge, and be intrigued about how this word came about. Some call it “Afrofuturism” some call it “P-Funk’’ all in all it’s the same. What it has done for black culture is undescribable. If you are like me, a woman in her early 30’s or just an advocate for learning new things, then you should give this page a good “birds-eye-view. From hearing your Mom’s cleaning playlist, or that jam when you’re riding in your car with elders, or that BBQ that your aunts, and uncles would throw. “Futurism is everywhere.” From your clothes, to your hair, to the way you talk, through art, and definitely through music. Many of your favorite artists live, smell, and breathe Afrofuturism, and I’m here to school you on what it is.

According to The Cultural Impact of Kanye West by Reynaldo Anderson, and John Jennings, Futurism, was an artistic and literary movement developed between 1909 and World War I by Italian artists in response to a perceived crisis in modernity that arose as European urban life suddenly changed in the late nineteenth century. Futurism’s goal was to make a distinct break with old cultural or political institutions and exalt the modern creations of electricity, planes, and science. I also think Afrofuturism was a form of liberation, to free Black people from white supremacy.

Hear me out, the intersection between black culture, technology, liberation, and the imagination, with some mysticism thrown in, too. In an article “George Clinton, Sun Ra And The Sci-Fi Funk Of Afrofuturism” by Amelia Mason, black artists address contemporary racism by imagining funkier, more colorful (in every sense), sci-fi futures. P-Funk is populated by transcendent “Afronauts, capable of funkitizing galaxies. The relationship with Hip Hop Culture to Afrofuturism is it’s experimental rhythms birthed in hip-hop but natured by African sounds, culture, all while conducting a cosmic funk feel.

From your Outkast, to your Erykah Badu’s, Missy Elliot, George Clinton, Africa Bambaata, the list goes on, but one thing they all have in common is they have incorporated Afrofuturism in their line of music, and art. Think about it! Have you ever thought about “Style?” From Autotunes to warped transitions in voice. “It’s Art, It’s Culture, It’s Afrofuturism.” Get familiar with the word: “Techno-Vernacular.” Never heard of it? Well here’s what it is, and how it relates to Afrofuturism.

Techno-Vernacular, produces art forms through techniques like improvising and remixing with a variety of tools, and devices. A learning paradigm emerges in the social change, and the theory of cultural critique. Merging of culture and technology from young generations of Africans across the Diaspora. Like an Octatrack, or Autotune. If you ever heard of T-pain, you better believe he’s used it. From Lil’ Wayne to Snoop Dogg, your favorite artist took different routes to attract a different audience. When I say different audiences, it isn’t just merely so demographic, but a feeling. When you listen to a certain song you like you play it over and over, or when you hear a new artist, you give it a listen. But, each time you listen there is a sense of different feeling you get when hearing it. That’s techno-vernacular, and that ladies and gentleman is Afrofuturism. I decided to give you a list of some people you may or may not know, and broke down how they apply to Afrofuturism.

  • Kanye — before crazy Kanye, and his campaign antics lol.. he utilizes his type of expression in his lyrics and he employs practices that could be seen as Dadaist in videos such as “Good Life” from Graduation and “Gold Digger” from Late Registration. West’s performances in these and other videos highlight the fungibility of art. This was also part of the Dadaists’ main objective. They challenged the notion of the systems that served to privatize artistic expression.
  • Missy Elliot — Her debut album ‘Supa Dupa Fly’ dropped in 1997 and was recorded and produced by Timbaland, whose futuristic beats, muffle ad-libs and warped effects created a sound that was quite literally out of this world. The video for the album’s first single “The Rain” had Missy sporting a trash bag during a fisheye lens shot in a silvery room. The music that she made is wildy futuristic. Also one of my favorite Missy videos, because it’s timeless.
  • Parliament-Funkadelic (abbreviated as P-Funk) is an American funk music collective of rotating musicians headed by George Clinton primarily consisting of the individual bands Parliament and Funkadelic, both active since the 1960s. Their distinctive funk style drew on psychedelic culture, outlandish fashion, science-fiction, and surreal humor;[1] it would have an influential effect on subsequent funk, post-punk, hip-hop, and post-disco artists of the 1980s and 1990s, while their collective mythology would help pioneer Afrofuturism.

From new to old, Afrofuturism remains. History repeats itself as they say, which means this isn’t going anywhere, it’s a revolving door, sort of like the Energizer bunny, “it keeps going, and going.” So, what’s your sense of Afrofuturism? You stay out of trouble you cool cats, and kids. Go out there in the world, and create your own sense of afrofuturism.

Peace & Love ❤

Work Cited:

Anderson, Reynaldo, and John Jennings. “Afrofuturism: The Digital Turn and the Visual Art of Kanye West.” The Cultural Impact of Kanye West (2014): 29 — 44. Web.