“I don’t make songs for free, I make ‘em for freedom”

— Chance the Rapper

I write about Beyonce quite a bit. I think about her even more– her music, its influence, her influence, the balls she must have to do the things she does, the things she says and the things she maybe doesn’t quite say.

It’s honestly a bit of an obsession at this point. And, obsessed about anything was never a thing I thought I’d be years ago. But here I am, 25 years old and kind of obsessed with Beyonce and kind of obsessed with Rihanna. Much of it is symbolism and what they represent for me–freedom. What they show me I can be by way of being who they are. I’m obsessed with their proclamations of womanhood, with their reassertion of stereotypes as the naturally occurring elements they really are. My sexual agency is affirmed, my dream chasing is affirmed, my path toward healing after heartbreak, affirmed. My anger, affirmed and not painted over as psychosis. I’m obsessed with the freedom they give me to be me, wholly, regardless of the many anti-Black woman messages our world perpetuates. When there is no proper representation of our full, human range of emotions coupled with societal constructs that tell us those feelings aren’t ours to have, it becomes difficult to find freedom to express them. Music, however, gives us space to be free, validating our love and affection, and our responses to pain and frustration without fear of being labeled anything other than human.

Rihanna’s ANTI and Beyonce’s Lemonade showed me what happens when Black women are given ample room to truthfully be and create for themselves. In these albums are authenticity: strength and vulnerability, because they cannot exist together in us; savagery, because how dare we do what feels good; Black woman anger, often criticized and mocked, often perceived as unfounded and animalistic.

“Didn’t they tell you that I was a savage?”

Rihanna, Needed Me

“Hey baby! … Who the f*ck do you think I is?!”

Beyonce, Don't Hurt Yourself

Check and check. Mental note: I shouldn’t be made to feel guilty or crazy for being angry, or for the way I respond to being hurt. Freedom to heal. Freedom to make whatever changes I see necessary. Freedom to try again after heartbreak. Freedom to emote, naturally.

Maybe I’m obsessed with how they body all the things I’m told I cannot be and cannot have: how “they” tell me I must be everything but still call me nothing, how I’m expected to produce with no nourishment from society. But I see these women bleed and repair, reconcile and reclaim. Music affirms that that freedom can be mine, too, because who else but Black women can create freedom from bondage?

And, speaking of bondage, thank God we still have joy– our freedom to be light and to shine. As explained by Fader writer Israel Daramola, Chicago’s native son Chance the Rapper daily makes the case for Black joy– another thing we don’t get permission to access because of our perceived station in life. We don’t get to be happy. Our children are reprimanded and harassed. Our sisters are kicked out of the spaces they paid for. Our brothers can’t even dance without having their unrelated sexual orientation questioned.

If Chance is indeed the patron saint of trap gospel (maybe given the mantle by OG Kirk Franklin?) , it’s no stretch to see that he truly brings good news and a good word to otherwise oppressed people. Chance is a new song we can sing– he’s A Tribe Called Quest stepping into a gangster rap era. He is Black joy personified, and his very visible presence in the industry makes Black joy affordable.

Think about it:
I woke up this morning
I woke up this morning!
Gotta smile when I say that sh*t,

I woke up this morning!

What’s the point of music, of art if it doesn’t elicit this kind of feeling? Whether the music encourages you to move, acknowledge feelings, or leave a tough situation, I’m grateful that the opportunity to get free is there. Music grants us these indulgences, both by example and by giving us the soundtrack to claim the gamut of our own feelings. Dancing, head bobbing, singing along– all outward responses to having something within you acknowledged.

This life ain’t easy, but it still feels good to be alive: to feel every part of what it means to be human, in spite of all the systems that say we are not. Great art makes freedom attainable and palpable. Sometimes, we just need validation to give us that permission. In the words of BuzzFeed reporter, Tomi Obaro

“… Chance’s ebullience is a reminder of the joy that faith in God can bring. That there’s hope and justice, even when evidence seems to be to the contrary. That we serve a good God who is present in our pain and beaming in our joys. ‘I speak to God in public,’ Chance tells us, twice at the mixtape’s end. He’s giving us permission to speak to God too.