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An open letter regarding Chip The Black Boy:
A lot of times the first thing people wonder about Chip The Black Boy is “Is this racist?”. And for good reason I think. With the alt-right toying with racial stereotypes and bold-faced white supremacy running rampant, it’s only natural to be suspicious of my intentions. The simple fact that I, a white man, am voicing the character is enough for some to write the project off as racially insensitive at best. But a deeper look might lead you to a different conclusion.
First off, a Black guy told me to do it. David Liebe Hart, my longtime creative collaborator, is the owner and namer of Chip The Black Boy (and who I give half of any income that Chip brings in). He urged me for years, “Do your rap music for Chip,” to which I refused for various reasons, until one day the inspiration struck me to start writing for Chip and I haven’t been able to resist, now having completed the second album in what I’ve designed as a trilogy. But I know that just because one Black person says it’s okay it doesn’t make it okay.
I’ve been bothered by the questionable nature of the project from the beginning, and even now I’m not sure if it’s really “okay” to be doing this.
I’m not making any attempt to imitate or appropriate Black culture with Chip. From the beginning I knew clearly that I would never be so dumb as to attempt writing from the perspective of a Black person. I chose to relate Webster’s 6th definition of the word black (“Thoroughly sinister or evil”) to Chip, the general concept being that the puppet is possessed by a wicked spirit. Although I’m using the vehicle of rap, which is of course rooted in Black culture, I believe that I use it with reverence and sincerity as it is the genre dearest to my heart and an art that I’ve practiced for over 30 years now.
Even so, I can’t deny that it seems just a shade removed from wearing blackface. Even if it’s David who operates the puppet on stage while I perform the songs, even if plenty of Black friends and fans have given it their thumbs up, and a handful of Black rappers have collaborated with me as Chip, I’m still uncomfortable with the arrangement, as I know some others are.
I don’t like seeing the expressions of people in the audience that seem confused or offended by the act, especially the Black ones. Black people face enough hatred and inherited disadvantage without my music adding to the oppression. I’m not trying to be edgy or make anyone feel bad. I do enjoy creating a mystery for people to unravel and making people scratch their heads a bit, but I don’t want anyone wondering if I’m a racist or not.
By its nature - a white guy calling himself a Black boy - I guess it’s destined to be problematic. So why did I ever do it? Why don’t I stop? Honestly, I feel possessed. I know, that’s so clever that the puppet is supposed to be possessed but I’m saying I’m possessed by the puppet. But really, when an artist’s inspiration strikes so loudly, it’s hard to deny it. As troublesome as it is on the surface, this project feels very right to me.
What feels so right about telling the story of an evil entity whose mission is to destroy the universe? How could such a dark tale be of positive value? I’ve asked myself this a lot, and I’m still concerned about it.
I hope that this project brings joy and inspiration to people, that the absurd juxtaposition of the Mickey Mouse-sounding vocals with the demonic lyrics makes people smile, and that the poetry and music are uplifting. But all in all, is Chip The Black Boy really a good thing or a bad thing? Maybe it’s a worthwhile question for people to consider in these times of rapidly shifting perspectives and re-assessments of acceptability. Maybe we should all regularly be asking ourselves if we’re being racist.
To help me feel less doubtful about the value of Chip, on the forthcoming Multiversal War album I’ve included some additional consciousness, in more ways than one. Fueled by my uncertainty I’ve been investigating issues of race and the Black experience more thoroughly than I have in the past, which has informed the album to a degree. I hope people will take the time to read between the cartoonish lines and notice the issues I’m trying to bring up - things like the lasting impact of slavery and its contemporary forms, the ambiguity of racism, political rhetoric, genocide, and white supremacy. And to double down on the positivity, there is sub-audible subliminal programming designed to make you feel happy, inspired to grow, and to be more kind to others.
So yeah, I felt the need to share that stuff and I hope it helps you to better enjoy this project which I’m very proud of.