In May, we mourned the passing of the phenomenal woman Maya Angelou at the age of 86, but that hasn’t stopped her powerful legacy from living on. As the first posthumous release, her estate has released an album titled Caged Bird Songs. It features the artist reciting her own poetry but with the instrumental backdrop of original hip-hop beats, a concept imagined in 2007 by music producer Shawn Rivera (of Az Yet). Before her passing, she signed off on the unique project and we finally get to hear it!
The title is a play off her magnum opus and autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969. Set to various hip-hop beats, Songs also contains lively productions that recall a 1960s church choir and funk spirit.
While for her equally as legendary and talented fellow scribes, setting their words to hip-hop would be an ambitious feat (imagine Walt Whitman against Wu-Tung); Angelou was naturally a person of musical attributes–her credits include a 1957 calypso album; seven songs for Ashford & Simpson’s Been Found and in addition to creating tunes with singers like Roberta Flack. Angelou also won three Grammys for spoken word.
Rivera explains: “When you read the poems on the page, they can be interpreted rhythmically by the reader, [and] when Dr. Angelou reads them, there’s no doubt that she was coming from the place of rhythm…You can tell the rhythms were implied already. She already was the first lady of hip-hop.”
Her grandson Colin A. Johnson also shared some touching thoughts on the release: “Music was such a huge part of my grandmother’s life. She loved everything, from pop to country and, of course, hip-hop. She was really excited about her words being presented in this way and I’m glad her fans will now be able to hear it.”
Thankfully, we can continue to to hear the depths of her voice way beyond her time with us. To hear Mother Maya speak her nuggets of truth and hope over the backdrop of hip-hop shouldn’t be any less motivating for older generations as it is now for the current.
Check Out Caged Birds’ Tracklist:
1. Human Family
2. Pow Pow
3. Sepia Fashion Show
4. Harlem Hopscotch
5. Pickin’ Em Up
6. On Aging
7. Ain’t That Bad
8. One More Round
9. Come And Be My Baby
10. The Thirteens
12. Life Doesn’t Frighten Me
13. Still I Rise
Sample the album below:
Also keep your eyes peeled for an Oprah.com produced video for one of Maya’s tracks: “Harlem Hopscotch.”