Staff Picks: Stories, Sociopaths, and Sada Baby


This Week’s Reading

Nesrine Malik.

“Every social unit,” Nesrine Malik writes in We Need New Stories, “from the family to the nation state, functions on the basis of mythology … Some myths are less useful than others, and some are dangerously regressive.” Over the course of a tight two hundred sixty pages, Malik discusses six of the most influential myths in our “age of discontent.” Focusing on the U.S. and the UK, Malik is keenly aware of our moment—one of “political awakening and despair, when it is becoming clear that something (is) not working, where there (is) fear and distress but also a healthy impulse to resist and mobilize.” Too often, Malik argues, we are “still fixated on the idea of returning to a time before it all went wrong, rather than the recognition that things have been going wrong all along.” Thus, male, white, heteronormative power—presented as the preordained natural order of things—remains unchallenged. “A lack of uniformity breeds dissent,” Malik states, “and so it is logical that diversity of thought becomes a threat.” If so, let us say that this book is a welcome threat. Furthermore, it is one that has just found a U.S. publisher. Announcing the deal on Twitter last week, Malik wrote: “it’s hard to get publishers to back books by black women that are not exclusively about the experiences of black women. An authoritative non-fiction non-first person voice is still broadly the preserve of white men. So am heartened by the support.” I am heartened, too. —Robin Jones 

The Detroit rapper Sada Baby consumes beats like a wood chipper. In song after song, he flexes his menacing wit, weaving in and out of bouncy drums and funk-inspired synths, landing punches and ducking back into the shadows. Like many of his Motor City peers (and their musical kin on the West Coast), he seems to take the backing track as more of a suggestion than a prescription. But he’s never offbeat; rather, he has a prodigal sense of rhythm, masterfully attuned to the conversation between performer and production, the ways the two can align and diverge, and the near-limitless rewards of tinkering with this relationship. And though it’s always a joy to hear him thoroughly mine a particular pocket or cadence, there are few things more satisfying than when Sada Baby comes unhinged. Halfway through “Me, Myself, and Skuba,” for example, he hydroplanes across the top of the beat, deliberately pushing against time to achieve a thrilling, high-wire tension. (It helps that, like a steam valve providing release, he often caps off his verses with his trademark “HOOOOOOUUUUUUUHHHHH”—an ad-lib fit for a WWE villain.) Beyond his technical skills, he’s a magical performer, incredibly emphatic and full of remarkable one-liners. On his breakout hit, “Bloxk Party,” a collaboration with his fellow Detroit native Drego, he promises to “fuck the party up with my dance moves” and compares the size of his shotgun with the seven-foot-tall NBA player Lauri Markkanen (when asked about his penchant for reaching beyond the obvious references other rappers rely upon, he said in a recent interview, “It’s a bunch of shit out here—names, characters—muhfuckas just don’t use ’em”). Sada Baby is in the midst of an incredible run; if he continues at this pace, he’ll land among the greats. —Brian Ransom


William Shakespeare’s Richard III, ca. 1593, in a production directed by Garry Hynes, 2019. Performance view, White Light Festival at Lincoln Center, New York, New York. Photo: Robbie Jack. Courtesy of Lincoln Center.


To our readers in New York, it’s that time of year when I again recommend Druid Theatre Company’s production in Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival. This November, DruidShakespeare is making its U.S. production premiere of Richard III (on through November 23), one of the Bard’s longer and bloodier plays. I’ll admit that my companions and I pulled up a Wikipedia list of the English monarchy at intermission to make sure we’d been following: this is a complicated moment in English history, with lots of cousins kissing and cursing (and many of them are named Edward). But the knot of conflict feels unfortunately resonant with today’s political climate, and the stupendous acting (Aaron Monaghan, bravo!) and ambitious staging (this is not staid Shakespeare) takes what could be a tedious path through the War of the Roses and makes its brutal narrative something beautiful. —Emily Nemens

When I saw the first season of The End of the F***ing World, I had to accept that I’d found my kindred spirit on Netflix, of all places. Based on the graphic novel by Charles Forsman, the show offers most everything I’ve ever wanted: sociopathy; teens on a murderous road trip; expressionless faces paired with intimate, revealing voice-overs; British accents; and a stellar soundtrack. It delivers these elements flawlessly, cohesively, and at a thrilling clip—twenty-minute episodes lend this drama a breathless, perpetually unsatisfied quality. I did not expect there to be a second season—the first ends so perfectly—but I discovered while at home sick last week that, indeed, there is. While the second season couldn’t deliver in all the same ways as the first, it offers something else, something equally valuable. Here we have a precise and compassionate look at trauma and its aftermath, what it might mean to recover from the things done to you and the things you have done. This world is messy and beautiful; there are perverts and pain around every corner. And through it all, we have each other. Even if it’s the end of the fucking world. —Noor Qasim

This week, I’ve decided to staff pick an artist’s whole body of work, because it’s extraordinary, it’s indivisible, and I’m obsessed with it: the music of Cecil Taylor. What seems cacophonous at first—loud, percussive blasts of piano accompanied by drumming that might as well be another piano, as much as the piano might as well be another set of drums—turns out to be, with attention, a whole emotional climate that is more available and urgent than the actual weather. His music is so forceful (that’s the most accurate and inclusive adjective I can find for it) that it’s a kind of matter. The great jazz critic Gary Giddins, in his Visions of Jazz, describes Taylor’s “cascades that sweep up notes in bunches, ringing them like great bells balanced on the beams of his bounding bass chords.” And that’s just one momentary passage in one particular night; everything is in here. Out of the seeming din arises a comprehensive soundtrack. Follow Taylor’s progress from his early straining against order in 1956 on Jazz Advance; through his masterful Blue Note discs of the late sixties; through albums like 1979’s 3 Phasis, on which Taylor effortlessly inhabits a universe of his own; and land in later masterpieces like Leaf Palm Hand, a duo recording with the percussionist Tony Oxley, who seems to play time itself. Taylor’s oeuvre is a continuum, and it’s always new; it hasn’t been surpassed. If you don’t already love this music, you’re perhaps lucky: it’s an acquired taste, and the process of acquiring it brings infinite rewards. —Craig Morgan Teicher


Cecil Taylor playing at his apartment in the sixties. Photo: Charles Rotmil. Via Wikimedia Commons.