When heavy emotion and dance music collide, something magical happens.
Through experimentation, multi-instrumentalist Mariah Fortune-Johnson, who performs under the name Woven In, crafted her brilliant ninth album, Profess, a darkwave album thematically linked to her Black womanhood. The end result is striking. I find myself navigating feelings of anxiousness, romance, and frustration, simmering between Fortune-Johnson’s lyrics, gorgeous instrumental tracks, and brilliant sampling.
Tracks like “Sad for the Season,” “Another Lover,” and “I Don’t Love You” deploy the kind of intensity that makes me get up and want to run. “Sad for the Season” stood out; flooring me as a fast and heart-pounding song on sadness. I’m reminded that life won’t wait for me even when I struggle to carry soul-crushing sadness:
Sad for the season /
Sad for no reason /
Take apart my feelings /
And onto the next thing
On “Another Lover,” Fortune-Johnson asks: “Could you be the one I want at the same time be what I need?” The quick arpeggiated synths add a sense of urgency to the quest for a new lover; suddenly it feels like if one can’t be found immediately, I’ll be left with a sense of lack, permanently. “I Don’t Love You” feels quite the opposite: if this person doesn’t get out of my life, I don’t know what I’ll do.
Throughout these experiences, my favorite tracks on Profess bring samples in from a wide array of sources. I find myself particularly moved by the samples of memes, especially those taken from news clips of Black people who went viral. “Til this Day Innocent” is a track very committed to uplifting Black innocence when Blackness is presumed criminal. Fortune-Johnson recontextualizes footage of Donna Goudeau, whose cry “I’m legally blind” can be seen memed everywhere. She centers on “All I know is my side of the story, can’t tell no other story,” and “I’m an innocent bystander,” putting Goudeau in conversation with calls to study the history of Black oppression in America, with a need to dismantle it.
“It feels, to me, like a call to rid my world of toxicity; of oppressive patterns of thought.”
Fortune-Johnson does the same with Hazel London’s famous words outside Bella Noche in Baton Rouge, “It’s upsetting me and my homegirl,” on “Upsetting.” Without explicitly telling us what’s upsetting, London’s command “Don’t bring that here” can be about anything. It feels, to me, like a call to rid my world of toxicity; of oppressive patterns of thought.
Profess also features samples from Tik Tok, like the declaration “No it’s not very nice, but it’s spoken from the heart,” taken from a video that is intended to “expose” the poster’s mother as mean. Reimagined in “Spoken From the Heart,” the declaration feels less like exposé and more like the painful expression of an ugly truth that can no longer go ignored. “Body” samples a popular RiFF RAFF Vine: “My goal is to blow up and then act like I don’t know nobody!” Growing up, RiFF RAFF was always a meme with my friends, especially in the Three Loco era. Today, thinking about the platform white men inhabit in hip hop and RiFF RAFF’s repeated allegations of sexual assault, it’s clear he’s no laughing matter.
“Between sensuality, protest, and emotion, rests the challenge of Black embodiment in a white supremacist patriarchy.”
As the record comes to a close, “Body” transitions brilliantly into “Complex Body,” a slightly slower jam that has me hypnotized. The instrumentation feels like a call for attention. Fortune-Johnson repeats, “Complex body, you don’t understand,” following that up at the very end with “Black body, you don’t understand.” Between sensuality, protest, and emotion, rests the challenge of Black embodiment in a white supremacist patriarchy. “Complex Body” is the last track on Profess, reminding me that I will never understand, but that cannot prevent me from working to incinerate white supremacy.
The chosen samples, contemplative instrumentals, and thoughtful lyrics on Profess will ask you to reflect and move, all at once, and I cannot recommend this album enough. But where do we go from here? One place that Profess led me to is Mariah Fortune-Johnson’s Black Creatives Redistribution Fund, a mutual aid effort supporting Black creatives. Reparations is a long-term commitment for non-Black people to quit hoarding cash and get it to Black people, whose physical and intellectual labor continue to be stolen. As an admirer of creatives doing it themselves, I am obligated to do my part. Profess is a reminder.
Devon (he/him) is a Cleveland-based event organizer. He loves radical theory, loud guitars, and hash browns. He lives on Twitter.