A Disservice to Black Art (with Aisha Harris & Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah) | Crooked Media
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June 15, 2023
Stuck with Damon Young
A Disservice to Black Art (with Aisha Harris & Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah)

In This Episode

This week on Stuck with Damon Young, cultural critic Aisha Harris, author of the new book “Wannabe: Reckons with the Pop Culture That Shapes Me” joins Damon for a discussion on how our relationship with pop culture is affected by our relationships with ourselves and our own self images. Then, on Dear Damon, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, author of the recently released “Chain Gang All Stars,” helps Damon advise a straight cis male writer who struggles while writing about sex.

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

Aisha Harris: I think there’s like this weird struggle between being happy that little Black girls now have a Black version of Ariel that they can look up to. And also being like, okay, but I kind of want better for those little Black girls. [laughs]

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Aisha Harris: Like, I think that it’s very possible for a character who has been historically white, become a Black character and have it mean something. I don’t think Little Mermaid was it. [music plays]

 

Damon Young: All right. Welcome back, everyone to Stuck With Damon Young. The show where having good taste matters so much more than being a good person. Okay, maybe it doesn’t matter more, but it matters. And we can’t pretend like it don’t. So anyway, on today’s show, we’re joined by Aisha Harris, co-host of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour and author of the new essay collection Wannabe: Reckonings with the Pop Culture That Shapes Me. If we talk about the occasional tension felt by Black critics while critiquing Black work and also how our relationships with pop culture can impact our own personal relationships. And then for Dear Damon, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, The New York Times best selling author of Friday Black and a Chain Gang All Stars, joins me to help answer a question about the difficulties straight Black men seem to have with writing about sex. All right y’all. Let’s get it. [music plays] Aisha Harris is the author of the essay collection, Wannabe: Reckonings with the Pop Culture That Shapes Me, which is in stores this week. Aisha. 

 

Aisha Harris: Damon. 

 

Damon Young: I wanted to ask you about something. So you recently gave The Little Mermaid a [laughter] meh review. Right?

 

Aisha Harris: Yes. That’s putting it mildly. [laughs]

 

Damon Young: It’s like, eh, it’s all right. 

 

Aisha Harris: Basically. [laughter]

 

Damon Young: All right, that was it. You know, and the quote from your review and this is on NPR, when measured against the origin story, however, Little Mermaid suffers from the same elements almost all of these remakes have being progressive while also creatively uninspired. 

 

Aisha Harris: Yes [laughs] I stand by those words. 

 

Damon Young: Now, how does it feel to be a traitor to your race? 

 

Aisha Harris: [laughs]  If it feels good. I’m in good company with Clarence Thomas and I mean no. Like, look. 

 

Damon Young: Wesley Morris too. Wesley did not. 

 

Aisha Harris: I know. 

 

Damon Young: And then went viral because the caption included the word kink in it. And then it became [laughter] like a whole thing for a week about like, Oh, Wesley Morris is a groomer. And you know, all the fuck shit.

 

Aisha Harris: Oh. God, I had no idea that happened to him. I’m so sorry. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Aisha Harris: I read the piece, but I did not follow the fear mongering or whatever. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Aisha Harris: So, yeah, I’m in good company. It’s so interesting to me because I write about The Little Mermaid actually in the book and how it played such a huge part of my childhood. I was obsessed with Ariel. I wanted to be Ariel. I wanted the clamshell bra. I wanted her red hair like I was all about it. And I had a feeling when this was announced that I was not going to like it. So my biases, sure, they were already in place. But I think as a critic, it’s worth acknowledging those biases. And I’m willing to give myself over and admit when I’m wrong or admit when something unexpected happens, when I do see something. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Aisha Harris: And it does surprise me in a way, this did not do that for me. And I think there’s like this weird struggle between being happy that little Black girls now have a Black version of Ariel that they can look up to and also being like, okay, but I kind of want better for those little Black girls. [laughs] Like, I don’t think representation is the be all and end all of what we should want for our children. I also I get annoyed when people are like, oh, this is a kid’s movie. Why are you so concerned? Like, kids deserve to have good shit, you know? [laughs]

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Aisha Harris: So and I look at something like Spiderman and the fact that they were able to do that, and you have Miles Morales and they made a fantastic movie both Across the Spider-Verse and Into the Spider-Verse. I think that it’s very possible for we can see a character who has been historically white, become a Black character and have it mean something. I don’t think Little Mermaid was it, and people got really upset about it, but I think a lot of people just don’t want to admit that it’s not really that good of a movie. It’s also too long. [laughter] It is. It is over two hours long. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Aisha Harris: And Spider-Verse was also a little over two hours long, but it didn’t feel that way in the same way that the Little Mermaid does. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Aisha Harris: So, yeah, look, people can come for me all they want about Little Mermaid, but I want better for your kids. [laughs] I’m just saying. 

 

Damon Young: Aisha Harris wants better for your kids. No, but for real, though, it speaks to attention that other POC critics face it. But I think with Black critics, particularly because there is like this, obviously this push for representation where certain images, certain themes just have not been seen historically, cinematically. And so you have to critique Black critic, Black work, say, okay, well, yes, I want little girls like me, little boys like me, whatever, little Black babies to be able to see themselves, to be able to see something and feel pride and feel proud. But I also have my job to do. 

 

Aisha Harris: Yeah. [laughs]

 

Damon Young: As a critic. This is what I get paid to do, is to put it in historical context and to assess the film based on, you know, how entertaining it is, how how rigorous it is. You know, and to your point, I think that there is almost like a flattening of content where it is so sometimes focused on being progressive and hitting all the right markers of like so you have things that almost overcorrect with not wanting to get cancelled, or wanting to just be as well. I hate using this word in this context. 

 

Aisha Harris: I know. [laughs]

 

Damon Young: But it does matter. 

 

Aisha Harris: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: Right? With wanting to at least have the veneer of wokeness. And you’re like, well, is that actually good though. 

 

Aisha Harris: Right? 

 

Damon Young: Like, it’s progressive, it’s woke, it’s evolved. Politically. But is it a good movie? 

 

Aisha Harris: Right. And I mean, the other thing is just like we have this movie, The Little Mermaid, and she’s Black, but that’s it. Like, it’s not like it’s a celebration of Black culture in a mermaid nautical sense. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Aisha Harris: [laughs] you know, it’s just like she happens to be Black. And then, like, for whatever reason, the prince’s mother happens to be a Black woman. And then you have, like all of Ariel’s sisters are like United Colors of Benetton. Like, they’re like every single ethnicity race. And it’s not really explained, because they make it seem as though they all have the same parents. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Aisha Harris: Whatever. That’s fine. But I think, you know, again, it’s kind of just kind of slapped on there and it’s not really explored in any interesting way in the way that like. Again, Miles Morales, you see his Afro-Latino ness in the animation. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Aisha Harris: You see it in how he talks to his parents, the stuff that he’s into. So it just feels very surface level. I also think flattening is a really good way to describe it, because often when people bring up like, oh, but like we really need this, we need this representation, they’re also like ignoring all the other Black representation that already exists so that they can make their point. I’m like, yeah, it’s not like Black kids are starved for images in the same way that they were like 30, 40 years ago or even when I was a kid like. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Aisha Harris: Yes, there are definitely there’s always like the one Black person in a lot of the shows I watch, whether it was Boy Meets World or Clueless or whatever, but then you also have like Living Single and you had Martin and like kids today have like Doc McStuffins. And you know, there are other variations. And I think that to ignore the fact that there’s Blackness that exists elsewhere so you can make your point that we need more of it does a disservice to the Black art that exists. So things have changed. They’ve gotten better. I’m not saying they’re perfect, but [laughs] we’re not starved in the same way we were, you know, decades ago. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah, it reminds me in a way of what happens when a neighborhood is, like, recently gentrified and there is almost, like, a soullessness. 

 

Aisha Harris: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: Gentrification, recently gentrified neighborhoods. You know, I think there’s a misnomer that their characterless. 

 

Aisha Harris: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: Right. But what’s actually happening is that that characteristic-ness-less. [laughter] And we get and we get it right. Characteristic-less-ness of the gentrified neighborhoods is a thing. 

 

Aisha Harris: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: Like that actually is a characteristic that, you know, you go to any city in the country that has been recently gentrified and it all looks exactly the same. 

 

Aisha Harris: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: The same types of buildings, the same type of businesses, same parts of people that are moving in. And so when I think of some of these reboots that are, I guess, trying to write historical wrongs right, which again, it’s not a bad thing to try to do. 

 

Aisha Harris: Right. 

 

Damon Young: Right. That’s not a bad thing to do. But if if that’s the only thing that it’s doing, then you’re again, you’re flattening you’re removing and you’re just creating this inert product that, again, my daughter went to see it, and she loved it, she’s seven. Right. 

 

Aisha Harris: Good. I’m happy for her. 

 

Damon Young: And she loved the movie and I’m happy that she loved it. But again, you know, I think that that tension that that a Black critic faces is a real thing. And, you know, I wanted to lead, I guess, with this in talking to you, because your book drops this week Wannabe, which is part memoir essays about pop culture. And now you are the professional critic who is going to be critiqued. 

 

Aisha Harris: Mm hmm. [laughs]

 

Damon Young: Right. 

 

Aisha Harris: Yeah. You know, it’s still early yet, so I don’t I can’t speak to it. But the fact is that being a critic in this day and age means you get reviewed all the time. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Aisha Harris: By strangers on the Internet. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Aisha Harris: [laughs] So I feel like that’s, in a way, sort of prepared me. Obviously, strangers on the Internet are not the same as an actual professional critic like myself reviewing my work. And I think that obviously carries more weight and more heft because in most cases that would be a little bit more thoughtfully, hopefully thoughtfully considered. But I you know, one of the things I argue in the book is that we don’t need to take, despite the fact that the entire book is about how personally I’ve taken pop culture, I also argue that we shouldn’t be taking it as personally as we do in the sense that like the way we treat other people and the way we react to other people and what they like and dislike should not disproportionately also affect how you see yourself. And so I argue that like, look, if you like something, even if you other people think it’s quote unquote “problematic” or whatever, or you like something that other people just like are trashing on the Internet. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Aisha Harris: That’s fine. You don’t need to get upset about it. It doesn’t necessarily automatically mean that. You are worthless or that your opinion is worthless or trash. We’re not talking about things that are like outwardly racist or terrible, but like, I just mean in a sense, there’s this real desire by a lot of people to assign their whole identities to whatever pop culture they’re consuming, whether it’s as a stand up, specific musical artists or, you know, obsessions with franchises and various IP that I think people take a little bit too seriously. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Aisha Harris: And that can look like either, you know, doxing any random person who says the mildest critique of a certain artist who also likes to provoke their fans in very demonic ways, who shall remain nameless. And I think a lot of people listening will probably know who I’m talking about. I mean, it could also apply to several people [laughs] or it could be something like film bro’s taking, you know, the new Ghostbusters, the 2016 Ghostbusters, and immediately trying to tank the reviews, even though they haven’t seen it yet, just because it has women in it. That stuff is unhinged. And I try to take a step back within the book and sort of parse out, you know, what can make for positive fandom and engagement with art versus what is just like you’re not helping anybody, especially yourself if you go overboard. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah, it feels like I don’t know how recent this phenomenon is, but it feels like something that’s been exacerbated by social media, particularly Twitter. 

 

Aisha Harris: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: Where fans of pop culture are starting to take on some of the same characteristics of sports fans. 

 

Aisha Harris: Oh, my goodness. Yes. [laughs] 

 

Damon Young: And you have your team that you root for and it’s fuck everybody else and you buy all the apparel, you buy the season tickets and it becomes a part of you. It becomes your personality where, you know, I live in Pittsburgh and I forgot that there was like some sort of study or whatever that showed that like on the Mondays after the Steelers lose a game, it has an actual like economic effect on the region. 

 

Aisha Harris: Wow. 

 

Damon Young: People spend less money people are like more depressed [laughter] and and that’s a real and now and I think we we are used to seeing that. 

 

Aisha Harris: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: It has become normalized with sports and now we’re seeing that a bit more of a pop culture with pop stars, with TV shows where movie franchises like people who are made the MCU, their whole motherfucking personality. So all that to say you’ve seen High Fidelity the original you know with. 

 

Aisha Harris: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: John Cusack you know. 

 

Aisha Harris: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: And Rob Gordon has a quote I guess Nick Hornsby is the quote [laughter] I don’t know who to attribute this quote to Rob Gordon or Nick Hornsby. 

 

Aisha Harris: The character Rob Gordon through Nick Hornsby. 

 

Damon Young: Okay. The character of Rob Gordon has a quote. What really matters is what you like, not what you are like. 

 

Aisha Harris: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: Books, records, films. These things matter. And now I agree with your point about how there are some of us who have taken this to the extreme, where they are actually the fanatics. But like, if I’m on a date with somebody, right [laughs] and they try to convince me that, like Playboi Carti is like the best rapper of all time [laughter] that might be the last date. I don’t care how compatible we are everywhere else. But it’s like, you know what? If I can’t respect your opinions about pop culture, like there’s a spectrum. 

 

Aisha Harris: Oh, yeah, yeah. 

 

Damon Young: Of response, right? And so if you come with like some take that is just completely wild and completely, like, unhinged, chaotic, I’m like, yeah, I mean, I might stay for curiosity’s sake, but I don’t think that’s going to work. 

 

Aisha Harris: I agree. And here’s the thing. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have like healthy debates about pop culture. 

 

Damon Young: I’m not talking about debates. I mean, like deal breaker [laughter] red flag. 

 

Aisha Harris: Okay fine. I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with having deal breakers with pop. Like I have my own deal breakers. I don’t know what they would be off the top of my head. Like, I don’t know if you still go to Dave Matthews concerts in the year of our Lord 2023. I probably got to judge you a little bit. [laughter] You know, there are certain people again, I will not name this specific these artists, but like I actually was out recently, I think a different artist. But I was out recently and I saw someone wearing their concert tour t-shirt and, you know, I was just like, hmm, really? You’re choosing to wear the shirt of someone who has like, been credibly accused of multiple assaults. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Aisha Harris: And whatnot. It’s an interesting choice. I’m judging you, we probably won’t agree on a lot of things. So I think it’s totally valid to have those kinds of dealbreakers. I also think it’s the type of thing like keep it to yourself. Like you don’t need to like go on the Internet and turn it into a whole thing. I think that you have to make those choices in a way. It’s not that different from trying to decide like, oh, so you voted for this person into office. Okay, I can’t fuck with you. Like. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Aisha Harris: I’m sorry. This is like we’re not going to vibe. And I think that’s totally valid to do. Like you said, it’s a spectrum. [laughter] And I think that what I love about pop culture is that, yeah, there are ways you can kind of in some ways figure out who someone is. I’m totally contradicting a lot of my book, but it’s fine. I think there’s a way to like kind of suss out how someone might react or how someone you might, whether or not you get along with them. But I also don’t think it’s the be all and end all of everything. And I don’t think that it’s something that you should like be overly concerned about. But dating’s hard. So like, I get it. [laughs] 

 

Damon Young: All right, so there are obvious red flags, obvious dealbreakers, like if someone is still a fan of R. Kelly today. 

 

Aisha Harris: Yes. 

 

Damon Young: Right. 

 

Aisha Harris: Yes. 

 

Damon Young: Then that’s like, okay, we are just not the same politically. We just don’t exist in the world the same way we don’t view the world the same way. And those sorts of things are easy. 

 

Aisha Harris: Or Cosby. 

 

Damon Young: Or Cosby, right. Someone who has been accused, credibly accused, convicted of these heinous acts then and you’re still a fan. This is not going to work. All right. But the more innocuous opinions, you know, again like the Playboi Carti, and I’m just using them as an example, although that would work like I would again if I were [laughter] I’m using him as a hypothetical. But people are out there in Stuck land if you are dating, okay, and you have this belief about Playboi Carti, keep that motherfucking shit to yourself [laughter] until at least like the fourth or fifth date. Maybe because you don’t. You know, you might have a love connection. You don’t want to ruin it with your awful, terrible opinion about music. 

 

Aisha Harris: That’s fair. 

 

Damon Young: Right? But again, there is a value. And you know, particularly when we’re talking about friendships or, you know, romantic partnerships and you don’t have to like the exact same things. Right. But everything else, like the compatibility is so tenuous and so variable that if you are on like opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of what you are into, then that I don’t know if you didn’t respect your partner’s taste in music, in movies and books like is that a thing that for you has ever been like, okay, yeah, I can. I like this person, but I just don’t respect anything that they like. [laughter] We’ll change gears a bit. And this is something that I’ve been thinking about for a minute and I’m glad you were able to come on the show to talk about it. So first, I want to ask you, have there been any songs or albums that have been released in like the last five or ten years that have entered your own personal pantheon of like, okay, this is one of my all time favorites, not just this is one of my all time favorites, but this is one of the all time greatest. 

 

Aisha Harris: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: Objectively, one of the all time greatest pieces of art that has been released. 

 

Aisha Harris: Honestly, it’s a tie between either SZA’s Ctrl, or SZA’s SOS.

 

Damon Young: Okay. 

 

Aisha Harris: SOS is still spinning daily for me. [laughs] And I think that it’s so interesting because even though I am not single and don’t you know, a lot of her songs are about relationship issues and feeling insecure about yourself, and I feel like I’m more or less comfortable with who I am now [?] and I’m like slightly older than SZA is only like by a couple of years, but like. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Aisha Harris: I feel like she’s in a different space than I am. I still feel as though both of those albums are what I would have loved to have when I was in my in college in my early twenties, because it speaks to my younger self in so many ways. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Aisha Harris: I also just love her cadence and her like I think she’s one of the best songwriters of the last ten, 15 years. Like she’s just her pen is fantastic and she sounds unlike anything else. I’ve really—

 

Damon Young: It’s amazing. Yeah.

 

Aisha Harris: —heard before or since I know it feels like such a stereotypical thing for a Black woman to say, but like [laughs] I fucking love SZA, I love her so much. 

 

Damon Young: The stereotypical thing would be to say Beyoncé. That would be the stereotypical thing to say. 

 

Aisha Harris: True. And look, Beyoncé is up there for me. But when I think about just like pure SZA comes with, I think, less baggage, in part because like, I love Beyoncé and I’ve had plenty of people call me also anti-Black for some things I’ve said about or criticized about Beyoncé, even though I’ve dropped thousands of dollars to go see her this summer. So whatever. I’m still a fan. I do think like Beyoncé, she’s a very interesting challenge to sort of be a fan of just because I love what she’s done and I love the fact that there are so many Black critics, especially Black women and Black queer critics who have been able to analyze her. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Aisha Harris: But I also think like her being a billionaire is a problem for me [laughter] and the flaunting of wealth and that sort of all of that. Same with Rihanna. I’m just like, I love your music and I love what you stand for most of the time. But also, no one should have that much money. You know. 

 

Damon Young: I can’t disagree. All right, so same question. But with T.V. shows.

 

Aisha Harris: Ooh. That’s harder because I think first of all, I watch so much TV and then I forget what I’ve watched. And it’s not because it’s not great, it’s just because I watch too many TV shows. 

 

Damon Young: Mhm. 

 

Aisha Harris: Uh, the last five or ten years, I mean Succession is up there, I think the first two seasons of Atlanta. 

 

Damon Young: Mhm. 

 

Aisha Harris: The other two. 

 

Damon Young: I think the fourth season it returned to form.  

 

Aisha Harris: Yeah. The fourth season was way better than the third but it’s still, I don’t know, I’m definitely gonna go back and rewatch and I will probably have different feelings but. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Aisha Harris: Yeah. Fourth season was, was pretty good I got to say. Also I fucking love South Side and I will scream it from the hills. I’m so upset that it got canceled. That show was like, so like what I’ve loved about especially Black creativity in the last like ten years is that Black people have been able to be weird on a larger scale. We’ve always had weird people like that’s existed, Sun Ra, like we’ve had the weirdos, but I think like we’ve had even more who have been able to, like whether it’s Boots Riley or Terence Nance and the South Side creators. By the third season, they had just gotten so absurd and like in the weirdest and best ways possible. [laughter] Kind of like a sort of building on what Key and Peele had done with their show. Like, I think that, yeah, for those of you who still have not seen South Side, like, I will keep evangelizing that show. There’s three seasons. It’s amazing. I think they might still be on HBO, or, Max I’m sorry. Although who knows? They might be taking that off anyway. Yeah, South Side, Succession, Atlanta, like to me, those are like all time. I’m going to go back and rewatch those over and over again. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. I would have those on my list. Like, I feel like the first two seasons of Atlanta are like my favorite seasons of any TV show ever. I really dug that last season of Love Life. I think it for something that is a relatively light lift, you know, dating and sex in this in New York City. They just did it just with a lot of care and a lot of humor and a lot of like realness. 

 

Aisha Harris: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: That you just don’t see. But I’m asking you this question and I think that you actually kind of gave me the answer I was looking for when I asked you for music. You named one artist, right? Two albums from one artist, but one artist. And when I ask you for TV shows, you name three and you probably could have continue to go on and named some more if we had some more time. And I guess the question I want to ask is why does it seem like it’s so much easier for new TV to enter our own personal pantheons of like, okay, this is one of my all time favorites. This is one of the all time best. But with new music, we are much, much more cynical, much, much more willing to guard gates. Much, much more like much, much more protective of what we allow to infiltrate us and allow us to, I don’t know, put it, you know, on the list of of the things that we loved in our twenties and maybe even our early thirties or whatever, [?] and not just from a personal perspective, but it feels like even critically, there have been multiple shows released in like the last five or ten years that exist on whatever Mount Rushmore there is of like TV shows. There are shows that have been dropped that are up there. But I don’t know there’s any music that’s been released that would also rate that sort of status. And so I’m wondering, is it something about TV’s evolution? Is TV evolving in the way that music isn’t, or is it about us? Are we, I guess, less likely to accept the evolution of music, at least the way that we accept or we acknowledge the evolution in television? 

 

Aisha Harris: I’ve thought about this a lot, in part because I think it’s less about one being more evolved and the other because they’re both kind of in these weird transition periods where everything the entire blueprint for the way things used to be is not true anymore. With TV, it’s like, well, for one thing, we have the writers strike going on and there’s streaming and how that kind of blew up the entire model as we know it, even though now we’re going back to sort of the old ways of what TV used to be with like shows on streaming, dropping weekly and no longer binging. And then with music, it’s like TikTok sped up versions of songs. Everything’s in disarray in both genres, in both mediums. But I do think that there is something to be say about it being especially. And I have no scientific proof of this, but I feel as though once you hit a certain age, the average person stops staying up to date on music and like the new stuff that’s coming out, like you’ve got your artists, if they release new stuff, you might pay attention to it. But like you’re not necessarily seeking those things out. You’re not seeking new music out from new artists. I mean, obviously there are plenty of music heads and there are especially like music critics who like it is their job. They’re always up on all the new stuff, like no matter how old they get and that like that’s what they have to do. But I think a lot of us just kind of like music in so many ways is like even more personal and you kind of have to lock in with an artists in a way that like a TV show, you can just kind of drop in on. You also spend like even longer times with characters on TV than you do with like an album. You’re spending sometimes hours or days worth of time with TV characters. And I think that you mentioned Playboi Carti. I couldn’t name a single song by him. I wouldn’t know him if I saw him, I would not [laughs] I would not be able to recognize his voice. Most of the baby, the little people. I could not tell you. Like I could not pick them out of a lineup. I feel like a lot of people are similar to me. Like once you hit your thirties you’re like, all right, Beyoncé’s got a new album out, of course, I want to listen to that. But who is Ice Spice? Okay [laughter] and look, I know who Ice Spice, is like she’s like the exception. She’s kind of broken through for me. But that’s in part because it was impossible to escape. What was that song? Munch? 

 

Damon Young: Yeah, Munch. 

 

Aisha Harris: Yeah. I just think that, like, music is way more personal. We guard it more closely. And also with streaming now, it’s like, really? You can just stream whatever you want. And I also don’t listen to the radio, really, ever. Even though I drive now I’m in the car because I live on the West Coast now. I no longer am in New York, but like I still I listen to podcasts when I’m driving or I listen to like I put on my playlist while I’m driving. I don’t listen to the radio very much unless I’m listening to NPR. Little plug there. [laughs]

 

Damon Young: Listen to yourself. Yeah, and there is more of an intimate relationship with music than there is with what we consume on TV. And also I think that with music too, like, all right, would a TV show, you know, there are like multiple people like the star and showrunner, you know, whatever. But you associate like a TV show with like a dozen people, right? Perhaps who are a part of this ecosystem. Whereas even though there are dozens of people who are involved with the construction of an album, you associate an album with like one person. 

 

Aisha Harris: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: Or if it’s a group, you know, two or three people or whatever. And so it is more of like a one on one. It’s like a friendship, almost like a I mean, I feel like if you’re comparing it TV to music where music almost feels as more characteristics of like a romantic, yeah. 

 

Aisha Harris: It’s very intimate. Yeah.

 

Damon Young: Relationship, whereas TV is more like a friendship, a good friendship, but just a platonic friendship. 

 

Aisha Harris: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: But it doesn’t seem like it’s a recent phenomenon. Like I feel like the psychology with how we engage with music and how we gauge what TV has existed for a minute. But at the same time, I’m in my forties, you know, I was in my teens in the nineties and that’s the time when, you know, Biggie, Tupac, Wu, all of these, you know, groundbreaking acts with with rap and hip hop first got on the scene and I don’t remember the same sort of reluctance to acknowledge that these people were holy shit, these people are awesome like fucking Nas first album. Holy shit this guy is fucking the genius is amazing. Whereas the equivalent of me from back then who is into all the littles and all the babies or whatever. I don’t know if the adults right now have the same sort of openness or willingness to acknowledge oh shit, these guys are actually really good. 

 

Aisha Harris: Yeah.

 

Damon Young: Because maybe they’re not. 

 

Aisha Harris: They might not be. [laughs]

 

Damon Young: And that’s the struggle. That’s the tension that I’m thinking of. Like, is it my own issues, my own lack of willingness to acknowledge that these newer artists are pushing the envelope in a way that we had never seen before? Or are they just not as good as the people who came before and now obviously you have you exceptions you have Kendrick. 

 

Aisha Harris: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: Drake, even though both those guys are getting close to 40. 

 

Aisha Harris: Right. And they’ve been around for a while. 

 

Damon Young: And they’ve been around for a minute, I would even consider them to be a part of like the newer generations of the babies and the littles. But I don’t know. 

 

Aisha Harris: I think it’s probably a little bit of both. I admit that when I say stuff like, I don’t know what Playboi Carti looks like, I probably sound like a friggin old fogey. 

 

Damon Young: I don’t. I don’t either.

 

Yeah. 

 

I just used the name. And I heard him on a couple other people’s albums and I had heard of him, but then I heard him and I’m like, who the fuck is? [laughter] Did he just die? Did he just go in the studio and die? Is that is that is that is this I listen to a snuff film, like did he die on the track? [laughter] What the fuck is happening? 

 

Aisha Harris: Yeah. I don’t know. The only thing I say, the last thing I’ll say about that is just like I think that I definitely think a lot. Like again, once you hit a certain age, you just kind of like, don’t. You’re not seeking out new music. And if you go to any YouTube video and whether it’s like something from 20 years ago, 25 years ago, it’s like, you know, Biggie or Pac or whatever, or even just like ten years ago. And it’s like young Drake. People are like, oh, they don’t make music like this anymore. Everyone’s just like, always just saying, like, they don’t make it like they used to. And I’m just like, no, they don’t. And I don’t necessarily want them to do that. Doesn’t mean it’s going to be for me, though, you know, I feel in many ways I kind of stuck. I think I stopped really caring about new artists, a lot of new artists in like 2017, 2018, which is around the time when I turned 30. So, you know [laughs] it’s it’s rough. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. For me, it was around 2012. I think that’s when I stopped going on like DatPiff and listening to all the like new mixtapes or whatever, and it’s like, you know what? It just takes so much more to penetrate, you know, my consciousness now than it did even ten years ago. Aisha Harris, thank you for coming on. You new book Wannabe is in stores this week. It drops hot on the streets, hot off the presses, you can cop it at any bookstore, wherever books are sold. Can you tell us a little bit about it? 

 

Aisha Harris: Yeah, I mean, we’ve hinted at it a little bit, but it’s it’s a collection of nine essays. It’s part memoir. I get a little bit personal in [laughs] these memoirs, and I talk about my relationship with my name. I talk about my hoe phase back in my early twenties [laughs] you know, and, you know, I also talk about things that I think a lot of people relate to, whether it’s feeling overwhelmed by all of these frickin franchises and, you know, like Little Mermaid and remakes and reboots. And I really just wanted to sort of use it as a jumping off point for exploring what pop culture has meant to me and also what it has meant to a lot of people and how we can sort of realign our relationship to it and think more critically about it, while also just kind of enjoying all these like lots of nineties, early aughts references in the book. It’s fun. I hope people check it out and there’s also an audio version of it. Read by me if you prefer audio. I do my best impression of Dave Chappelle, which is not great, but it’s, I try. [laughs]

 

Damon Young: How was that experience doing audio? I hated reading, you know, doing the audio book because I just don’t like the way I sound. 

 

Aisha Harris: Yeah, it’s draining. It’s like hours on end of you just sitting in a room and reading. And I mean, you probably know this as a podcast, but like, there’s a difference between reading something that’s written for the page versus reading something that’s actually written for audio. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Aisha Harris: And it’s very different. So that was very much a challenge to make it still sound somewhat conversational, even though it wasn’t written necessarily in that way. So.

 

Damon Young: There were so many words, so many words that I did not know how to pronounce. 

 

Aisha Harris: I know. 

 

Damon Young: Until I got in the booth and I was like, holy shit. 

 

Aisha Harris: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: I don’t know how to say this. All right, let me ask the engineer. 

 

Aisha Harris: Yes. 

 

Damon Young: Can I get some help. 

 

Aisha Harris: Yes. 

 

Damon Young: Get some help on how to pronounce the words in my own book. [laughs] Anyway, thanks for coming through. Appreciate you. And again, Wannabe is in stores now. Go cop it. Go tell a friend. It’s a great book and I blurb, I’m not just saying it, you know, because I blurbed it. 

 

Aisha Harris: [laughs] I appreciate it. 

 

Damon Young: Although I wouldn’t have blurbed it if I didn’t feel that way about it. So go ahead. 

 

Aisha Harris: Well, thank you. You’ve been such a big supporter of mine for years now, and I really appreciate it. So it’s all a thank you. [music plays]

 

Damon Young: Up next for dear Damon, joined by the homie Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. But first, Damon hates. [music plays] So for this Damon hates, I’m a keep it quick and I’m a keep it short. You know, Juneteenth is a holiday now. It’s a national holiday. And, you know, I appreciate the fact that it exists because America has a bad memory. Right. America has a selectively, intentionally bad memory where we try to remember, you know, all the great things, all the good things about our history, about our past. But we need those reminders that, you know, America’s history is filled with blood, it’s filled with hate, it’s filled with destruction, it’s filled with devastation, it’s filled with plunder. Those aren’t the only things that America’s history is filled with, but it’s part of our history. Right. And Juneteenth is a day that acknowledges that history. So I do appreciate on one end the fact that it has become a national holiday. But I guess my ambivalence is that I just feel weird about seeing white people celebrate it, like and not just seeing white people celebrate it, but the same feeling that I have about the acknowledgment, the national acknowledgment of this day. I almost feel like that making it a holiday. I don’t know dilutes the meaning, dilutes, the day. And again, I don’t really know how to explain it. I don’t really know how to grapple with it. I guess this is why I’m trying to [laughs] talk it through with Damon hates but I don’t know. Like I would almost feel better if every white person on Juneteenth, instead of taking off work, instead of going to cookouts. Y’all just want to work. It’s just an extra day, that y’all went to work and an extra day that we don’t have to work. Maybe that would do a bit to, I guess, remedy this ambivalence. I don’t know. All I know is that the day is coming. I feel a way about it, and I can’t really explain why. [music plays] So this week on dear Damon we’re joined by the homie Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. Nana, what’s going on? 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: What’s going on, bro? How you been?

 

Damon Young: Ain’t nothin, man. Ain’t nothin, man. Good to see you. Good to see you. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: I’m excited to be here. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. So I take it you’re finally home. You know, from being all around the country touring? 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: I made it. I survived. 

 

Damon Young: Okay. 

 

Aisha Harris: A couple weeks later I’m back home in the Bronx. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. Now, when you go back out?

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Well, I got some events local. I’m doing a U.K. book tour in July, but before that, I’m teaching at Disquiet in Lisbon so then in two weeks I’m not home again. But I’m trying not to think about that much. I’m trying not to think about airplanes, because right now, if I think about them too hard, I want to throw up. [laughs]

 

Damon Young: Yeah. Are you like, like I have to sleep on every flight? Like, if I’m conscious, then I’m sober and conscious. Then I’m not. I’m not in a good place. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: How do you make yourself go to sleep? You just. You can?

 

Damon Young: Sleep deprivation. Like, I don’t sleep. Like, if it’s a morning flight, I get like 2 hours of sleep the night before. Sometimes I take, like, a Advil p.m. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Is this sustainable for you, though? I feel like you. You got to— 

 

Damon Young: No. [laughter]

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: I was going to say. I feel like you [both speaking] kind of got it. What happened with me was I was like that, too. And I still am. But, you know, what’s helped a lot. The noise canceling headphones, I didn’t realize part of the anxiety was I like the little clicks and sounds planes make. 

 

Damon Young: Mmm. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: I have these noise canceling headphones now the Sony’s, and it’s made it way better. So I try to sleep, but I can’t. I’ve been flying coach mostly. I’m not that short. It’s uncomfortable. 

 

Damon Young: Why you flying coach? 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: [laughs] Good question. 

 

Damon Young: I mean, it’s a struggle for me if you’re taller than me, I think. And so yeah. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Levels man. I’m not that level yet. I’m not that level yet. We’ll see if I can get there next time around. 

 

Damon Young: I mean, it’s it’s is worth the investment. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: I believe it. I’m not the one booking the flight. 

 

Damon Young: It’s worth the investment. I sound like a such a bougee motherfucker—

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: I agree. It’s worth the investment. I just need to make my business associates agree. [laughter] That, you don’t got to convince me. I. I’m. I’m on board 100%. 

 

Damon Young: All right. Morgan the producer, what we got this week? [laughs]

 

Morgan Moody: Dear Damon. You always say we can ask anything. So here goes. I’m a writer myself and an admirer of your work. But I keep getting a roadblock about sex. I don’t know how to write about it. And for context, I’m a cisgender, straight Black male, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a person like me write about sex in a way that wasn’t either titillating or traumatic with no in-between. 

 

Damon Young: Okay, that’s a doozy of a question. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: It’s a good one. And it was read that. Morgan like, great. I like that reading voice. I didn’t know that’s going to happen. Incredible. 

 

Damon Young: No, Morgan. Morgan needs to have her own show. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: That was just I was like. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: In that place. 

 

Damon Young: She has like, the anchor. She has, like, the anchor voice, the NPR voice— 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Straight up NPR, straight up. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: But yeah, that’s a good one.

 

Damon Young: Well I mean. I’m just thinking off the top of my head. You know, like all right, the homie Deesha Philyaw. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: You know who wrote The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, a tremendous short story collection. And it’s, you know, it’s not just about sex, but there’s sex all all through that book. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: Thinking of late Luster, Raven Leilani. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. You know, and these are both fiction, not nonfiction or whatever, but I’m trying to think of, like, an equivalent, a recent equivalent from a straight Black male, and I cannot think of one. Now. I know in Chain Gang All Stars you have some sex scenes. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: In the book. In fact, you actually have some queer sex that that occurs in the book. But I don’t know, like, I’m curious about this too, about why, when I think of us writing about sex, it tends to be us telling a story that is based on trauma. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Mm. 

 

Damon Young: In a way. And it’s not, like, romantic. It’s not sexy. It’s not like, you know, maybe could be tender, but I don’t know. Like, what are your thoughts? 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: I think generally, there’s a lot of conservative attitudes around sex and representing sex in general. You see that conversation unfolding on the Internet. Now, there’s some people who just like basically saying the equivalent of like you should not put sex in movies, which is crazy because sex is a part of life. I think that. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Part of why males in particular may feel hesitant is sex is in an intimacy. It’s a tenderness, it’s a vulnerability, especially when it’s not this traumatic version. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: And all those things are things that we’re not trained to do or things that are not encouraged or enforced often anyways. And so I think it’s just feels scary. I’m sure most of us, which is so much more comfortable writing a fight scene, a gratuitously violent fight scene as opposed to a a sexual encounter. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Because that’s what we’re trained for. And I know for myself, even it was a challenge. I was scared to put sex in a book. And I had the sex scene I did have was stopped sort of short of where it did until my editor kind of pushed me to not being scary about it, basically. 

 

Damon Young: So what were you what were you scared of? Like, what were your trepidations? 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: At a very basic level? Like, you know, they put out that thing of like all the super cringe sex scenes from that year. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: That. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: That’s what I. [laughs] That’s what I was scared of. But, I mean, if you think about, like, what gets represented in, quote unquote, “literary fiction,” there’s sort of like sex is is both very physical, but very like internal as well. But representing things on a very, very physical level is very difficult. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: And I think part of how I felt comfortable with doing it was by writing these fight scenes and breaking down these physical movements really closely. But yeah, I was kind of just sucking and then eventually ending up on that random list that comes out every year. 

 

Damon Young: [laughter] Yeah, I know exactly what you’re talking about. You know, and I think, you know, and you cover it like the fiction angle. And I think for non nonfiction, you know, you write a memoir writing an essay or whatever. And writing about, you know, wrote this whole book about my entire about my entire life. But when I referred to sex, it was in like a very self-conscious way. Sometimes it would be. And, you know, used in like a comic relief sort of way. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: Right. And so, you know, I think, you know, my trepidation and I don’t want to speak for all of us, but, you know, I after having enough conversations with enough of us about this topic. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: You know, I could make some some generalizations. I think that when you have men who are somewhat conscientious about patriarchy, about manhood, about performance, about, you know, all these things that we, you know, have learned to to be progressive about. Then there is a trepidation and then you have that knowledge and you also have the knowledge of, okay, hetero Black men are considered are expected to be like hyper hetero. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: Right. Hyper virile [laughter] you know, hypersexual. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: So that’s in your head too, where if I write about a sexual experience that went well, am I just reinforcing that stereotype? 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: Am I doing what everyone expects me to do? You know, because I oh, shit. Oh, of course. He’s a Black man. Yeah, of course. He had great sex. Of course. Of course It happened that way. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: But if I overcorrect and I write about, well, what ends happening is an overcorrection. Whereas, like, you know what? Instead of writing about the positive experiences, I’ll write about the embarrassing shit. I’ll write about this shit that you know, I wish didn’t happen. I’ll write about, you know, the times I might have had some technical difficulties, some equipment malfunctions, all of that. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

 

Damon Young: Which is all a part of sex and all a part of sex that feel like we need to talk about more amongst each other. But you know, in my work, there’s much more of that. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Yes. 

 

Damon Young: Than there is of me writing about, like, good shit could happen. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Yes. 

 

Damon Young: Or great experiences or whatever. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: And again, I think part of it is due to me, you know, being conscious of that, that expectation, that’s, that’s, that’s based off of that stereotype. But then also, I don’t know if I even have the language to write about sex in a way that, you know, is tender and sexual or romantic but isn’t titillating. And the last thing I want to say too is that I know that, you know, I’ve read queer Black men who have done this right. And so this is something and queer Black men get the same messaging about sex, about Black maleness. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: That we do. And so I’m wondering what the disconnect is. Why? Are queer Black males able to do this or have the language to do this? Or the freedom to do this? 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Yes. 

 

Damon Young: Or whatever. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Yeah. Well, it’s one of the topics that like when people say, like, we all need like queer liberation. This is like one of the examples of like kind of context where by being a straight male, you naturally feel this like box around you and you want to talk about these things because you feel like it’s not your place either. You’re responding to the context you described, which is people being like taught to be like hypersexual or you’re just afraid of how you’re going to be perceived because you do it like there’s so many like, like, which was my thing or you are you feel like the stakes are so high around that you’re the worry of not having the language to describe it accurately can worry you to the point of not even trying. But as a writer, there’s a bunch of things you might not have the language to do, but you try. And that’s like the whole game kind of, you know, that’s the whole discovery of being a writer. I think I’m interested by the idea of it not being titillating. I think I know what the first actual question is saying by that, not being like titillating for the sake of being titillating, only. Because that’s also part of, I think the the issue with what’s afraid we’re afraid of is when sex is represented in books. People I think people think of like saying for example, or like hardcore romance, the hardcore romance, the which is the art form onto itself, but it feels like less than in some literary space. I’m not saying it is, but I think that some people who consider themselves, quote unquote, “literary writers” have internalized a whole bunch of hierarchies that don’t really exist. And so to to jump into that space, that is to say, if you are writing about sex in a positive way, I don’t see how it could not. I mean, I guess I’m saying it’s not like a terrible thing for you to be a little bit titillating. Like what a why wouldn’t it be on some level, just like it’s how something violent happens in a book, you should recoil from it. 

 

Damon Young: Mm hmm. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: That’s the response to the thing. So, I mean, it’s a really interesting problem. And I think that what you said about like that there are queer male writers who feel more comfortable doing this important thing because it’s like it’s a box we have for ourselves and it’s important to try to push against it and try to explore out of it in a smart, ethical way. The there is also the context that is real, though, that if you do it wrong, people will perceive it and be like you, you fucking suck. [laughs] 

 

Damon Young: Yeah. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: But you got to try it. I think that’s the thing. I guess this is all the answer to the question. But what would you say to this person? 

 

Damon Young: I mean, I feel like this is helpful for. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: This person. Anyone who has anything this anxiety or has this question. I agree that there’s nothing inherently wrong with being titillating. Right. And, you know, I’m thinking of a particularly tender cinematic sexual scenes that I can think of. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: One that comes to mind is the last vignette with Moonlight. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Mm hmm. 

 

Damon Young: When when they finally meet back up and they’re, you know, the jukebox in the restaurant. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Yep. 

 

Damon Young: And that again that even though physical sex doesn’t actually happen but it’s you know it’s a love scene. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Yep. 

 

Damon Young: It’s a romantic scene, it exists on like the precipice of titillation. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Yeah. 

 

Damon Young: Right. It doesn’t go over the top, but it’s there. Another scene, Out of Sight. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: I have not seen it. 

 

Damon Young: Okay, well, there’s a scene with them and they’re in a hotel bar and it’s directed by Steven Soderbergh. And the way, he cuts it between like the conversation at the bar and them in the bedroom. It’s just like a beautiful and extremely creative way of shooting it, depicting sex. But, you know, I think the danger of getting into titillation is then someone who might be reading, thinking, oh, this nigga’s just bragging about his dick. [laughter] Right, which again. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Right. 

 

Damon Young: It’s a it’s a self-consciousness, right? But I think it’s a self-consciousness that exists that comes from a very real place. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Yeah. Especially the nonfiction side. 

 

Damon Young: Yeah, especially nonfiction. Like you can’t tell a Black male writer to just not care does not give a fuck about that anxiety because that that is a very real thing and it comes from a real place. And so I guess the answer to the person’s question, finally [laughs] an answer for this question. You know, I think you said it best. You know, writing is discovery, right? And you’re taking chances and the best work comes from risk. You can’t be risk averse when you’re doing this. And I say this as as recognized there’s some risk aversion that still exists within me. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Absolutely. 

 

Damon Young: Right. And so I think that the best thing for you to do is to read as much as possible, to listen and find out when Nana’s next book talk is, you know, [laughs] show up, if he’s in your city. You know what I mean? You know, you hear some of us, you know, who are doing this work and, you know, are talking about this. And I think that the more that you learn, the more you read, the more discovered, the more confident that you will be. In being able to do that, because that’s that’s what it is. Confidence it’s confidence. And confidence comes from repetition. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Yes. 

 

Damon Young: I think we could do it. But there are reasons that very real reasons that aren’t made up that that do get in the way sometimes. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Absolutely. That’s a good answer. Cosigned. [laughs] 

 

Damon Young: All right. Thank you for coming through. Appreciate you. So, Nana, we talked about your tour. You know, at the beginning, but can you tell us about your book? You know, I saw I recently became a New York Times best seller. So congratulations on that. Hit a couple other bestseller lists, getting rave reviews everywhere. So can you tell us a bit about it? 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: So the book Chain Gang All Stars is about an imagined future in which convicted wards of state can opt out of a sentence of at least 25 years and participate in death matches. But really, it’s about two women in particular who are as involved in this blood sport, and their journey as one of them is getting ready to be freed. Because if you survive three years in this context, you receive clemency, you get freed. But really, the book ends up being a lot about the carceral state, about prisons, about the way we think about harm and those who do harm, and imagining what the world would be like if our tolerance for violence was even greater and different. So it’s about a lot of things, I guess, at once. But it’s really interested in the carceral state of America in particular. 

 

Damon Young: Please go out and cop Chain Gang All Stars, it is like, it is definitely an ambitious feat. And I feel like when people say that sometimes it’s like it’s like a backhanded compliment. Like this nigga tried really hard. [laughter] A lot of effort into this. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: E for effort. 

 

Damon Young: No but for real. For real. It’s a great book. Please go. Cop it. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Thank you. 

 

Damon Young: Go read it. And. And again, Nana Kwame, I appreciate you coming through again man. 

 

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: Always. Thank you, bro. [music plays] 

 

Damon Young: All right. I just want to give a shout out real quick to Aisha Harris and Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah. Great friends, great guests, great topics, great conversations, also great writers. Please go cop. Both of the books. Also Stuck with Damon Young is available on every platform right now. So please go and listen, subscribe, tell a friend. And if you happen to be on Spotify app, there are interactive questionnaires, polls that you could, you know, have some fun with. So please go ahead and do that. Also, if you have any questions about anything whatsoever, hit me up at deardamon@crooked.com. All right y’all. See you next week. [music plays] Stuck with Damon Young is hosted by me, Damon Young. Our executive producers are Kendra James and Madeleine Haeringer. Our producers are Ryan Wallerson and Morgan Moody. Mixing and mastering by Sara Gibble-Laska and the folks at Chapter Four. Theme music and score by Taka Yasuzawa. And special thanks to Charlotte Landes. And from Spotify our executive producers are Lauren Silverman, Neil Drumming and Matt Shilts. Special thanks to Lesley Gwam and Krystal Hawes-Dressler. [music plays]