What do I need to know?
“For Women” is the hidden bonus track on Reflection Eternal’s debut album Train of Thought. As Talib Kweli states at the beginning of the record the song is a take off of Nina Simone’s similarly titled “Four Women.” Nina Simone was a spirited singer, pianist and activist whose songs like “Mississippi Goddamn” made her music the soundtrack for the civil rights movement. When the original was released back in 1966 it was banned by many radio stations for perceived racist content. Kweli and many others like Mos Def, Kanye and Common regularly name drop her in lyrics or as an influence to their music (ed. note: Click to read a tribute I wrote on Nina Simone following her death in 2003).
What’s the story?
The original “Four Women” depicts four archetypes of African American women with each verse describing a different profile. Ms. Simone’s lyrics, interspersed throughout Reflection Eternal’s rendition, were pretty short in comparison but delivered with an intensity and emotion that reached its apex on the final line. Kweli’s verses flips the original by using the descriptions as the foundation for his narrative. He fleshes out the depictions by adding more context and placing them in imagined situations and similarly raises the intensity in his final few bars.
She swears the next baby she’ll have will breathe a free breath
And get milk from a free breast
And love beeing alive
Otherwise they’ll have to give up being themselves to survive
Being maids, cleaning ladies, maybe teachers or college graduates, nurses, housewives, prostitutes, and drug addicts
Some will grow to be old women, some will die before they born
They’ll be mothers, and lovers who inspire and make songs
(But me, my skin is brown and my manner is tough,)
(Like the love I give my babies when the rainbow’s enuff,)
(I’ll kill the first muthafucka that mess with me, I never bluff)
(I ain’t got time to lie, my life has been much too rough,)
(Still running with barefeet, I ain’t got nothin’ but my soul,)
(Freedom is the ultimate goal
Life and death is small on the whole, in many ways)
(I’m awfully bitter these days
‘cuz the only parents God gave me, they were slaves,)
(And it crippled me, I got the destiny of a casualty,)
(But I live through my babies and I change my reality)
(Maybe one day I’ll ride back to Georgia on a train,)
(Folks ’round there call me Peaches, I guess that’s my name.)
Is it any good?
Absolutely. Some purists will hate all remakes but in this case I think even they would appreciate Reflection Eternal’s interpolation for its creativity. It’s a great song on its own merit and highlights Kweli’s storytelling ability. Not to be outdone, Hi-Tek provides the perfect score, using different tempos, adlibs and emotional shifts to accentuate the mood. But what is more impressive is that this one of those ‘stars aligning’ occasions where the remake successfully pays homage, yet the artist is able to truly make it their own. This is one of my personal favorites from Reflection Eternal and one that I believe will continue to stand the test of time.
Type of knowledge dropped?
Even though the stories are imagined there is a clear focus on historical knowledge. These might as well have been real people as each verse gives you insight into real trials and tribulations within the plight of African American women throughout history from slavery to today.