Friday, September 7, 2007


You just could not know how long we tried
To see how this building looks inside

This must be a lucky day for me

Because the sign says there's a vacancy...

Hidden amongst the massive hits Master Blaster (for Bob Marley) and Happy Birthday (for MLK), Stevie Wonder's 1980 album Hotter than July contains Cash In Your Face, an unusual, impossibly funky mid-tempo track that takes the issue of housing discrimination by the lapels. With the exception of handclaps, Wonder plays all the instruments on the purposely sparse production, including a metallic guitar/clavinet-like synth he bends and snakes discordantly throughout. In the verses, Wonder adapts his voice and mannerisms to sing in the character roles of both a bigoted landlord and a would-be renter...

Look I know you came a long way

But you made it just too late

So we had to give it to somebody else...

Well I thought the bill was passed
that said you could not discriminate
But I know some excuse you'll find
Because your bottom line is

You might have the cash but you
Can...not cash in your face

This is a tune you're unlikely to hear on the supermarket Muzak channel anytime soon. Wonder's stark public service announcement for fair housing practices provides a first person POV account of the anguish of the powerless renter, fresh out of Howard U, good job, references, baby on the way and the wrong color skin for a place that's probably overpriced anyway. Unfortunately, Wonder's piece is still timely, as Katrina victims try to relocate only to find they might have the cash but...

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