“Freeze Tag” Brings Together Tenets of Black Protest Music

“Freeze Tag,” Dinner Party’s lead single from their 2020 album Dinner Party, is a song steeped in signature elements of Black protest music. Featuring vocal performances from Phoelix on the original song, and Cordae on the song’s remix, the track is a melodic, melancholy song that speaks on police violence with clarity. Released amidst a year that saw a greater focus on Black protest music than in years prior, the song effectively captures the imagination of their audience and capitalizes on it in a sublime and vulnerable fashion.

Dinner Party, a super-group made up of Terrace Martin, Kamasi Washington, 9th Wonder, and Robert Glasper, came together during 2020 and produced a batch of songs that are timeless in their rhythm and message. The shining star of the album, “Freeze Tag,” features R&B/soul singer Phoelix and Cordae, each of whom add to the song’s energy without distraction.

The original song features soulful vocals from Phoelix, who helps create the song’s sublime atmosphere with beautifully-performed vocals:

They told me put my hands up behind my head

I think they got the wrong one

I’m sick and tired of runnin’ (Runnin’)

I been searchin’ where the love went (Love went)

I been lookin’ for a dove

Then they told me if I move, they gon’ shoot me dead

Phoelix, on “Freeze Tag”

There are several directions his lyrics point, perhaps the most clear being his protest of the violent policing in America. “They told me put my hands up behind my head / I think they got the wrong one / I’m sick and tired of runnin” tells the story of a Black man that’s been wrongfully assumed to be a criminal. 

Phoelix pointedly does not point to the police or police officers for this violence. He portrays violence against Black people in a generalized fashion, so that it can’t be blamed on one aspect of society. The song’s chorus is repeated twice on the original iteration of the song, taking up all of the lyrics of the song. 

The second iteration of the song comes with a whole new album; Dinner Party: Dessert. Hosted by Snoop Dogg, the Dessert sessions are more focused on showing off the vocal capabilities of friends of Dinner Party; a shift from the original album where the instrumentation of Dinner Party is in full effect. 

The whole existence of Dinner Party allows us space to consider which aspects of music we can enjoy more or relate with. Dinner Party focuses on the instrumental combinations of Kamasi Washington’s saxophone, Robert Glasper’s piano, and Terrace Martin and 9th Wonder’s production/multi-instrumentalism. On Dessert, they add a whole roster of rappers and singers, most notably Buddy, Malaya, Rapsody, Cordae, Tarriona Tank Ball, and Bilal. 

Cordae’s verse speaks on his relationships with people – whether with friends, God, or his fans and onlookers that come with fame, he recognizes how relationships can easily become fraught in our current paradigm. His verse doesn’t necessarily connect to state sponsored violence in a direct fashion, making the words a bit harder to analyze. But it feels as though he’s making a statement that compares fraught relationships to a police state as two logical outcomes of a capitalistic, over-individualized society.

 I was searchin’ through my archives, reminiscin’, car rides

Thinkin’ ’bout how far I had come since a small fry

Fortunately I lost ties with niggas that had crossed sides

Unforgivin’, creates the vision like Apartheid

Thinkin’ ’bout my past life, my current one is all eyes

Addicted to the fast life, Porsches with the frog eyes

Cordae, on “Freeze Tag”

“Freeze Tag” might not be the most experimental of the bunch, opting for more calmly-satisfying chords. Kamasi Washington (tenor) and Terrace Martin (alto) each add a saxophone section, and Robert Glasper plays a pleasing piano, with a performance that feels like the backbone of the track, reflecting Cordae and Phoelix’s vocals with their piano-counterpart.

Washington and Martin play the saxophone in harmony, playing the same tune that Phoelix sings with on the chorus. The presence of each saxophone on this song adds a sorrowful emotional layer, as if they’re acknowledging the pain of being policed so severely more directly than their vocal counterparts. That’s not to say Cordae and Phoelix both don’t sing about this pain, but the saxophones on this song are just so powerful. 

The song’s video doesn’t necessarily add meaning to the song, but it does well to represent the themes at hand:

As the video starts, it displays a neighborhood of mostly Black individuals playing in the street, with hop-scotch and basketball. But when the children see the camera, they flee. This could be a commentary on surveillance and its intertwined role with policing. But as Phoelix’s uplifting vocals come into the mix and the camera pans onto a joyful cookout scene, the downtrodden feeling starts to fade. It’s a strong message addressing the power of message to display the beautiful areas of life when things can be looking down.

That’s what makes “Freeze Tag” a strong example of Black protest music — it acknowledges the pains of today, while looking forward to a more bountiful and hopeful future. The ringing, uplifting instrumental backdrop core with Cordae and Phoelix’s heart-baring lyrics make for an emotionally powerful track, one that can be read in conversations with any of the Black protest music canon’s signature songs.

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