If the sound of Beyoncé’s similarly sonically adventurous Renaissance whetted your appetite for challenging, demanding soul, then Brittany Parks’ latest could be just what you’re looking for
Back in 2019, Brittany Parks aka Sudan Archives‘ debut album Athena was an exciting shot in the arm. Mixing RnB loops with her trademark violin (which she’d learnt to play herself by ear), Athena was a wild mix of genres, throwing pretty much everything in the mix to make the listener excited to see where she’d go next.
Three years later, and Parks has repeated the trick. Natural Brown Prom Queen, like Athena before it, is a head-spinning mix of RnB, hip-hop, funk and disco with some classical elements thrown in as well. At 18 tracks, and nearly 55 minutes long, it sometimes becomes almost exhausting to listen to, but there’s no doubting the creative genius on display.
Parks’ violin is less obvious this time around, but it’s skilfully mixed into many of the tracks on Natural Brown Prom Queen. The initial impression though is one of giddy exhilaration – most obviously on early tracks like NBPQ (Topless), a 100mph dash through Parks’ life story (“Let me tell y’all about this girl Sudan, she had a great big heart and a real big smile”) before ending with a chant of “I just wanna have my titties out… titties out, titties out”.
ChevyS10 is similarly breathtaking, managing to reference both Tracy Chapman‘s Fast Car and Notorious B.I.G.‘s Going Back To Cali in a smooth synth track that gradually unveils its majesty over six minutes. OMG Britt employs trap rhythms while Milk Me is, as the title would suggest, pretty much a filthy sex ballad, featuring lyrics that would make Ariana Grande blush.
Carnality is also addressed on Freakalizer (“These hormones are making me horny, and the full moon is driving me crazy”), while the languid Homesick (Gorgeous & Arrogant) sees Parks asking “When you goin’ give me some D, I just want the D-I-C-K”. It shouldn’t sound bold and refreshing in 2022 to hear a woman sing about sex in such a way, but it somehow is here.
Another highlight is Selfish Soul, a naggingly catchy track where Parks’ violin is at the fore, discussing Eurocentric beauty standards, and how black women should wear their hair. TDLY (Homegrown Land) also demonstrates Parks’ ability on the violin, while mixing in intricate handclaps and subtle beats – like a lot of the tracks on Natural Brown Prom Queen, it’s so intricately crafted that it takes a couple of listens for its majesty to be truly revealed.
At times, it does feel a bit exhausting – at nearly an hour, it’s a sprawling album which arguably tries to cram a bit too much into its running time. Some of the minute-long interludes scattered about (such as the squelchy-bass featuring It’s Already Done) slow down the momentum sometimes, and maybe a bit of crafty editing would have produced an even more powerful work.
Yet, there’s more invention and creativity stuffed into Natural Brown Prom Queen’s 54 minutes than there are on most albums released recently. If the sound of Beyoncé‘s similarly sonically adventurous Renaissance whetted your appetite for challenging, demanding soul, then Sudan Archives’ latest could be just what you’re looking for.