In the past, Gorillaz albums have orchestrated some truly batshit pairings of guest vocalists-- The Pharcyde’s Bootie Brown and the Children’s Youth Choir of San Fernandez on “Dirty Harry,” Mos Def and Bobby Womack on “Stylo,” De La Soul and Super Furry Animals’ Gruff Rhys on “Superfast Jellyfish”-- but this one might take the cake. On the just-released “Let Me Out,” none other than “Blowbama” himself, Pusha T, and soul music legend Mavis Staples share vocal duties.
As he should, King Push treats Ms. Staples with proper respect, calling her “Mama Mavis” in the song’s glitchy intro before launching into bars that inform the song’s paranoid vibe. Since Damon Albarn and Co. started sharing new tracks a couple of weeks ago, we’ve known that the cartoon band’s upcoming album, Humanz, is at least partially inspired by Donald Trump, Brexit, and the growing wave of white nationalism across all of Europe, but none of the previously-released songs address that theme quite as acutely as “Let Me Out.”
The song plays as a conversation between Push, the earthbound hustler, and Staples, an omnipotent observer from above. Lamenting Obama’s exit from the White House, Push begs to make it off the streets, not die at the hands of police, and not outlive his nephew and his niece, while Staples offers an ominous-if-optimistic answer: “You got to die a little if you wanna live/Change is coming, you best be ready for it.”
Staples lived through the civil rights era-- she’s seen this all before. Pusha is well versed in the horrors of the Reagan and Bush years, but even still, those pale in comparison to the untapped potential for terror during Trump’s reign.
“Let Me Out” is a cross-generational conversation that’s undoubtedly happened at dinner tables across America in the past six months: elders urging for perseverance and optimism while their offspring try to be positive, but stay alert and on edge until a change for the better actually comes.