Sunday Music: Be Real Black For Me

Is it possible to have a chord progression following you around in life? Asking for a friend. By which I mean I’m asking for me. 

I have friends who see repeating numbers. I have friends who see eagles. I have friends who I see in repeating numbers and bald eagles in my own life. 

But somewhere along the line, in the midst of my obsessions with soulful chord progressions and sampling as an art form, I bumped into “Be Real Black for Me” by Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway. 

It’s a weird phrase. A widely sampled one.  And I think I’m finally starting to understand it. 

It doesn’t begin on the root chord. So it starts us in tension. On the minor ii actually – which is about as close to I-chord home as you can possibly get without being there, hence its inherent nostalgia. 

It quickly dances up, while the bass notes glide down, to the dominant V-chord, the farthest point from home a chord can get, reached in both directions (!), before landing. 

And the landing is oh so brief. 

Because we fade from I-chord major home, to vi-chord minor home. 

We don’t even do it in a soulful 4/4 or 6/8. It’s 7 beats. I count it as a measure of 3 and then a measure of 4 (or is it the other way around?). Drummers or music theory people who aren’t dusting off their brains for this exercise, help me out. 

All I know is all of it is irregular. 

We don’t start or end in the right place. We start with the right amount of beats and then drop it short. We don’t do anything we’re supposed to and yet it sounds and feels like everything it’s trying to say. 

Which is probably why people keep sampling it. 

Which is probably why I keep running into progressions that remind me of it. 

Which is probably why its themes of love, unification, and home are always tied to it lyrically. 

Damnit, I just love the sound of these chords so much. May they keep unveiling themselves to me. Whether or not they’re following, now I’m chasing.