Folk singer/songwriter Tracy Chapman stormed the music world in 1988 with her gritty, heartfelt self-titled debut album. The record spawned several singles, most notably the No. 6 hit “Fast Car.” Though Chapman followed up her debut rather quickly with 1989’s Crossroads, most had already abandoned their spot in Chapman’s car by the time the LP hit shelves.
At the time Crossroads was released, Chapman’s music was being heavily criticised for not sounding like the music being played on R&B radio stations. While white dominated media (MTV, VH-1) welcomed Chapman, black radio stations overwhelmingly distanced themselves from her music. In a vain attempt to break through to the African-American community, Elektra Records took out a full-page ad in Billboard that read: “Black music is more than rhythm & blues. There’s a whole generation standing at the Crossroads. Deliver the message.”
In an interview with Time, Chapman addressed the issue head-on, saying: “There are people who have gone so far as to say that I’m not Black or part of the Black musical tradition. I think the reason I don’t get played on Black radio stations is because I don’t fit into their present format. And they’re not willing to make space for me.
“I’m upset by what has been said because it doesn’t speak well of black people. You know, it basically says black people don’t respond to music in a cerebral manner to music, and that’s just not true.”
When Crossroads was released in October of 1989, the album, which featured contributions from Marc Cohn and Neil Young, was met with little fanfare. The lead single and title track peaked at a disappointing number ninety on the The Billboard Hot 100.
Despite this lack of interest from the general public, the album remains one of my all-time favorites. The record touches on several topics, including adversity and social oppression. My favorite song on the record is the simple “All That You Have Is Your Soul.” The lyrics and acoustic arrangement work in unison to elevate the song into something that will always hold relevance – something that will transcend time. No passage of time will ever chip away at the simple truth of the song.
Don’t be tempted by the shiny apple. Don’t you eat of a bitter fruit. Hunger only for a taste of justice. Hunger only for a world of truth. ‘Cause all that you have is your soul.
Tracy Chapman has been quiet since the release of her last studio album Our Bright Future (2008). I can only hope she is working on new music for a big comeback. It wouldn’t be the first time she reemerged without warning. I, for one, will be eagerly awaiting her return.
Jet Magazine – March 26, 1990: “Criticism Of Her Music By Blacks ‘Upsets’ Chapman”
Phoenix New Times – May 16, 1990: “Not For Whites Only. Tracy Chapman Gets Back To Black”