The 1999 song “Bleed” by The Negro Problem has followed me around for several years now, hovering in the air and calling for attention for no obvious reason again and again. Several songs from this artist have struck me pretty strong, but this one in particular keeps working on my mind year after year.
I stumbled across this on the P2P networks, and was drawn in by the name of the act. What kind of music would come from an outfit called The Negro Problem? Enquiring minds need to know. Some clever black nationalist agitprop, perhaps? I was more or less expecting Public Enemy.
Turns out that this group is basically a front for a big burly black fellow name of Stew- which is all the more moniker I’ve ever known him to use. “Stew” works out well as a single name for him though, as in practice he’s something of a brooding, introspective singer-songwriter. He’s generally inwardly turned, and not that especially interested in politics, much less racial politics. He’s no more a negro problem than is Jackson Browne. “Irony” is his simple explanation for the name.
That inward oriented nature suggests the singer-songwriter moniker, but that’s really not quite right. Stylistically, the closest comparison would be Arthur Lee and Love, though not nearly so determinedly psychedelic or trippy.
I’ll take “Bleed” at least a little bit over any song by Love, though. I’ve liked Forever Changes enough to buy it a couple of times and listen to it for twenty years, but the tune of “Bleed” follows me around like nothing from Lee. Plus, the emotional current of this runs somehow a little deeper.
Lyrically, you could fault this a bit. I’m not 100% sure of the meaning of the words on paper. The downside of introspective lyrics is that they can run into being insular or self-absorbed past the point of making sense to anyone else. Think Tori Amos.
Stew’s not quite that far out, though. He seems to be re-approaching an old girlfriend, against either his or her better judgment- I’m not quite sure which. He wants to “make a silly error twice,” but the main practical part of the words casts him as the goat,
Start your engine
But don’t forget to mention
To your friend that I need work
Don’t remind her I’m a jerk
In any case, it makes total sense as he sings it. It’s a gentle lament, a comforting force frequently rising from memory in quiet moments.
I hesitate to use the obvious word and say that I’m haunted by the song, though. cause that doesn’t seem quite right. “Bleed” isn’t ephemeral, floating on the breeze like a disembodied spirit. Rather, it’s a sharp, precise professionally crafted melody that cuts right through and makes a precise, complete statement.
By way of illustrating his professional mindset, note that Stew takes songwriting commissions. You can contact him through his Yahoo group, and commission him to write and record what he promises to be a “beautiful” song about your boyfriend or grandma or whomever, based on personalized details you provide.
One last clue as to his artistic mindset: His email id is “afrobaroque.” Quite right.