SongWriter is a podcast of stories and “answer songs,” featuring performances by Roxane Gay, Joyce Carol Oates, Ted Leo, Susan Orlean, Toshi Reagon, and Michael Ian Black. You can hear an exclusive preview of the episode featuring Ben Sollee and James Lindsey at Noisetrade.
In the new episode of SongWriter cellist and environmental activist Ben Sollee tells a story about discovering that his family sold their ancestral property for strip-mining, and songwriter and rapper James Lindsey performs a song he wrote in response called “Hoop Sessions.” I talked with James about his creative process.
Ben Arthur: What was your first reaction to Ben Sollee’s story?
James Lindsey: His story was about privilege and tradition and family, right? And I wanted to talk about broken traditions, broken families and systematic oppression. That’s why I couldn’t necessarily write a song about heritage and these things because, for one, I can only trace my heritage back so far before I have no idea where it’s from. It’s hard to talk about tradition and two hundred years of culture and all these things. It’s like, I can’t do that…so I had to stick to my piece.
Arthur: So where did you start?
Lindsey: I just started thinking about my family dynamic, and how I grew up, and how that made me who I am today. I grew up in a neighborhood called North Fork. It’s just like five or six streets. We had a corner store, a liquor store, a record store, everything was there. But the other thing that we had that was smack dab in the middle of our neighborhood was a basketball court. It’s one of those places where you can get out your anger, your angst, but at the same token it’s a safe place for us, too, you know? You don’t hear about kids getting shot by a police officer at a basketball court.
Arthur: Your song talks about how that court meant a lot to you and your friends.
Lindsey: There’s, like, a brotherhood. You feel like someone understands you because they’re going through it, too. I can remember all the women in the neighborhood, but I don’t remember any fathers. All of my friends, we all shared that common bond. All of my friends that I played basketball with, I never met their fathers. You go to so-and-so’s house, you notice their mom answers the door. You notice that their mom always answers the door. I remember we would go to our boy Tyrone’s crib and it was so fun to us because we would play basketball with Tyrone and it was so positive and great. And the best part about it was his dad was around. His dad would come out and his dad would play basketball with us. So for that little inkling we would get the sense of, “Wow, so this is what having a dad is like. This is a beautiful thing.”
Arthur: And now you’re a father yourself—that must be intense.
Lindsey: Literally while I was writing this my son was in my arms. And I can’t wait to be a father for him. I will not let him be that kid at the park, like, “Man, where’s my dad at?” It’s wild, me, him, and my dad were all born four days apart. And, I mean, I will say that I have a great relationship with my father now, but for [the song] I tapped into the emotions of 13-year-old James.
You can hear “Hoop Sessions,” and the story that inspired it by Ben Sollee at SongWriter.