“See, this system is set up for us to lose,” Al Rogers deadpans, “Rebel and get through.” It’s not a line you’d immediately expect from a track like “Honey,” which starts off on a disarmingly chill (s)woozy funk groove, but it’s a reminder that even the most uplifting musicians often set their jams against heavy backgrounds.
Baltimore musician Al Rogers Jr. generally writes his songs from a self-identified posi perspective but on “Honey”, written during Baltimore’s recent uprisings, his light-footed flow carries the lived experience of structural inequality and police brutality. The track art is a photo by Baltimore street photographer Devin Allen taken during the riots of someone stomping through the windshield of a cop car and the refrain reminds listeners that “it ain’t sweet like honey, this life ain’t sweet like honey, no.”
About halfway through the track, Rogers sings, “Back to you Mr. Police / protect and to serve is what they told me / they whipped my cousin ass and that showed me / that I can’t trust none of y’all.” It’s a playful sing-song line but there’s nothing playful about the content, which recalls an incident in which cops assaulted Rogers’ cousin and tried to shoot him with a taser when he was barely twenty. In one of the deftest lines of the song, Rogers plays with the idea of “standing for” something, standing in solidarity with Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner by acknowledging, “I stand for / a pack of Skittles / a hoodie on my head / some stolen Phillies / or so you said / selling loose fugs / you choke me til I’m dead.” It’s a song written with healing in mind, but “Honey’ doesn’t hold back.