Listen to this track by Chicago-born singer, dancer, author, actor, poet, activist, educator, and hip hop seed planter Camille Yarborough. It’s “But It Comes Out Mad”, the opening track to her 1975 album The Iron Pot Cooker. On this release, she mixes spoken word narratives mixed in with funk-soul grooves and impassioned singing, often cited as an influence to hip hop and to future R&B releases, mainly because it frames important aspects of the black experience in such an unflinching way.
Yarborough’s voice in the mainstream is possibly most recognized by the jubilant “Take Yo’ Praise”, famously sampled by Norman Cook under his Fatboy Slim moniker, and his monster dance hit “Praise You” from 1998, one of the most empowering dance tracks of that decade, with Yarborough’s voice being central. That original song of Yarborough’s is also full of victory and joy, a love song to one person, maybe, but also to be applied to an entire culture who had seen terrible adversity and had survived it; slavery, Jim Crow, civil rights.
To contrast that, “But It Comes Out Mad” is something of a balance to “Take Yo’ Praise” in that respect, starting off the album and setting a stark tone that goes more in depth about that same struggle on a more granular level.
By 1975, Camille Yarborough had an incredibly varied career behind her that included dance, theatre, and film and TV work. Her studies of black history, her personal relationships with authors and thinkers, and her personal experiences while touring in theatre companies drew her away from Hollywood. By the seventies, she had a lot to say about what it was to be black in America. She sought to be a cultural healer, which is what the title to the album means; iron pots where healing herbs are prepared.
If “Take Yo’ Praise” is the song about coming out of the other side of an ordeal, or at very least reaching the end of a trying journey, then this song is about still being stuck in the tunnel with no end in sight. “But It Comes Out Mad” comes from the point of view of a working mother with an unemployed husband who is slowly losing his sense of pride under a system that counts him out because he is black and poor. In this way, it’s a commentary on the systemic nature of racism, a complex set of issues that are as relevant today in many contexts as they were in 1975.
In addition to that political commentary about the more harrowing aspects of black experience, it’s also a love song, because it is a song of deep understanding. She “knows what kind of man he is”, and she knows that his anger would not be a part of who he is under other circumstances. But, those circumstances have changed him, and are keeping him from her, and she from him. When people are dehumanized, violence and anger are never far away. It all comes out as mad. There is no sense of contentment in this song, and no sense of safety that are found in standard love songs. The love expressed here is not about any of that. Instead, the love sung about here is tenacious and unromantic although no less passionate, intermingled in with strife, worry, and with feelings of helplessness.
To make this even more of a complicated set of dynamics, there is no absolute right or wrong answers on how to solve the problems raised. This song isn’t a defence against anger and violence in the home to be excused because of social pressures. It’s a personal story about forces in the lives of a family that erode relationships between people, and that make good people behave in ways they wouldn’t if they were only empowered to succeed, and not in constant economic danger.
To me, that’s what makes this song such a powerful statement. If this were just about a frustrated woman living with an unemployed and angry man unable to find a job because he is black, it would make for a compelling polemic on systemic racism. But this song isn’t about the system. It’s about the man. The fact that she still longs for him, wants to reach the man she knows him to be, and feels frustrated that all of that is out of her reach gives this song a beating heart. So, it’s about the woman, too. All of that in turn makes the issues this song brings up to be that much more striking, and heartbreaking. It humanizes the issues, restoring humanity to those who are casualties of them a result.
Camille Yarborough is an active artist, author, and educator today in many different fields. You can visit her official site at camilleyarbrough.com.
You can also read this biographical summary to learn more about her.