But what such cutesy nicknames obscure is that R&B music—and black American culture more widely—has embraced fantasy, sci-fi, or other “nerdy” subcultural tropes more often than many people realize. From the space-travel fantasias of Sun Ra and George Clinton in the ’70s to the Wu-Tang Clan’s Shaolin kung-fu obsession in the ’90s to the present day—when 2012’s most widely acclaimed album, R&B singer Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange, includes a nine-minute odyssey imagining the ancient Egyptian empire reincarnated on the Las Vegas Strip— black musicians have drawn from the same wellsprings of imagination and popular culture as everyone else.
Well, yeah. Moreover, Black musicians have not just drawn on those wellsprings, they’ve replenished them as well. People like George Clinton or Sun Ra were not just influenced by fantasy or science fiction, they also composed their own epics. Clinton especially with his parliamentfunkadelicgroovethang was just as creative in developing their own cosmology as Jack Kirby was in developing his Fourth World. It’s just that these contributions often go unrecognised. Black geekdom, Black interest in science fiction and fantasy is still strange, still dangerous.