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Baker's Dozen

Beauty From Trauma: Paul Mendez' Favourite Music
Paul Flynn , October 7th, 2020 08:40

Pop is all over Rainbow Milk, the Gordon Burn Prize-nominated debut novel by Paul Mendez. Here he tells Paul Flynn how a love of Marvin Gaye, Beyonce, Solange, Joy Division and Missy Elliott gave him a clearer understanding of his sexuality and racial identity

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Mary J Blige – My Life
That Mary is so key to the book surprised me. I didn’t realise that she was so important for me. This is the thing. When I was growing up, I always loved Beyonce, from the first Destiny’s Child song I heard. But that kind of clean, poppy, melismatic style of singing, where she’s got the power but also the poise, I judged everyone on. When I first listened to Mary, I thought she couldn’t really sing because she doesn’t do all that. I just thought she was screaming. It wasn’t until I got older that I realised the premium that we can put on someone who uses the voice as an instrument, who can express pain and longing in such a raw, bold way. With Mary, it happens in real time. This record traces her addictions and depression. Every track is so good. The mid-90s R&B landscape was incredible. SWV, X-Scape, Zhané, Brandy, Adina Howard. The boybands: 112, Soul4Real, Jodeci. It was as if the whole Motown operation had been lifted out of the 60s and transplanted into a new place. The quality of the song-writing was so high.

My Life was the perfect combination of Mary, the voice, the chemistry between her and Puffy and everything she was going through. It’s art that comes out of personal trauma, which is a defining key to my musical taste. I can hear it.