Friday, November 6th, 2020

Stevie Wonder ft. Rapsody, Cordae, Chika & Busta Rhymes – Can’t Put It in the Hands of Fate

Always dreamed you’d leave in November…


Alfred Soto: Of course it’s “awkward” — in this case a description, not criticism. The percussion track boasts a lively shuffle, up to Rapsody’s precision and complementing Busta’s prose-not-poetry. Shit’s so bad that this eternal optimist wants to substitute “God” for fate: an impossibility even during the “You Haven’t Done Nothin'” era. I’m not sure whom this is “for,” so let’s say for those who most need to vote.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: Of the five vocalists here, the 70-year-old Stevie Wonder sounds the most dialed-in — everyone else, Busta Rhymes especially, is definitely contributing sub-par work. But Stevie himself is still enough of a vocal and compositional force to make “Can’t Put It in the Hands of Fate” relatively tolerable among the mass of vote-and-protest songs that have popped up since June. Yet even the joy of hearing new political Stevie is tempered — if you want to hear Stevie Wonder spur you into political action, why not just listen to something from the 70s?

Juana Giaimo: In times when music is all about dark trap beats and basslines, this very relaxed, organic instrumentation hits different, especially as it’s a protest song. Rapsody and Cordae open up with straightforward and powerful rap verses and then Stevie Wonder comes in with his very soulful voice to create a nice contrast. Unfortunately, it is a little bit too long and that energy from the beginning is slowly lost towards the end. There are maybe too many artists (Chika only appears for a few seconds!) and I’m not into Busta Rhymes’ tossing in rap lines in the chorus. 

Nortey Dowuona: A smooth, plush drum groove is circled by bongos. Rap slides in snarling, then Cordae awkwardly stumbles on the slinking bass, sweet harmonica and string plucks, before Stevie croons gorgeously about the fuckery, switches up the bass and adds absolutely wonderful keys and chorus harmonies to it. It slides back into the groove with Busta returning, chanting in his roar, and Chika smashing through the wires, SPITTING ACID. “JUSTICE,” snarls Busta, as he slips and shakes and crows, “CAN’T PUT IT IN THE HANDS OF FATE! AIN’T NOBODY GOT TIME TO WAIT!” Then, finally, the chant rings out over the groove and it stops.

Thomas Inskeep: Riding a go-go rhythm (surprising), Wonder hands over the opening of “Hands of Fate” to verses from Rapsody and Cordae before coming in with his own harmonica — still unmistakably his. He then sings of protests, dropping a necessary, well-placed f-bomb; Busta plays sideman-slash-hypeman; a Wonderific choir chimes in; Chika and Busta drop their own verses. No one will confuse this with Wonder’s greatest works, but it’s solid, urgent, and needed right now, and I’m glad it’s here.

Tim de Reuse: I thought: you know, it’s cheesy, and it could be more incisive, but it’s nice to have something celebratory and sincere speak to the present moment for once. Nothing wrong with a 90’s chant-along protest song once in a while! Then, I thought: gee, this is still going? It must be over soon; it said all it was ever going to say in the first two and a half minutes already. Let me just tab over and check on the duration — oh, dear.

Andy Hutchins: Stevie hasn’t released an album since the Bush Administration, and had only released two official singles since Obama’s election: one was explicitly written about the 2008 election and ended up on an album released in conjunction with the 2009 Inaugural Committee; the other was produced by Ryan Tedder and Benny Blanco, appeared on the Sing soundtrack, and is bizarrely restrained for a song with Motown DNA and Stevie and Ariana Grande sharing the vocals. When a protest song by Wonder in 2020 features him sounding so, so tired — a perfect “I don’t believe the fuck you do” rejoinder to All Lives Matter can’t make up for the otherwise repetitive lyric, the harmonica almost sounds chintzy, and the vocals are thin — it’s hard to blame a genius too much for being out of practice. More worrying is that Rapsody and (especially) Cordae find pockets quickly only to get a total of 20 bars; when the often-electric Chika and legendary Busta show up, minutes later, they split a 16, and the former is forgettable while the latter rattles off names without enough time to truly honor those who bore them. And then there’s the awkwardness of Obama-era spirit in the dying days of the Trump regime: “Fate” waves a banner; except for Stevie, everyone involved would be better off sounding as though they were brandishing torches.

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