Ben Harper Scrutinizes Slavery’s Long-Lasting Wounds on ‘We Need to Talk About It’

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Ben-Harper.-New-York-City-April-29-2022.-Photograph-by-Michael-Halsband-2022.-All-RIghts-Reserved_BP0A0787 - Credit: Michael Halsband
Ben-Harper.-New-York-City-April-29-2022.-Photograph-by-Michael-Halsband-2022.-All-RIghts-Reserved_BP0A0787 - Credit: Michael Halsband

Ben Harper bluntly addresses the deep-seated and longstanding wounds of slavery on his new song, “We Need to Talk About It.” The track will appear on Harper’s next album, Bloodline Maintenance, set to arrive July 22 via Chrysalis Records.

“We Need to Talk About It” boasts a potent blend of gospel, funk, and blues, with Harper singing back-and-forth with a choir over a steady groove of rumbling percussion and wobbling guitar licks. Towards the end of the song, Harper’s clear-eyed lyrics — “How does a ghost forgive… How are we supposed to live/With 12 million taken/Not one single reparation” — are punctuated with a fierce reply from the choir: “We need to talk about it.” 

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“Silence and stillness are the enemy of progress. Racial inequity in America is not an accident, but by design and it’s time for an honest and historically holistic reconstruction of the way we approach race and racial diversity in America,” Harper tells Rolling Stone, noting the song’s arrival ahead of Juneteenth. “This is the moment. If we are to sincerely celebrate Juneteenth at its core definition, which is ending slavery, we must level the playing field once and for all, starting with eradicating black student debt along with a separate black interest rate and tax bracket.”

“We Need to Talk About It” is the first offering from Bloodline Maintenance, which will follow Harper’s 2020 solo lap steel album, Winter Is For Lovers. In the years since that LP, he’s released a handful of singles, including “If Ever,” “Spin It Faster,” and “He Was a Friend of Mine,” the latter featuring singer-songwriter Tom Freund.

On top of prepping Bloodline Maintenance, Harper has a busy year of touring ahead of him, with dates scheduled throughout Europe in July and August. In September, he’ll play a handful of West Coast shows before opening up for Harry Styles during his lengthy residency at the Kia Forum in Los Angeles, Oct. 23 through Nov. 15.

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