Ben Harper, what you need to know about Call It What It Is

The release of the album Call It What It Is has sparked interest all over Europe. A good reason to retrace Ben Harper’s musical career.

American songwriter Ben Harper is touring many European countries – including Italy – to promote his latest album Call It What It Is, which he realised in a recording studio with his legendary band Innocent Criminals. It is the fourteenth album of his career.

Ben Harper’s early career

Ben Harper was born on 28 October 1969 in Claremont, in the US state of California. He inherited his artistic streak from his parents, who were musicians, firstly becoming an accomplished guitarist and then a singer-songwriter. His songs are often about social and environmental issues including those of his debut album Welcome to the cruel world, his most popular one, Diamonds on the inside, and the work realised with the Blind boys of Alabama, There will be a light, with which he won a Grammy Award for Best Gospel Album in 2004. He’s married with actress Laura Dern and has a son and a daughter: Ellery Walker and Jaya. For this reason, he appeared in a cameo in Inland Empire directed by David Lynch and starred by Dern.


Ben Harper
Ben Harper © Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for T.J. Martell Foundation

The social commitment

Like a king, a song of the debut album, is the first to openly talk about a social issue: the African American discrimination in the United States. The word king is a homage to Reverend Martin Luther King and his dream of extending civil rights to everybody, as well as Rodney King, the American taxi driver who died in 2012 and had been beaten without any reason in 1991 by Los Angeles Police Department officers, who had then been acquitted. This event caused revolts of discriminated minority groups in the US city and elsewhere.


Well Martin’s dream

Has become Rodney’s worst


Can’t walk the streets

To them we are fair game

Our lives don’t mean a thing


This topic was also discussed in the song named like the new album Call It What It Is that tells the story of eighteen-year-old Michael Brown who was shot dead on 9 August 2014 in Ferguson, US state of Missouri, by a white police officer. Brown was unarmed.


They shot him in the back

Now it’s a crime to be black

So don’t act surprised

When it gets vandalized

Call it what it is



The song is a reflection on random violence by the American police –  it killed just in 2015 three people a day – mostly against African American people. Before this album but after the debut one, he released Fight for your mind, which went gold and is full of songs and sounds reflecting his cultural baggage in a multi-ethnical musical context. The song Burn one down is one of the top ten songs broadcast by LifeGate in 2001.

What people say about Call It What It Is

Welcomed with no surprises by music critics Harper’s latest album has received positive comments mostly for its lyrics and quality: “It’s a welcome homecoming. Recorded in separate sessions spanning the course of a year, the 11-song set is his most diverse collection in years”, the Entertainment weekly reads. According to Allmusic “when he’s backed by the Innocent Criminals, Harper never seems to be trying too hard, and that’s why Call It What It Is is a cut above many of his records”.

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