There are so many small pleasures in this song that grab me. The first time the hook comes in and you hear these amazing voices in harmony. The depth and power of Gerald Levert and Christopher Williams ("it _taint_easayyyy"). The stunning clear tones of Joe and Brian McKnight. The absolutely devastingly beautiful performance of R. Kelly, who takes that moment – "woo hoo" – to let the message sink in.
But it's Raphael Saadiq and McKnight who choke me up every single time:
And then I got stronger
And tired of the pain
That’s when I picked up the pieces
And I regained my name
I love the vulnerability of the couplet- "That's when I picked up the pieces/And I regained my name." It's the heart of the song for me. It's the moment that the song reveals itself to be more than an anthem. It's empathy for black male brokenness makes the whole thing work so that when you hear "you must act like a man" it doesn't feel like judgment. It's recognition. And I regained my name.
The song is hopeful of course, but that undercurrent of profound sadness actually makes its anthemic qualities resonate more deeply. It's literally the struggle to be a whole, healthy black man in song.