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.
I hadn't been able to articulate why R. Kelly's two-album retro excursion, which has culminated in the just-released (and very lovely) Write Me Back, is superior in every. single. way. to Raphael Saadiq's similar two-album experiment.
Until I saw the video for R.'s latest single, "Feelin Single."
Since Tank is mired in adult contemporary schlock, Ginuwine has lost his verve, and Usher is determined to be a Europop dance king and chase the millennials' dollars, I've been paying particular attention to young brothas who are doing R&B hoping to find someone that could feel that void that those three brothas have left behind.
I am endlessly fascinated with the way the record-buying public views Nas with a mixture of amusement and indifference. Unlike Kweli or Mos or Common or Tip, something about Nas's overtly political and heartfelt messages doesn't connect even though he's a better emcee by half.
I say this because as usual people don't really like Nas' new song.
I have said this a lot, but it bears repeating: Teedra Moses is the hottest chick in the R&B game. She's the one taking all of black musical history and updating it for the new millennium in a fresh and totally interesting way. No one else in her lane even comes close and y'all keep sleepin on her.
Trust, whoever else you are listening to, Teedra is better.