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.
The sad thing is that H-Town, K-Ci and Lingerie all sound really good. It’s just that they are singing a really really really bad song that isn’t the least bit sexy or sensual – and yet they really seem to think it is.
Putting aside the abomination of covering such a classic, this video calls to mind something Frank Leon Roberts wrote regarding the Omarion/BowWow "relationship":
I think the nonchalance of their union speaks to a larger—and truly unprecedented—-moment in post-1960s black popular culture where black men are being given a space to perform versions of masculinity and kinship that do not have to adhere with the violent, hypermasculinist models popularized by mid-nineties hip hop culture.
…because, this is the "gayest" video I've seen in a long time.
And I mean that respectfully.
There's something liberating about how increasingly comfortable black men are with disrupting our notions of what black masculinity is. In this video, we see an unapologetic display of "black gayness" on a level to which we just haven't seen before. The video's images are revelatory in their unvarnished celebration of young men showing off their bodies. This is not the floss of straight black men who preen for women.
This is self-affirmation that reminds me of the swag of a young ball kid.
There is no irony, no catching someone doing a 'gay-like' dance "on accident," no pretense whatsoever. The close-ups of one of the guys poppin and grindin his hips is something you'd see in any black gay club, but rarely see in such a prominent way in corporate black pop.
And there are practically no women. Pretty Ricky themselves are the object of the video. As objects, they are comfortably "queering" the male gaze. And it's noticeable (check the comments on the video, over 500 in just 6 days).
In this respect, I think this video marks significant progress in problematizing dominant narratives of black masculinity.
For that, Pretty Ricky are to be congratulated.
Will Smith apparently told the media that he and Jada have talked about having an open relationship.
I'm deeply fascinated.
Again, we have the most prominent black married couple talking about a radical shift in their relationship. A radical break from conventional norms.
Our perspective is, you don't avoid what's natural and you're going to be attracted to people.
I think this is important because Will is pretty clear that he and Jada make a distinction between a marriage and a sexual relationship. In their minds, those are two different things.
I think its amusing that we talk about how humans are one of the few animals on the planet that have sex for pleasure and then in the same breath say that monogamy is natural. For me, those two statements are contradictory because we understand fidelity to be about sex (or rather, an equation of sex with love, which to me is specious).
…and other stuff.
Ultimately, I think this is an affirmation of the love they share. I like that they talk about these things. I like how they seem to acknowledge the sexuality they share and also acknowledge that there is sexuality that is separate, that lies outside convention.
And I don't think these conversations are anywhere near as harmonious as the news article suggests. I bet they've argued. I bet Jada's Baltimore came out and I bet Will took it back to Philly a bit.
I bet it took time to get to a place where they both agree on this (whether they act on this agreement or not is not all that important to me).
I am enjoying this glimpse into how grown ass loving black folks cope with their complicated sexualities.