Flashback: Black Men United, ‘U Will Know’

 

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.

Best of the Rest: Silk’s How Could You Say You Love Me

Silk Silk got a raw deal. They didn't have the flash of Jodeci, the soul of Intro or Playa, or the good guy doo wop harmonies of Boyz II Men or Shai. What they did have was a stellar lead singer in Gary Jenkins, whose church-reared vocals dominated every song. Silk's debut album, Lose Control, remains the only full album worth a damn in their catalog. 

But How Could You Say You Love Me, from their self-titled sophomore album, is probably my favorite Silk song.  It's not the best (that distinction is saved for If You), but it's so damn thrilling to listen to.  Gary's skills are on full display. The interplay between his voice and John-John's thinner, plaintive vocal make for a quiet storm masterpiece.

Songs like this don't get made much anymore because (rightly or wrongly) there is a sense that the dramatic elements are telegraphed in such a way as to be ingenuine. I don't necessarily agree with that assessment (at least not all the time). Here though the production is relatively subtle focusing mostly on the keys, allowing Gary's ability to sell any damn thing he's handed.

More:
Best of the Rest – Full List
Best of the Rest – Explained