Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Ain't Nobody Coming to See Mr. Biggs

Easter Sunday night we were treated to one of the best Verzuz battles to date, and I am saying that although I know that there are a few that I intentionally skipped (which many of you declared to be the best to date). But I am going to declare and decree that the showdown between the Isley Brothers and Earth, Wind, and Fire was definitely, without question, not up for discussion or debate, THEE G.O.A.T!

And I am saying that in spite of Steve Harvey doing the extra most in trying to act like this really was a reunion of his silly little High Tops from his eponymous sitcom. If someone hadn't told him to set down to let the professionals handle their business, he was this close to singing a verse of Break Me Off A Piece, because that is just how lit he was in the midst of all that collective greatness on stage.

Not that I blame him. That match up was legendary, even though both groups are down to the remaining few still living. The spirit of Maurice White and several long gone Isleys blessed us with the kind of show that we will still be talking about years from now. We will remember that it was the second Easter Sunday we spent on lockdown (well, some of us), and how we initially wondered if this really was a fair match-up or was it just our nostalgia. What I thought would be a nice diversion to help calm some of my anxieties for the big week ahead turned out to be the music event of the year. Nevermind that some of us needed to be on our computers early Monday morning for work. Or that for those of us on the East Coast, that joint kept us up well past our bedtime. We're not as young as we think we are, especially if you could sing along to most of the songs.

So it pains me to offer this ginormous BUT in contradiction to my earlier declaration. That joint was fire, BUT the appearance of Mr. Biggs nearly ruined it for me. 

Yeah, I said it. Perhaps it was the reminder of what can happen if a family gathering lasts a little too long. Somebody had a little too much brown liquor, said a little too much by bringing up some ancient sore point of contention that causes cards getting thrown, insults being hurled, names getting called, and threats being made. The party then comes to an abrupt end, with one set of folks cussing and fussing on the way to their cars, while the other folks are still in the house waiting for them mofos to leave. Later  when your Mama is emptying ashtrays, and picking up cards and broken glass, she mutters that damn Mr. Biggs is why we can't have nice things.

Uncle Ron. He's the one with four ex-wives, an untold number of children, and who still drives a Cadillac. He's the one who brings the Hennessy and his own deck of cards. Attached to every song is a memory of some woman in some city, and we enjoy hearing it all, even if half of what he says is suspect. He is that dude who has genuinely lived 9 whole lives, so he has seen it all. His alter ego is Mr. Biggs, that mofo who owes your Daddy $4000 for some trouble he got into a few years ago, but your Dad won't ask for his money because Biggs has repaid him in other intangible ways. He often shows up unannounced and uninvited because of the shit he started the last time y'all all got together.

To be clear, the rest of your uncles are also colorful characters. Uncle Verdine comes with much drama and flamboyance, but will cut anybody who says something about it. Uncle Phil can't hit those high notes like he used to and he knows it, but let him clear his throat and try anyway. Uncle Ralph the righteous church deacon, is always on time and always mediating disputes. Uncle Ernie, the baby Isley, is a creative genius who will definitely shoot if someone pisses him off. Uncle Steve isn't really your uncle, but you call him that out of respect. Cousin Derrick (D-Nice) is allowed to hang with them as long as he don't try to get cute and play that hippy hop that Uncle Steve don't like. Your other cousins are there too, Kasseam (Swizz Beatz) and Timbaland, because they organized the entire event and posted it on Instagram.

There is always love for Uncle Ron. In spite of his shenanigans, he is Da Man. He didn't come to play as evidenced by that costume change that the other Uncles were not expecting. That's why Uncle Phil looked salty and was furiously texting his people, why didn't anybody tell me? I got closets full of dashikis I can still wear, dammit! Uncle Ralph was unphased, and Uncle Verdine doesn't do costume changes. Meanwhile, Uncle Ron was just grinning and thinking, y'all thought I was doing the most with that coat...

Here is my issue with Mr. Biggs--he is Stripe, the Gremlin that unleashed havoc on the world because somebody fed him after midnight. Mr. Biggs was the creation of one Robert Kelly, the creepy disgraced cousin that we cannot re-invite to the family functions because he ain't right. Mr. Biggs is abusive, controlling, and a misogynist (go on back an revisit those old videos). He is a pimp, and in 2021, nothing is sadder than a mean, delusional dirty old man.

This isn't about respectability, but it is about respect for women as people and not accessories or possessions. The women who were cooing over Uncle Ron's 79 year old ass and fantasizing about him crooning those classic Isley Brother love songs directly to them. The women who would have brought him a plate, refreshed his drinks without being asked, and who would have made sure he got home safely. The women that take care of his business, his children, and grandchildren. The women, like Mama, who clean up after his shit. Those women do not deserve that Mr. Biggs machismo. Those women would not be caught creeping like those young girls he had no business messing with anyway. And those young girls kept stepping out because Mr. Biggs was an old fool too full of himself to make better choices.

So as iconic as Mr. Biggs thought he was, that isn't how Ronald Isley deserves to be remembered. As Uncle Verdine said, a true match-up of back and forth battling could take up to ten hours, given that there are 110+ years of combined material between them. The Isleys are bona fide music icons, so this notion that R. Kelly reintroduced them to a new generation of fans is over-stated. I would argue that the Isley collaboration worked more to Kelly's benefit. Our Boomer parents raised us on the Quiet Storm and Saturday morning oldies, where the Isleys remain in steady rotation. And then we turned around and heavily sampled their music in 90s era hip hop, which our younger Millennial cousins heard on a regular basis. So when Uncle Ron said that he was singing baby-making music, he was...but them babies is grown with grandkids now. 

And there shall be no sleeping on the Elements, who pretty much created their own musical lane that is beyond what anybody else can ever attain. Their music transcends category. They branched out and did all kinds of different things over the years, but they were always grounded (Earth), spiritual (Wind), and passionate (Fire). We all have some great moment of joy connected to an EWF song. As Uncle Steve reminded us, every HBCU band has In the Stone in their repertoire. Three dudes carry on the legacy of the musical genius that was Maurice White, whom they respect so much that unlike other groups that replace the members that die or quit, they are content to perform as backup in his memory. That is a different kind of devotion right there.

When these Verzuz duels began last year, it was a novel concept to pit two producers or artists/groups against each other as entertainment during this never-ending pandemic lockdown. Radio deejays have been doing these virtual match-ups for years, but it was something new to have the artists themselves on hand to select the songs for battle. It was great to hear their stories and to see their interactions, which have been mutual love and respect. The backdrop of the pandemic has been a necessary, yet bittersweet reminder that we may never get to see some of these legends live in concert again. This has been an entire year of our lives and theirs, with no guarantees of what the future holds. Who would have thought that Mary Wilson of the Supremes would suddenly be gone, or that Tina Turner would feel the need to offer such an emotional farewell documentary? So while Teddy Riley was absolutely doing the most last year during his first attempt at battling Babyface, in hindsight, we now know how vital these opportunities have been for all of us.

For instance when Gladys Knight and Patti Labelle were teamed up last fall, all of our jokes about which Auntie makes the best mac and cheese or potato salad missed the point. They FED us, and then brought Dionne Warwick out with her special lemon cake that nobody can make like hers. Do you hear me--that wasn't even some exclusive awards show with tributes and highlights, just a regular Sunday dinner table full of blessings set with love...for free! Ron and Ernie Isley said we fittin to wear these new Easter suits, and no, I'm not shaving (smart move, seeing how y'all been sizing him up). Uncle Phil didn't say a word for two weeks because he was saving his voice. Uncle Verdine got his touch-up done early on Easter Saturday, got it expertly wrapped, and then spent the rest of the day deciding on the accessories to wear with his ensemble. Steve Harvey got so hungover he won't be back on the air until Wednesday...

Oh yeah, my point was to reassure Uncle Ron that we love him. Please let that Mr. Biggs nonsense go because everything else you did was already on the level of legendary. The Beatles remade your song. We remember how you had to let Michael Bolton's stringy hair ass know not to steal from them Isley Brothers. Creepy Cousin Robert is not welcome around here no more, so let him use that shtick in jail. Ain't nobody coming to see Mr. Biggs!

We're coming to see good, feed-your-soul music. We're coming to see the kind of dream show that we would gladly have paid good government stimulus money on because that was epic! It was beautiful to see the Elements sing with the Isleys as if this was one of those family reunions where both sides of the family finally came together to celebrate after so many years. The only thing that would have made that battle more perfect would have been a special appearance by a couple of Aunties, such as Deniece Williams or the remaining Emotions (just dreaming out load). Nah, I'm good with what we got, which was damn near perfect.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

The Old Town Road to Hell

Look, I am not going to take up too much of your time, but can we settle this Lil Nas X thing real quick so that I can go back to Busy Black Momming (planning the Kid's 6th Birthday Party)? Because Old Town Road is staying on the party playlist...

I saw Montero. I wrote a Facebook post about Montero which I subsequently edited to clarify that while I was definitely clutching my pearls (like any respectable Busy Black Church Lady would), I was not condemning him for making Montero. Because I got the message, especially as a life-long hat-wearing Busy Black Church Lady who grew up recognizing the hypocrisy of inconsistent and morally selective Christian doctrine. Therefore, I won't take up too much of your time by providing my laundry list of examples. And before you point out how it might be ironic that I am now in that minority of regular church-going Believers, I assure you that is because I have lived long enough to understand why the old folks admonished us to get to know Jesus for ourselves. As such, I have determined that my friend Jesus probably would not approve of Call Me By My Name, but as someone who overturned tables and cursed folks out in the Temple...He ain't casting stones.

When I watched Lil Nas X slide that fireman's/stripper pole down yonder, my eyes popped out for a moment. When the serpent licked his crotch in the Garden, my hand went over my mouth as I audibly gasped. When I read that he also released a pair of limited edition sneakers with a drop of blood in the sole, I laughed out loud because even satanic same gender loving sex sells!

Yes, it was provocative, but that was exactly the point. He posted a bunch of explanatory tweets and allegedly apologized, but then he also promised his followers a 12-pack pair of Hanes socks if his song went to number one, so who knows when he's being sincere or when he's trolling? Because let's be honest, he is popular, so he's just doing what every other marginally talented performer in the past has done, which is ride this gimmick until he can't no more.

Folks are actually out here on Blue Ivy's internet complaining about the bad example he's setting for their children. Ummm, he ain't nobody's Daddy (as far as we know). We've done this before with other artists who have made the transition from the Mickey Mouse Club to hot young thang. The easiest examples to cite are Britney Spears and Miley Cyrus, and yes, y'all lost your minds over their embrace of their sexuality too, but you got over it. When New Edition broke up and there was Bell Biv Devoe singing Do Me Baby on one side and Bobby Brown Humping Around on the other, we just kept on dancing. Brandy sang about how she Wanna Be Down and Usher released an entire album of Confessions admitting to his f*ck boi tendencies. Back in my day, Madonna burst onto the scene singing Like A Virgin and there were a lot of comparisons to Cyndi Lauper who just wanted to have fun (without specifying what fun really was in the middle of the night). Michael Jackson was hanging out at Studio 54 and singing about a groupie named Billie Jean whom he denied impregnating. Are we forgetting this?

The only difference I see is that Lil Nas X is gay, but I don't recall he was ever in the closet, so his orientation has never been a secret. It isn't like Elton John where folks had the nerve to be full blown shocked despite numerous hints and clues over the years. Lil Nas just saved you the trouble of speculation, except for the meaning of Panini, which I might be taking too literally. This is just his version of Control. A typical coming-of-age Miley astride a wrecking ball naked or Britney dancing with a snake level stunt. He's legal and twerking a CGI version of himself as the devil. Shrug.

No, it doesn't offend me that he used to perform for kids, even appearing on Sesame Street. So did Lin-Manuel Miranda before he did Hamilton (and none of these kids listen to the clean version of that soundtrack or the mix-tape). A bunch of artists have gone on Sesame Street and adapted their songs for that audience, and when they returned to their adult fan base and switched things back, y'all knew how to apply the appropriate parental filters. How is this different?

Isn't this why Tipper Gore advocated for warning labels on music before her not really ex-husband invented the internet? So that you would listen/watch before exposing your children to possibly objectionable content. If it is a hit dance song, there is probably is a clean version via Kidz Bop, Just Dance, or Radio Disney or you can just avoid it altogether. That is one of your fundamental, inalienable rights as a parent. To pre-view and decide that Katy Perry running around after Elmo in a low-cut skating outfit is too much, while Nick Jonas serenading polygon shapes seductively is perfectly fine.

You get to make those decisions. Remember how you used to watch soap operas with Grandma and she would send you to another room during a sex scene? Or when your Dad ignored the film rating because he thought that a movie with Richard Pryor and a bunch of kids would be okay? Or how you got into trouble because you called that 976 number you saw posted on a telephone pole and got an earful (and didn't know that it cost money per minute, so you got in trouble twice)? Well, you are the parent now. This is part of your job, and with all of these tools that our parents did not have access to, I am confused why y'all seem so unprepared and inept at this.

And do not make the excuse that things are much worse now than they were when we were kids. They aren't. We saw plenty of inappropriate, homoerotic stuff that in hindsight went way over our heads like pro-wrestling or an episode of He-Man. You are worried about near-apocalyptic imagery but never raised an eyebrow when the bad guys had their faces melted off in Raiders of the Lost Ark. At least now you have social media to warn you in advance of what you might otherwise have inadvertently seen or heard.

Please tell me you aren't more horrified by a stylized three minute music video fantasy than the actual real-life horror of watching a 9 minute video of a man being killed on camera. 

That's all I need to say. Even if I did miss the real meaning of Old Time Road, it is actually comical to me that people are this upset (because the Kidz Bop version is much worse). Your grandparents were tripping on acid when they first heard Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds or really blazed when listening to Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin (yep, that's the real title). Y'all expected Lil Nas X, the neon rhinestone S&M cowboy to be ambiguous and safe like Sam Smith. In the year 2021, what in the RuPaul's Drag Race kind of foolishness is that?

PS: Y'all know how to Google, so that's why I'm not linking to Montero.