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.

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