For My Strong Brotha
In Angie Stone’s 2001 hit “Brotha” she proclaimed,
“Black brotha, I love ya and I will never- try to hurt ya I want ya, to know that, I’m here for you, forever true ‘Cause you’re my black brotha Strong brotha and there is no one above ya I want ya to know that I’m here for you, forever true.”
It was a socially conscious soulful letter to black men that celebrated their existence, beauty and strengths.
“Music was taking a turn and the direction it was going was not uplifting to black men,” said Stone, explaining the importance and reason for the song in her UNSUNG documentary episode. As a kid I remember only understanding the depth of these lyrics when I saw the music video, which featured the artist lying on her bed admiring her love interest while he gets ready in the mirror. It follows with montages of male public figures that are still looked up to today such as, Michael Jordan, Jay Z, Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, D’Angelo (who was her real love interest), Marvin Gaye, Quincy Jones, Martin Luther King and Ray Charles amongst others. These were men who were remarkable but flawed and made mistakes. The video also included ordinary black men in barbershops, the military, education system, medical fraternity, Wall Street and jail (inmates who we assume were wrongfully or harshly incarcerated as the statistic estimates 46,000-230,000 individuals who are convicted are innocent with black men as the main victims of this mass incarceration ,discussed in Ava DuVernay’s Netflix Documentary, 13th ). Stone’s ode to black men of all shades, sizes and backgrounds is a reminder of how protective and supportive black women are and have always been towards black men but begs the question.
Who protects us?
For weeks I had been trying to format a correct answer to that question because I did not want to sound too angry, emotional or as they often refer to black women ‘aggressive’. I wanted to come off nuanced, politically correct and objective but realized the answer is actually black and white, there is no nuance to it and as our living pop-culture icon expressed in an opinion piece for The New York Times titled ‘Why I speak Up for Black Women’ this week, “When it comes down to her [black women] it ain’t a motherfucker in sight” to stand up, support, protect or love her. Instead she is met with hate and violence like Megan Thee Stallion who was laughed at, ridiculed and questioned after it surfaced that she was shot by artist and former friend Tory Lanez which she pens about in the article. Emphasizing how the objectification of women especially black women is a leading cause of this. Men viewing and treating us as objects and not living breathing human beings with agency, makes it is so easy to not only physically harm us but reduce us to stereotypical categories that describes us by thickness or complexion, ‘demarcations’ as Bulelwa Mthombothi refers to them as in A Little Tenderness, which ultimately decide our worth. These micro-aggressions not only lead to violence but are violent in their own nature.
In the Mid 90’s a love affair that any R&B/Neo-Soul lover wished to have been a fly on the wall on (especially during their studio time) brewed between Stone and D’Angelo. Stone was asked to help the upcoming artist on his first studio album Brown Sugar which she partially wrote along with his second album Voodoo (arguably one of the greatest albums of all time) which catapulted him to ‘sex symbol’ status and stardom, ultimately earning him two Grammy’s. Stone was also his back-up singer on tours which was the only version of a duet we would ever get from the two musically, as they share a son.
The relationship was highly criticized because of the 13 year age gap and although D’Angelo being 19 at the time they started dating is questionable, the major scrutiny was due to the fact that Stone did not fit the conventional standard of beauty in terms of size or skin tone as a dark-skinned thick woman.
“She was in love with someone who was in love with her and the world couldn’t understand it,” said Stone’s eldest daughter Diamond Stone in her mother’s UNSUNG documentary. The documentary expressed how badly Stone was treated by the public when it surfaced that they were together so much so that family friends and management tried their best to keep it under the radar, which she faults as one of the reasons for their break-up.
In an interview with GQ, which profiled D’Angelo after his 14 year music hiatus, Stone recounts a night in September 1996.
A Giorgio Armani tribute to D’Angelo, Stone was 3 months pregnant and accompanying her partner. The pair were heading to the event in a limo but before they arrived were pulled over. D’Angelo was “Asked to get into another car, where he would be escorted by Vivica Fox,” Stone narrated to the journalist. This was the first of many instances where D’Angelo would be escorted by models or women that “aligned with his brand” as he could not be seen with a pregnant dark- skinned thick woman as Bulelwa Mthombothi says, “The images of a woman deserving of love, kindness, compassion, empathy and light is not that of the black women especially not a dark-skinned woman.” It is as if our darkness strips us of all the good things in the world. Angie Stone was and still is a talented dark-skinned thick woman who was beautiful in her own right but reduced to a disposable object. An object that was not good enough for Hollywood and replaced with other women who were also reduced to objects, even if they were seen as shinier. This was a heart-breaking pop-culture moment that would later be referenced in shows like Girlfriends because of how disrespectful it was.
Although the musical genius that is D’Angelo cannot be denied, I mean the man was compared to the likes of Prince and Marvin Gaye and rightfully so. D’Angelo’s music is like that first breath of air after months of drowning. Apart from the ability to play 9 instruments, run vocals around your favourite artist, his ability to be vulnerable, wear his heart on his sleeve and still be versatile is
unmatched. He draws you in with every minute making you feel like you are attending his private show which set the standard for many R&B artists that followed. (Even in my attempts to shine light of the disrespect and ‘umgowo’ black woman go through, it is in my nature to still show love and celebrate a black man even if he doesn’t do the same for me). My point is the artist is a powerhouse by himself and I would need a separate opinion piece to express that but Stone’s influence was arguably instrumental for his success. One could even go as far as compare Black Messiah (which is a marvel especially since we had to wait 14 years for it and gave us the air we needed) to his prior
work as it was not as successful on the charts as Brown Sugar and Voodoo which had Stone’s hand in it.
Even in the success and accolades that Stone helped D’Angelo achieve her talents and creative genius were overshadowed by the demarcations that society subjects us to. Even when we are the hardest working in the room the objectification of our existence comes first. We are objects
before we are talented, hardworking, gifted, brilliant, beautiful, stunning or human beings which is why it is so easy for us to be overlooked, disposed and not defended. To be violated and killed. It is why it is so easy for our efforts to be ignored and not worthy of being reciprocated. It is why black men never stood up for Angie Stone even though she stood by them loudly and proudly. It is why she left her record label prematurely so she would not be compared or ‘dethroned’ to other young up and coming R&B artists like Alicia Keys-because there can’t be more than one successful black woman artist in our world. Some may say the problem is pop-culture and the images and narratives it has created that often rejects black women, but the thing is it is a microcosm of the society in which we live in and goes deeper.
In South Africa the constant rise in gender based violence sees a new woman falling victim every single day and until our worth is seen as more than objects it will never end. But until then we [black women] are all we’ve got even if we are pitted against each other and often forget that.
By: Palesa Buyeye