Our Love Songs

Yeah, the older you get, man, more you appreciate know
The real babes
They don’t get offended when you say shit
Ayo, we good?
Let me know when that drop

Recently, rapper Wale dropped his video for “Black Bonnie” featuring Jacquees. When he first teased us with the shot I was excited. Then I read the title and did an automatic eye roll. Celebrating Black women/Black love by referencing a white woman? Nothing against Wale or Bonnie, but the older I get the more I appreciate Black women and their commitment to Black men and Black love, flaws and all.

And of course, I questioned myself. Although not offended, I wondered if I was being too critical? Maybe. I gave it some thought…

Paul Butler, criminal law scholar, wrote monikers and references like “outlaw”/”thug” (Tupac), “notorious” (Biggie) and “misdemeanor” (Missy Elliott) were used because the artists had criminal law in mind. (There’s some unpacking to do here, but I will leave that for another time.) Therefore, it is no surprise that bank robber, Bonnie Parker has made appearances in rap songs including Tupac’s “Me and My Girlfriend”, a love song about firearms. There was also the reggae influenced “Bonnie and Shyne,” dedicated to the girl whose hair was in a “bun, well done.” Jay-Z and Beyonce’s were Bonnie and Clyde not once, but twice–and they’re currently still on the run. Even before those two collabos, there was “Paper Chase” and “Bonnie and Clyde Part II” with Jay and Foxy. Gotta get that paper, dog. Even though I can still recite bars from 1996 that featured the much-hyped gun moll (she really wasn’t that gangster, but newspapers needed to be sold), my view of her presence when it pertains to Black love is changed. For what it’s worth, I get it why she is there.

Finally, I watched the video after some resistance. I liked it, a lot but the title, meh. Wale’s leading lady is played by Ashley Blaine Featherson of Dear White People. The visual is series of relationships through time featuring Wale and Featherson. First, they are an African royal couple, then they are Black Panthers plotting and protesting. Then we fast forward and see the couple in the early 1990s with people hanging out on stoops and Wale being harassed by police for cassette tapes. Finally, we see the pair in today’s world outside of a restaurant chopping it up with the word “ORGANIC” on the window.

black-bonnie-video
Wale and Featherson in “Black Bonnie” featuring Jacquees

OK, Wale, you have my attention. I did what anyone who has musicophilia does, I put “Black Bonnie” on repeat for the whole day, but instead of hearing Clyde’s beau, I heard Black women. Ericka Huggins. Ruby Dee. Afeni Shakur. Elaine Brown. Coretta Scott King. Betty Shabazz. Inez Barron.

Then I did a quick survey, I asked a number of Black men in their late-twenties to late thirties of different socio-economic status, sexual orientation, and backgrounds to name historic Black couples from 1800s to 1970s and the most mentioned couple was:

Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis. I was surprised, but my heart smiled. I asked one of the respondents why he chose Ossie and Ruby, he said they were his default and then he added, “[You] know prominent men. Then prominent women. But couples are tougher.” Ruby Dee definitely fit the description of a “ride or die” that defended and loved hers. “Black Bonnie” was still on repeat…

Let’s spray paint the Trump Towers, letters, U and I
It’s you and I ’til it’s suicide
Or ’til the cracker pull us over, ain’t no one around, bang
We woke, shawty, protest and party
I know you love nostalgia, I got you Barney’s

Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis have been protesting since the sixties. As far as political parties, they did not join the Black Panther Party, however, Ruby Dee was a part of SNCC and the NAACP and Ossie spoke up about the police repression of the Black Panther Party and the assassination of Fred Hampton.

[First lines of first chorus: Jacquees & Wale]
Can you be someone, I can’t hide my fears, baby
And if they got us on the run, we could still chase our dreams

Well, Ruby Dee didn’t run because she marched on Washington in 1963, alongside her husband in what she called “a sea of people” for a “Dream” that has yet to become reality. Moreover, to chase those dreams, she rolled with both Martin and Malcolm. It wouldn’t be the last time either. Ruby and Ossie were arrested in 1999 protesting the extrajudicial murder of Amadou Diallo in New York.

Wait, did I mention that the couple are award-winning actors? And like the 1990s scene in “Black Bonnie,” resembles the scenes of Do the Right Thing with Ruby (Mother Sister) looking out the window and going back and forth with Ossie Davis (Da Mayor)? 🙂

ruby-dee-6
Ruby D and Ossie Davis in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing Wale: Talk to you different, but never extra She like the fact I get aggressive but I’m not possessive Bad but she modest, man, staying honest

And I tell her my body count ain’t nobody business
And I promise to God I follow her intuition so
Graduated from Prada, now Bonnie got the wisdom (black queen shit)

Ossie Davis and Ruby weren’t perfect, but they worked. They worked together for a long time. Even when they temporarily had an open marriage and that “body count” would attribute to that moment in time. Ossie later wised up and realized all he needed was at home.

Look, shawty, I know we not felons but I definitely see you as my best friend, confident and co-defender
Do I see my black Bonnie?
Before that, you deserve every word of this

Wale finessed the decriminalization of himself and his Black queen. His analogy was used for understanding of the kind of love he wants. However, I feel like there are many examples of Black women that could have been used for the title and subject of the song and still get the message across, one only has to look to find. I thought of what my homie said about Black love being rare and it being attributed to the lack of exposure of Black love and/or the lack of longevity due to different sociopolitical reasons. Perhaps that is the reason why rappers rely on other loves to paint a picture or maybe it is the allure of Bonnie and Clyde being anti-state and in love? A combination of both? Hmmm. Maybe one day we will have rap songs that titled are titled and/or feature women like Ruby Dee because they deserve every word of a long song

Real life sentence
Forever my ride or die
Never high, love Clyde

Finally, when Ruby Dee died she was cremated and her ashes joined her husband in an urn that read: “In this thing together.” Forever Ossie’s ride or die.

Special thanks to the Black men who participated “off the rip” especially, the one who drew my attention to the visual. Much love.

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4 thoughts on “Our Love Songs

Add yours

  1. I honestly didn’t even think of the title… but you’re absolutely right. I’m a great example of someone who got… conditioned, to think blacks referencing themselves as Bonnie & Clyde is normal but we have our own kind who we can reference. Titling the track, My Ruby Dee or something would’ve been so dope because it would force many listeners to wonder who Ruby Dee was & become educated. But I’m gonna assume the current title was just more catchy. This was a great Sunday morning read!! Thank you!

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