Singing about Love in the Black Community: From Barbershop Quartets to Making ‘Truffle Butter’

Warning: This post contains images and descriptions that you will not be able to mentally unsee. Please continue with caution…or not at all.

I had the ‘opportunity’ to watch a rerun of the 2015 BET Awards this week. It would be more accurate to say I was obliged to watch it, since my cousin provided me with the option of watching “Black Sparrow”, “Black Poison” or “Black Scorpion” On Demand. I stared at the title choices in disbelief, so she decided for us.

“BET it is!”

She wanted to watch Diddy take that infamous swan dive through the bowels of the stage. I never tire of seeing it, so I didn’t object. I’ll grudgingly admit that I was glad we watched it. Smokey Robinson was being honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award, and it gave me the opportunity to revisit some of his greatest hits, including Tracks of My Tears and Tears of a Clown. I came up in an era when Motown’s power was just beginning to wane after defining not just Black music, but pop music for decades. It was nice to see a face and hear a voice that I associated with happier childhood times. In that segment, I discovered that Smokey Robinson was credited with writing over 4,000 songs, many of which form the basis of a hip hop hook or two or have been remastered by prolific R&B crooner such as D’Angelo. Cruisin’, Ain’t No Woman Like the One I Got, Baby Come Close to Me, Get Ready, My Girl…the list is endless.

Dudes that set a thousand hearts aflutter!
Dudes that set a thousand hearts aflutter!

It was a beautiful tribute, but it got me to thinking about themes in popular music. Above all, Smokey wrote about love. Love –either in the religious, erotic or filial sense – has always been a strong theme in Black singing, but I sense a shift…a change in the tide if you will. There are no more “love songs”. There are only porn anthems. How did this happen?

Let’s be honest: All music about love has at its core the end goal of getting to sex, but there was a certain beauty in the dance. When the Four Tops sang baby I need your lovin’, got(s) to have all your lovin’, it was implied that at some point, there would be a meeting between the sheets after the proper protocol had been executed. A woman and her beaux might go for a walk, talk about this n’ that, dare to tell her how stunningly beautiful she was, and enquire if he could call on her again.

R&B and pop music have its roots in Barbershop Quartets. Allegedly, Black men who would find themselves spending a leisurely afternoon waiting to get their hair cut would entertain themselves by singing and harmonizing in groups in the barbershop while they waited for their turn for service. This culture was then bastardized by white entertainers who used the technique and its elements during minstrel shows. From Barbershop, doo wop and singing under street lamps was born. Rock was just emerging as a force. Barry Gordy seized the opportunity to bring some order (and to profit off of) to the chaos when he created Motown Records. For the first time, Black artists had more control over their craft than they had previously under white owned labels and management. The foundation and formula for making pop culture hits (and profit) was solidified. There hasn’t been any looking back sense. The only thing that has changed is the heart of the music. In less than 100 years, we’ve gone from expressing hopeful, wistful love with the desire to be together forever to the expectation that one’s encounter with the object of the song’s lyrics will last no more than 10 minutes in the back of the club…or at best, all night long.

Ooooo… All NIGHT long, you say?! How’s that for longevity? Please; people have had yeast infections that have lasted longer. Oh, speaking of crotch yoghurt… The lyrical concoctions in today’s most popular urban music (as they relate to relationships and love) range from amusing to flat out disgusting. They describe sexual acts and/or fantasies that the singer has either played out in real life, or expresses a desire to inflict upon his/her sexual partner for the duration of the encounter. If you’re unfamiliar with these terms I am about to share, please know that there’s no easy way to serve this up to you, Dear Reader, and for that you have my most sincere apologies.

  • Superman Dat Hoe: The act of pulling out at the point of climax while in the lower mammalian procreative position, spraying the female participant with one’s semen whilst laying a sheet upon her back, thus creating the appearance of a “Superman cape”.
  • Strawberry shortcake: After performing fellatio, the female participant in the act will eagerly and unsuspectedly look up at the recipient after he has discharged in her mouth. He will then punch her in the face, as hard as possible. The mixture of blood and semen will create a crimson and cream mix, known as a “strawberry shortcake”.
  • Bucking Bronco: Two “dedicated” lovers must find themselves in the act of sexual pleasure, again in the lower mammalian procreative position. As they near their romantic peak, the male will grab his partner by the waist while purposefully call out the name of another (unknown) woman, much to her irritation. In the moments after, she will undoubtedly twitch and attempt to wriggle away from his grasp, but he must hold firm and continue to “plow”. Bucking bronco.
  • Making Truffle Butter: While in the midst of anal sex, the person in possession of a penis (or a replica thereof) will withdraw from the anal cavity and re-penetrate his partner through the vagina. The tan, buttery substance created in the aftermath is known as “truffle butter”.
  • Spiderman Dat Hoe: Are you still reading? Gosh, you’re a trooper! This one’s not so bad. A man merely gratifies himself, ejaculates into his palm, and flings the stringy substance into his partner’s face…like Spiderman blinding the Goblin, I assume. Who knows? I’m just waiting for someone to create series of maneuvers named after all the Marvel comic heroes and destroy my adolescent memories forever.

 

I admit I have a certain level of nostalgia for olden days and the music that defined my parent’s era. In a time when men were not ashamed to plead with a woman to not take away her affection after he’d committed some egregious act or when crooners sang of forgiving their lovers even though “s/he done did me wrong”. That there would be an intimate make up session to follow thereafter was always implied, but never explicitly explained. There has been freaky sex in private and public spaces for as long as human beings have procreated – but there has also always been a certain mystery to it. You could speculate, but never say conclusively what two people were doing in their private pleasure time; but now folk will just walk up to you and tell you what they cooked up on their 300 thread count sheets. Mmmm mmm! Truffle butter!

I am most forlorn because there is so much emphasis on sex  – and culminating that act in violence towards women – and hardly on love at all. Like, there are 15 year old girls and 20-something men who equate being given gonorrhea or a vaginal rash with “love”. They’ll never experience the wistful longing of waiting for love to bud and blossom, of cultivating a lasting relationship, because they’ll have been too busy sitting in the gynecologist’s office getting that buttery butt seepage checked out…and that’s a tragedy. That’s not love. That’s a UTI.

  • Sam Kargbo

    At 55 your piece spans though all my eras. But it was only after I finished reading it that I realized that I was still a virgin.
    Though I believe that the line between sex and love in today’s music is still thicker than you imagine it to be, I have the hope that in my life time I will listen to mega hit songs that I can sing along or dance to with my children.

    • 😂😂😂 I laughed out loud when you said “I just realized I’m still a virgin”.

      I too long for a time when I can listen to love songs with my children. For now, that’s impossible. The lyrics defy reason.

  • Thank you Makala! This is a beautiful and very truthful post! I was a teenager in the 80’s and miss that music. My parents used to play a lot of soul music from the 70’s too. That was REAL music back then. Music that could move your soul and touch your spirit. Most of the stuff on the radio today is garbage. Nothing but mind pollution. That’s why this generation is so lost. Young black kids don’t know real music anymore.. It’s all about sex,drugs and dehumanization. I used to listen to rap music as a kid. But it was artists like Public Enemy,KRS ONE and X Clan. They were groups that talked about black pride and self respect. And rappers like Queen Latifah had a song called “Ladies First”. She talked about loving and respecting black women. Now what do we have? Truffle Butter?? That is a disgusting song! Calling black women whores,bitches and sluts. And these brotehrs want to act like pimps,hustlers and drug dealers. This is the future for our kids??? We got it all backwards. These artists sold their souls for fame and fortune. We need to get back to music that uplifts our people. This mental poison is destroying the minds of black children. I miss the old days of sweet soul music. We need to get back to that.
    A few old favorites:

    Giving You the Best I’ve Got – Anita Baker The Sweetest Taboo – Sade Joy and Pain – Maze Feat. Frankie Beverly I Feel For You – Chaka Khan After the Love Has Gone – Earth Wind & Fire Fire and Desire – Rick James and Teena Marie Treat Her Like a Lady – Temptations Ain’t Nobody – Rufus feat. Chaka Khan You Give Good Love – Whitney Houston Between the Sheets – Isley Brothers If You Think You’re Lonely Now – Bobby Womack Just the Two of Us – Grover Washington with Bill Withers Wanna Be Startin’ Something – Michael Jackson Forget Me Nots – Patrice Rushen PYT – Michael Jackson Take Your Time (Do It Right) – S.O.S. Band Rock Me Tonight – Freddie Jackson Saturday Love – Alexander O’Neal and Cherelle Let’s Groove – Earth, Wind and Fire Give Me the Night – George Benson Love Come Down – Evelyn Champagne King Man in the Mirror – Michael Jackson This is for the Lover in You – Shalamar Through the Fire – Chaka Khan You Are My Lady – Freddie Jackson Whip Appeal – Babyface Juicy Fruit – Mtume Secret Garden – Quincy Jones 1999 – Prince One in a Million – Larry Graham Human Nature – Michael Jackson Give Me the Reason – Luther Vandross Never Knew Love Like This Before – Stephanie Mills On My Own – Patti Labelle and Michael McDonald Word Up! – Cameo Super Freak – Rick James And the Beat Goes On – Whispers On the Wings of Love – Jeffrey Osborne Outstanding – The Gap Band Beat It – Michael Jackson I Can’t Go for That – Hall and Oates Make it Last Forever – Keith Sweat You Dropped A Bomb On Me – The Gap Band Superwoman – Karyn White Smooth Criminal – Michael Jackson Fantastic Voyage – Lakeside Let It Whip – Dazz Band Rock Steady – Whispers And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going – Jennifer Holliday Square Biz – Teena Marie When I Think of You – Janet Jackson Solid – Ashford and Simpson Can’t Get Over You – Maze feat. Frankie Beverly My Prerogative – Bobby Brown She’s A Bad Mama Jama – Carl Carlton Upside Down – Diana Ross Back II Life – Soul II Soul Master Blaster (Jammin’) – Stevie Wonder Tender Love – Force MDs Just Got Paid – Johnny Kemp Overjoyed – Stevie Wonder Somebody Else’s Guy – Jocelyn Brown Yearning For Your Love – The Gap Band 30% 75 Baby Come to Me – Patti Austin and James