Black Men and Boys are Beautiful, Too

A Brief Reflection on a Single Lyric by Biggie Smalls

In 1994's “One More Chance” remix, which features both his wife Faith Evans and Mary J. Blige on background vocals and samples El Debarge’s “Stay With Me,” the Notorious B.I.G. lists in great detail his effortless finesse with women of all races and ethnicities. It’s partly comical, partly offensive, and all NSFW. Still, apart from a beat that lingers, there are a few lines that stick with you. The one I think about most is one of them.

Even though I understand them, and putting aside any obvious concerns with misogyny in the genre momentarily, I spend a perhaps inordinate amount of time considering the social influences that led Biggie to rhyme, “heartthrob, never, Black and ugly as ever,” as opposed to the truth. If the rest of the self same and other songs and his very public carrying on with Lil Kim while married to Faith Evans are any indication, the line should and might have been, “heartthrob, clever, Black and lovely as ever,” even though we know from other writings that the attention of women may have come later in life in conjunction with the success he deservedly earned by his lyricism, (see: “girls used to diss me, now they write letters ‘cause they miss me.”)

Imagine how different that simultaneous truth, the unquestionable affirmation of his inherent beauty, might have sounded to our ears in 1994. I imagine he wrote the actual and brilliant lines in protest of a society that isn’t always kind to Black boys, especially not ones like him. I hear that line with that perception. Even had he written the line in the affirmative, the probable protest would have been just as effective, but I wish he had lived in a world where he didn’t have to write them at all.

I wonder mostly what it would take in this world for a similarly situated Black boy: a poor, fat, first generation immigrant Black boy growing up in an under resourced community, who had probably been shamed for all or some of those things in the ways on which Kyese Laymon reflects in Heavy, to reach the conclusion sua sponte that he is lovely, and brilliant, and desirable, and not have it pondered posthumously and politically by a mother of a Black boy born a decade and a half after the song held the number 2 spot on the Hot 100, looking back at the song through the lens of history years later in a world that has changed so much since he penned these words.

I want so badly to live in a world where every clever, charming, fat, Black boy and every other kind of Black boy can identify their own loveliness and be believed, and where the ponderosity of knowing the social truth and track record of the antithetical statement that made its way into his song likely in complaint can’t be felt so fully and taste so familiar to any Black person listening to it all this time later.

While you try to unlearn the lie that Black women aren’t beautiful, remember, Black men and boys are beautiful too. You’ve been lied to about them also.

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She/her. I write stuff. Published in Human Parts, Zora, AnInjustice!. #BLM

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