Will There Ever Be A Lemonade Moment For Black Men? (If So, Who Will Create It?) » VSB

Featured, Music, Pop Culture, Race & Politics

Will There Ever Be A Lemonade Moment For Black Men? (If So, Who Will Create It?)

Larry Busacca/Getty Images for NARAS

 

Last Thursday, I sat on a panel at The New School with Jamilah Lemieux, Johnetta Elzie, Terrell Starr, and Chris Witherspoon to talk about how new media affects and informs social activism, art, journalism, writing, and our understanding of what it means to be Black. Oh, and Lemonade. We definitely talked a lot about Lemonade. Because it was FDALD (five days after Lemonade dropped) and both it and the conversations surrounding it were fresh on everyone’s minds.

During the Lemonade portion of the conversation, Jamilah expressed that she’d like to see a moment like that for Black men, where an ambitious, powerful, vulnerable, and important work that centered on our relationship lives was consumed, deconstructed, and treasured the way Lemonade has been.

But, as Jamilah and a few other panelists and audience members asked, who’d create it?

One reason why Lemonade has become such a landmark cultural moment is that Beyonce is firmly past superstar status and is now, inarguably, an icon. An institution. Everything she does, by virtue of her being the one doing it, is important. Lemonade is big as fuck because Beyonce is big as fuck. And while there are multiple Black male artists who are legitimate stars, none today are as famous and popular as she is.

(Also, are we even sure that a Black male Lemonade moment would be wanted? A part of me feels like that type of deep dive into a Black man’s emotional and spiritual journey in connection to his relationship life is something we (collectively) desire more in theory. Even if there was a guy as big and popular as Beyonce is right now, I have doubts that a similar type of work would be received the way hers has been. I just don’t know if America is quite ready to see how that sausage is made.)

Anyway, when you consider each of the criteria necessary to make something like this — popularity, platform, a level of stanishness possessed by the fans, a level of artistic and creative autonomy, a public history, a history of critical and commercial success, talent, tirelessness, ambition, and the courage to be as vulnerable as Lemonade is — we’re left with six contemporary artists who could maybe, possibly, maybe create something like this. Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Jay Z, Kanye West, J Cole, and Frank Ocean. Each listed below, in order from “least likely to make a Lemonade” to “most likely to make a Lemonade.”

J Cole

A case for why J Cole can make a Lemonade: Although the North Carolina-bred rapper is the least popular person on this list, he perhaps induces the greatest amount of stan-dom among his fans. They’re basically Bernie Sanders supporters. He also seems to be ambitious enough to attempt to create that type of work. And he’s lightskinned.

A case for why he won’t: Because as talented as J Cole is, he’s not particularly interesting. Or compelling. Or not “not boring as all the fucks.” Like, I can totally imagine him naming his Lemonade “J Cole’s Forest Hills Interpretation of Lemonade.” Earnestness is good for a guidance counselor or a fireman in a movie about a family of fireman, but earnestness on wax is a fucking Ambien.

Frank Ocean

A case for why Frank Ocean can make a Lemonade: He seems to have both the potential for compelling personal experiences to pull from and the creative chops to pull it off. Also, he’s currently pop culture’s most vulnerable artist. You listen to Frank Ocean’s music and you want to, I don’t know, help him find an apartment on Craiglist cause he’s new to the city and really struggling right now and needs a friend. He’s practically a baby in an unstrapped car seat.

A case for why he won’t: No one — Frank Ocean included, apparently — is quite sure if Frank Ocean actually enjoys making music. Or if he’s even alive right now.

Drake

A case for why Drake can make a Lemonade: He’s the biggest Black male artist in music right now, so there’s that. He also has the pseudo vulnerability thing mastered, so I imagine it doesn’t take much to be actually vulnerable instead of a passive-aggressively subtle fuckboy with a Dominican uncle’s torso.

A case for why he won’t: Despite releasing the exact same album five different times, he’s already the biggest Black male artist in music. So there’s no real incentive for him to stop being a passive-aggressively subtle fuckboy with a Dominican uncle’s torso. Also, I can’t see any men over 35 not named Peter Gunz getting any emotional cues from his music. (At least not admitting to it.)

Jay Z

A case for why Jay Z can make a Lemonade: Like anyone reading this wouldn’t be interested in a 12 track version of his interpretation of the events that led to the creation of Lemonade. Remember that scene at the beginning of Mad Max: Fury Road when Immortan Joe was about to turn on the giant shower head and everyone was wanting underneath, desperate for any drop of water?

That would be me waiting for Jay Z’s Lemons.

A case for why he won’t: He’d never do anything to throw his wife under the bus. Except, apparently, Becky With The Good Hair.

Kanye West

A case for why Kanye West could make a Lemonade: He actually kinda did already. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was intended on being that type of watershed moment for him. It even came with a 35-minute film everyone forgot about but should definitely watch again now just to see how absurd and ridiculous it is.

A case for why he won’t: Kanye actually meets each of the criteria listed in the intro. He has the name and the platform, his fans have a streak of standom in them, he’s pretty much artistically and creatively autonomous, he has a history of critical and commercial success, and he seems to possess the talent, tirelessness, ambition, and the courage to be as vulnerable as Lemonade is. To be honest, 808s and Heartbreak went even further down the emotional pit than Lemonade does.

But what’s holding him back is that far fewer people wish to connect to his emotional journey. Because his antics and his personal relationships have turned a large percentage of his fans into either grudging fans or ex-fans. And even fewer people want to connect to the esoteric and increasingly inaccessible music he’s mined from it.

Kendrick Lamar

A case for why Kendrick Lamar could make a Lemonade: No one currently in pop culture is in a better position to craft this type of work and induce this type of response than he is. And it would be a natural progression to go from Good Kid, M.A.A.D City to To Pimp a Butterfly to a concept album articulating a Black male’s relationship journey and each of the accompanying fears and anxieties.

A case for why he won’t: He’s a bit too young right now for that to connect with Black men in a way that Lemonade did with Black women. Also, considering some of the criticism he’s received for some less than progressive things he’s said about women and activism, I’m not quite sure if he’s ready to make something like that yet.

But we’ll see.

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • NoGames

    Ummmmmm… Lemonade from Me. West? Yo, Kanye has lost his ever lovin’ mind… talkin’ bout we were unpaid interns. Sir, what the DUCK are you SMOKIN? I know you feel like you are living in a ivory tower with your “boundary breaking” wife but those of us here in these streets know that our ancestors were not “unpaid interns.” Y’all pray for North, no telling what foolishness he is telling that little girl. I wish he would go sit down somewhere!

    • Illumina

      “Yo, Kanye has lost his ever lovin’ mind… talkin’ bout we were unpaid interns. Sir, what the DUCK are you SMOKIN?”

      Wut? When did this happen?

      • NoGames

        You funny…he BEEN crazy as DUCK!

  • Greg Simms Jr

    It’s been done before by a Black man…at least on wax. Marvin Gaye’s early 70’s albums: “What’s Going On”, through “I Want You.”

    • Val

      Wasn’t that more of a commentary on society in general rather than Black men?

    • Furious Styles

      “Here, My Dear” was the entire album about his divorce. It’s one of those albums that nobody but true fans can remember. It didn’t sell and he was talented and vulnerable as f##k. So the men here who doubt that vulnerability will sell can cite that precedent.

      • wakakaja

        It was also a fuck you album to his label (it’s what happens when you mix business with pleasure, y’all), so they didn’t really support it either.

      • OSHH

        Marvin’s work are masterpieces…..have people really looked at the lyrical content of Beyonce’s lemonade?

        • Furious Styles

          Strangely enough, I haven’t seen lemonade yet (but get its cultural importance). Here, my dear, while it got critcal props, wasn’t his BEST work in my opinion. Marvin also has nostalgia on his side. Also, human communication is only 7% words (the rest being body language and tone.) While Bey ain’t yet a legend, she has better marketing savvy and use of the visual. A comparison feels unfair.

      • MsSula

        My favorite album of his.

    • CheGueverraWitBlingOn

      And “Here My Dear”.

  • Kas

    Ice T can probably speak to the pain of a woman who may just possibly be straying, and his wife definitely had good hair.

    • ChokeOnThisTea

      Is Ice T black? Is his wife really a woman?! Is anything on her real let alone “good”?! Questions that need answers. P.S. let’s retire “good hair.” It’s so…..Jim Crow/slavish.

      • Tambra

        You want some people to go crazy. Good hair is all they have. Ice’s wife is another story.

      • NoGames

        Good Hair: Hair that grows out of your head.

        I hate this term too, but now that I am old and my hair is thinning I really realize that ALL hair that will stay planted firmly in my scalp is indeed good! I welcome my gray hairs as proof that new hair actually grows from my head! I am like oh… There’s another one!

        • Tambra

          I thought it was what we bought.

        • Betty’s Babygirl

          “..ALL hair that will stay planted firmly in my scalp is indeed good!”

          My mother used to say “Any hair on your head is good” We weren’t allowed to say “good hair” or “brung”. Lol

      • CheGueverraWitBlingOn

        For real. ….. smh. She creole, she’s talking about ‘good hair’. Makes it hard to swallow despite all the other good blackness oozing out of portions of her recent work.

    • brothaskeeper
  • Val

    If D’Angelo can keep it together I think he could do a male version of Lemonade.

    • TeeChantel

      Good choice! I did not even think about him.

    • NoGames

      Or maybe Usher?

      • Val

        Maybe but he’s so commercial. He’s never done anything really deep.

      • TeeChantel

        I feel like Usher kinda sorta did that already with Confessions.

        • ChokeOnThisTea

          I was just gonna say that.

        • Confessions was the last great straight up RnB album by a man.

          • Tambra

            Thinking….

          • TeeChantel

            It is indeed a classic.

          • Nik White

            Don’t tell Tyrese!

        • Other_guy13

          I was honestly writing that in my replay until I scrolled down

      • cakes_and_pies

        He needs to concentrate on doing squat.. No man should think it’s cute taking naked sexy pic with raw hot dog sized legs

        • NoGames

          Hah!

    • Furious Styles

      The first person I thought of when I saw the title of this piece. Voodoo had the elements of it.

    • D’Angelo annoys me.. I don’t know why.

      • Furious Styles

        Might it be the mumbling?

    • L8Comer

      Ohhh

      • L8Comer

        Wrong gif. I mean to express that I really agree with you. Damn iPhone

      • Val

        Lol I miss you around here!

    • L8Comer

      Ohhhhhhh yessss

  • fedup

    Kanye, could, but wouldn’t because the depth of soul, and level of humility isn’t there enough for it to happen. And, yes, because people ARE fed up with his antics (me included), folks wouldn’t listen, so the reverence/disgust/dissection that Lemonade is achieving won’t happen. Kanye will never dig deep enough to expose the truth behind his own, and other Black men’s, obsession with white women over Black women (despite their disdain for white people in general), the lies he must tell himself everyday when he thinks about how his mama would be receiving his relationship with that Kardashian chick, or his his fears at becoming irrelevant (which is what I believe is behind all his antics). Kanye could, but he won’t because he can’t be honest enough. Yet.

    • ChokeOnThisTea

      Kanye would have no problem throwing Black women under the bus in favor of white women. Hence, part of the reason why I can’t take him seriously. What I really want to see him dive into is his struggle with his sexuality….. but I know that will never happen.

  • Val

    Apparently there’s a rumor that Jay is either working on his answer to Lemonade or has already finished it. Which if true would sort of make Lemonade trite and phoney, IMO.

    • ChokeOnThisTea

      Agreed. Any response or attempt to recreate Lemonade would be gimmicky……no matter who the artist (except for maybe Andre3000 like someone already mention).

    • CheGueverraWitBlingOn

      Wait wait…Val, I thought you were a cynic? Didn’t you always allow for the possibility of Lemonade being trite and phony in the first place?

      • Val

        Yep. But I’ve been trying to give Bey the benefit of the doubt to varying degrees of success.

        • CheGueverraWitBlingOn

          I hear you…I remember now you saying this. Me too. But you gotta know the other shoe was gonna drop given the necessary level of choreography to pull this off with Jay-Z’s involvement.

    • OSHH

      I find it all so boring and disingenuous.

  • Vanity in Peril

    If Aloe Blacc could stop singing slave songs for hipsters long enough to….

    Y. Bey?

    The Love Below already happened, though.

    • Andre, like Frank, seems only to be interested in doing sporadic guest features.

    • wakakaja

      Man, Shine Through had it all. POC solidarity in Gente Ordinaria, stories of self-love, meeting a girl and hoping it’ll result in something great? Once that ‘I Need A Dollar’ popped he was out. I kind of miss him on Stones Throw.
      Anyway, Hey Ya was actually an emotional breakup song under the guise of bubblegum pop. That was a good moment that barely anybody appreciated lol. If Andre did make ‘Lemons’ it’s probably out already and we’ve already heard it but just haven’t realized it yet lol

  • Kevin

    While his current level of mainstream acclaim would disqualify him from this list, I think Chance the Rapper could develop into that guy. He’s undeniably talented, a rising star, and lyrical nuanced enough to speak to a wide scope of emotions from a male perspective. His incredibly spiteful verse on “Baby Blue” by Action Bronson is the example that gives me hope. Hilarious, wounded, spiteful, and jaded, it hit all the notes that Big Sean’s IDFWU wishes it could’ve hit. Plus, he doesn’t seem too beholden to the classic machismo tropes in Hip-Hop that the other guys directly play into or are associated with.

    • wakakaja

      Listening to a man rap along to IDFWU lets you know how seriously he takes that song, and how recently he’s left a relationship. It’s the kind of song Big Sean may have written for catharsis but probably should have never released. I always imagine his label heard it then said, ‘Maybe you should write another verse, you know, talking about where you are now? If you’re happy? You sound really really really bitter about a woman you were truly excited about like, a week ago.”

  • -h.h.h.-
  • 1 Singer and a bunch of rappers is telling man.

    • Val

      I’ve been waiting on who you think could do it.

      • I was talking about this on Twitter a couple days ago and I don’t even know if it’s possible because do Black men even LIKE male singers anymore? Like really honestly and truely stan for them? Miguel is the strongest young singer of his generation as far as RnB goes, but I don’t men really live or die for him to any extent.

        I mean I know I live or die by Frank Ocean, but I don’t think that’s anywhere near a widely held feeling by Black men.

        • -h.h.h.-

          the only black male r&b artists i wouldn’t mind paying for a ticket and watching them perform would be Babyface, Joe, Usher, and Luke James.

          • Usher only does EDM unfortunately :'(

        • Val

          It doesn’t have to be a singer though.

          • Jennifer

            I’ve seen Phonte make men sing along about their lost love at a Foreign Exchange concert, but he’s not a big enough name.

    • ChokeOnThisTea

      Yaaaassssss! I’m seriously racking my brain and can’t think of any convincing singers/artists from this era. Perhaps the 90s…

      • Julian Green

        I think Gallant, Tay Walker or Sango could pull it off.

      • Bilal >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

More Like This