I DON'T mean to put my sister's business in the street, but the last thing she needs is a "soldier." She's 26, a single mother of the most defiant 2-year-old on the planet and she holds down two jobs. Like many homegirls I know from around the way, my sister has issues on top of issues. But she pines for a "soldier," a straight-up thug as celebrated in the new hit by Destiny's Child. While I was visiting my family in Arkansas during Christmas, she cranked it up on her car stereo as we zoomed down the highway to an aunt's house.
"Yeah, that's what I'm talkin' about right there," my sister exclaimed.
If your status ain't hood / I ain't checking for ya / Better be street if he looking at me / I need a soldier / That ain't scared to stand up for me / Known to carry big things if you know what I mean ...
My more progressive-minded friends and I have a huge problem with Destiny's Child's "Soldier," which features rappers T.I. and Lil' Wayne and currently sits in the Top 5 on Billboard's pop chart. It is catchy, but the beat is trite, and the lyrical message is downright trifling. Now, I'm not sticking a turban on my head and joining C. Delores Tucker's crusade to wipe out offensive music. I actually dig some stuff that's too hot for radio. (And Lord knows my mouth isn't exactly, uh, politically correct.) But my problem with "Soldier" is that it glorifies a warped image of black masculinity. And I've just about had it with the artless thuggery pervading R&B; -- thanks to folks like R. Kelly.
We like them boys that be in them 'lacs leaning / Open they mouth they grill gleaming ...
I've despised self-destructive, so-called soldiers all my life -- those shiftless, no-count dudes who stroll around the 'hood as if they own it, the ones white boys fear and envy. The guys who have probably fathered a baby or two or three but are not fathers. The fellas who always have an attitude as if, to paraphrase Mavis Staples, "the world owes them something 'cause they're here." These soldiers probably possess the brains to be legitimate businessmen, yet they run two-bit hustles that will ultimately land them in jail or in an early grave.
Perhaps from time to time you have run into a soldier. He and his crew are always loud and profane in public places. He brushes past you in the mall and never says "excuse me." I knew plenty of soldiers in high school. Like flies, they hovered in the back of the bus or in the hallways; they smoked reefer in the restroom and harassed nerds like me between classes. They were corny, really, and most of them grew up to be absolutely nothing or died too soon. Soldiers. If we are to believe the three once-innocuous chicks of Destiny's Child, these guys are now glorious sex symbols.
And women like my sister aren't the only ones craving soldiers. A close gay friend of mine (a well-paid, educated cat whose name I'll keep to myself) actively pursues what he calls "homo-soldiers."
I like them boys over there they looking strong tonight / Just might give one the phone tonight / Homie in the Dickies in my zone tonight / He don't know it might be on tonight ...
So Destiny's Child has gone all hood rat on us. Tsk-tsk. The gals used to be so virginal, so moralistic -- at least that's what they tried to give off in interviews. But they have always sold us sex, even as teenagers on their 1998 self-titled debut. With "Soldier," a song each member had a hand in writing, they seemingly want to show us all how "gangsta," how "down" they are. In the video, Beyonce, Kelly and Michelle roll their hips in midriffs, baggy pants and Timberlands. Goodness, Michelle -- the skinny one with the tinny, raspy voice who always looks as if she's scared to death -- has put out two gospel albums. The self-proclaimed "church girl" of the group, she coos the sexiest verse in "Soldier": Oh he looking good and he talking right / He the type that might change my life / Every time he look at me my girls be like / That one might be the one tonight.
Just a few years back, the girls of Destiny's Child sang about being "independent women" who bought their own clothes and paid their own bills. If they're supposed to be such shining symbols of responsibility, they should put more thought into their lyrics. Or at least try to be less obvious in their pursuit of a hit. It saddened me a bit to look over at my sister, a young woman who's been through her fair share of drama with so-called soldiers, as she sang along to a record that unapologetically and stupidly celebrates the kind of brotha I hate to see coming.