The myth of the hypersexualized black male is one of the most potent tales ever told in this country. America's fascination with the black penis dates back to slavery, when Eurocentric rationalism proffered a mind-body split that placed Africans on par with chattel, and therefore more prone to be dominated by sexual urges than their "civilized" owners. Trace a line from slavery through anti-miscegenation laws, jazz and blaxploitation and you end up at hip-hop, America's latest contested racio-sexual space.
It's rarely clear whose zealotry is greater -- the critics who lambaste the genre for unrepentant misogyny and homophobia, or the artists who drape extreme, mindless (hetero)sexuality under a shroud of free speech and good vibes. Regardless, it's a particular strain of black masculinity at play in these debates: debased, unhealthy and, most crucially, other.
Despite what you see on the news, most artists wear their lecherous smirks with irony. Take, for example, Ol' Dirty Bastard's mania, Akinyele's foolish Casanova persona and the legendary Blowfly's playful boasting. Sex is natural. Sex is good. More important, sex is fun! And it turns out that a silver-tongued rapper who rhymes about carnal knowledge is often as popular with women as with men, if not more so.
All of which may well explain part of the curious mystique of Ol' Dirty Bastard, Wu-Tang Clan's nastiest member and, after a few arrests, last year's poster boy for misguided black male aggression. An unlikely sex symbol at best, and an incongruous fetish on any level, Ol' Dirty (or Russell Jones, as the cops call him) still posits himself as a lothario. Even more oddly, the ladies love him! Just ask the mothers of his kids (at least 13, according to Vibe), or the women who still hunt him down, or seduce him in the studio. A recent Rolling Stone article details some of the seedier moments of the recording of "Nigga Please," with one of the more shocking anecdotes involving a willing groupie, an off-key chorus and an ill-hit snare drum captured forever on wax.
Evidently, Dirty's is a fallible phallus. When not reading "Nigga Please," his second solo effort, as a gratuitously offensive record, and when not (kindly) viewing it as performance art, what pours from the seams of the album is the pain of our man's tribulations with the fairer sex. Tracks like the self-evident "I Want Pussy" and "All in Together Now" -- with the bold proclamation "I love you girls, 'cause you want to stick your tongue up in my ass" -- are juxtaposed with more conflicted sentiments. On "Cold Blooded," Dirty's Rick James homage (the second after the Jamesian pose ODB strikes on the album cover), the man simply confuses love and lust: "Love me tender, love me sweet/I wanna bust this nut in a superfreak." His rawest pain is saved for "Good Morning Heartache." Here, it's Lil' Mo who provides the melodic support, but it's Dirty's deranged, irony-free squeal-for-squeal accompaniment that gives the song oomph. "Stop haunting me now/Can't shake you no how/Why don't you leave me alone?" the duo plead to their faceless hurt, stopping the album's ribaldry right in its tracks, however ephemerally.
Akinyele's sexual quest, though, gets no such reprieve. A B-list rapper for some years, his most notable excursions into the mainstream have been for his humorous nods to good lovin'. His first album was titled "Vagina Diner," but only offered a hint of the sextastic anthems to come. Nineteen-ninety-six was Ak's breakout year, with two freaknasty tales making the rounds: "Put It In Your Mouth" was a beatific ode to oral sex (going both ways, as Ak both gave to and received from his female partner), while "Fuck Me For Free" trudged its way through a litany of reasons why one should do so. (Ol' Dirty's inadvertent update of the theme on "Nigga Please" -- "I want pussy/For free" -- is somehow even more compelling).
Yet since Ak achieved notoriety he's come to rely exclusively on the sex game, eschewing a harder, battle-rap side. Gone are insurgencies of braggadocio like "The Bomb" and the rough storytelling of "Robbery Song." Instead, he's delivered a nymphoid new album, accompanied by an hour-long plush-core flick, neither of which have any of the daring or vim of his earlier sexplorations. Taking hip-hop's obsession with the past to new lows, he borrows -- musically or intellectually -- from a slew of songs: Jimmy Buffett's "Why Don't We Get Drunk and Screw," Jermaine Stewart's "We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off," Whodini's "I'm a Ho" and Notorious B.I.G.'s "Juicy." He even bites Adina Howard's "Freak Like Me" on two different tracks. It's so dully derivative that it's painful. Nicking Biggie Smalls, he inquires on "Coochie," "Remember Brand Nubian, One For All?/Who'd ever thought that Ak-nel would get paid to grab his balls?" Not I, fair sir. Not I.
Blowfly, on the other hand, knows the sex-commerce axis all too well. Born Clarence Reid some 54 years ago, the man has made an entire cottage industry since 1978 out of recording obscene, absurd sex comedies. A legend in the South, Reid doubles as a traditional soul singer, but it's his album-length excursions into sexual nether regions that get him play and have made him an inspiration for a legion of raunchy blokes, from Chris Rock to Luke.
Simplistic in cadence and delivery, Blowfly will never win any prizes for lyrical deftness, yet his dirty old man image gives his debauched stories added zing. Not that an album like "Blowfly For President" (originally from 1988, reissued last year), a long-form audio fantasy in which Blowfly, as the first black president, recommends a heavy diet of orgiastic behavior to solve world strife, needs any extra bounce, but the additional lechery helps.
Most recently, Reid applied his puerile powers of seduction to the Christmas tradition, reworking Christian classics in a sinner's vein. Giving gifts of chocolate dildos and extending his middle fingers to the kids (on the album cover, that is), Blowfly makes for a far more interesting Santa than the one on the Coke can. He follows through on his potential with 45 minutes of holiday cheer. It's easy to take "Jingle Bell Rock" or "Silver Bells," change the last word, and make it dirty, but it takes a true comic vision to flip "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" into a fellatio-driven homoerotic fantasy. Christmas morning was never like this, but as Ol' Dirty so eloquently explicates on the pimp anthem "Got Your Money" -- and it could have been said by any of these three erotic troubadours -- "Recognize I'm a fool and you love me!"