“Brown Sugar” by The Rolling Stones (1971)/”Brown Sugar” by D’Angelo (1995)

…it’s always nice when two entries blend together seamlessly.

The Stones’ chart-topping classic “Brown Sugar”’s got a killer riff, a snarling vocal from Mick Jagger, and lyrics that some consider highly questionable. As for me, I consider the times and consider the context, and give the Stones a pass. Are the lyrics racist? I don’t know that Mick Jagger is inhabiting the role of a slave owner more than he’s writing and singing about it, which is not racist in and of itself. Mick himself has acknowledged the edginess of the lyrics in more recent interviews (and by making adjustments to the words when the song has been played in more recent concerts.) So…whatever. “Brown Sugar” goes hard as fuck. I always associate it with bar jukeboxes; I guess I became familiar with it in my early days of drinking. At any rate, I love it. And am not going to apologize for that.

D’Angelo’s “Brown Sugar” (not the same song) is similarly open to interpretation. Is it a love song? Yeah, but maybe not about what you’re thinking. “Brown Sugar” is an ode to weed. And it sounds like a stoner’s anthem with its slow, head-nodding groove and D’s mumbled vocal. The superstar in the making got a lot of press when promoting this (his first) record, most of it crediting him for revolutionizing the merger of hip-hop and R&B and thus creating the “neo-soul” subgenre. Of course, these same articles conveniently overlooked the fact that Me’Shell NdegeOcello’s “Plantation Lullabies” and Tony! Toni! Tone!’s “Sons of Soul” came out two years before. At any rate, I remember one tone-deaf piece in particular quoting D as saying the song was about his “love for Buddah” and clearly not realizing that “Buddha” was a synonym for marijuana (“don’t smoke buddah/can’t stand sess, yes”…remember that lyric from Rob Base’s “It Takes Two”?). I guess the fact that D began his career with an almost willfully obtuse, easy to misinterpret song should’ve warned us about everything that’s happened in the 23 years since.

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