Last week, I headed to work on what seemed like the 100th consecutive day of rain and clouds after a relaxing long weekend. Heavy hearted and footed, I began mine over one hour commute with an Uber ride. As I settled into the back seat, “Angel” by Anita Baker came on the radio. I immediately knew it was a sign. This song, just like Stevie Wonder’s “Ribbon in the Sky” and Luther Vandross’ “Don’t You Know That” speaks to me on a spiritual level. They always seem to pop up when I’m feeling anxious, unlucky, unloved or all three. These songs serve as an anchor that keep me centered when my mind threatens to capsize from an angry sea of overwhelming thoughts and remind me that everything is indeed okay.
I took an interest in Anita Baker because my dad—my idol– liked her. I was always immediately curious about anything my dad liked because I liked having things in common with him–another means of connection. He’s also the reason I like cheesecake and am a diehard Seinfeld fan. Speaking of Seinfeld, the first time I ever saw Anita, she was twirling and dancing “Elaine”-style and in a dark room illuminated by candles in her “Rapture” video. But even with the weird visuals, I couldn’t deny that it was a good song. It didn’t take much for me to develop my relationship with Anita; my father was simply the angel who delivered what my soul had been waiting on.
To me, Anita’s music exudes a spiritual component to the experience of love without necessarily being gospel. Anita is that aunty who found love so good she can’t shut up about it, but you’re not mad because you get to experience its goodness through her. Her music is about the OG couple at family events who are guaranteed to be the first to hit the dance floor to show off their matching outfits and their syncopated two-step. Her music is about Grown Folks Love™: a.k.a. “We just went there and said some slick shit to and about each other, but that’s how love is sometimes and if we can’t come back from this, we ain’t had no business spending $20K on no damn party (i.e., wedding)” love. A romantic relationship is not the only way to experience transcendent love, but it is one way, and Anita sang for those whose love is a testament to a higher power if only for the fact that through their relationship, they overcame spiritual and emotional pain they never would have believed they could.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the shallow nature of the love talked about from the male-dominated Hip Hop/ R&B love songs of my adolescence. The type of love they’re talking about doesn’t hold a candle to the experience of transcendence and profound emotion that Anita shares. If anything, the women the men proclaim to love are simply objects used as a means to an aspirational end. They are merely an extension to strengthen his own ego and status through his decision and ability to “wife” (marry) “ice” (to lavish in diamonds) and “lace” (to provide with an enormous amount of luxury goods) the interchangeable “dimepiece” (a woman who rates 10 on a scale of 1-10 on a scale of attractiveness) prototype.
Aunty Anita recently announced her retirement. I was more shocked about this simply from a place of confusion (don’t most singers just sing until they can’t? She’s a healthy 59) rather than disappointment. I admit that I had not kept up with her recent career moves. I didn’t have to. To me, her career is encapsulated and wrapped entirely in an 8-year (1986-1994) time capsule or “Good Love” syllabus as I have decided to call it. I have yet to find the type of love she describes, but I am forever grateful to her for giving me an earful about its magic.