Note: This article contains language that some readers may find offensive.
As many of you know, Willie D, one-third of Houston's notorious Geto Boys, writes a respected and well-read advice column for this very publication. Many of the letters he gets deal with sensitive and intimate issues between lovers, spouses and family members. Although computer trouble kept his column from running this week, just last week a reader who originally wrote him in 2013 wrote back to say she wound up not taking Willie's advice and came to regret it: “Although things didn’t work out like I wanted them to, I would like to thank you for at least trying to help me,” she said.
In his column, Willie's answers are always reasonable and thoughtful, usually unorthodox, and often hilarious. Last year he introduced the classic children's film Babe as part of the MFAH's “Movies Houstonians Love” series. However, if you think that means he's at all gone soft, think again. Wednesday, he released a video urging black people not to vote in the upcoming presidential election, saying, “neither candidate has our best interests at heart.” (Willie personally supports Bernie Sanders, he said, “but in America we don’t vote for the best candidate; we vote for who we think can beat the next guy.”) And likewise, Willie D the rapper is as outrageous as ever. Longtime GB fans wondering if he might have mellowed with age definitely have an answer now in “Coon,” Willie's first official solo release in 15 years, wherein he criticizes a handful of celebrities he believes have sold out their fellow African-Americans.
Actually, “criticizes” may not be a strong enough term. The cover art for the single features a stock image of a grinning, banjo-toting 19th-century minstrel often associated with the racist 1830s song “Zip Coon.” Willie's video for the single, which premiered earlier this week on his website, features likenesses of his various targets being taken to a “Coon Deprogramming Center” by both forklift and an anonymous box truck. It sounds like a rap song, one that stretches past seven minutes long, but feels more like an evisceration.
It may not come as a huge surprise that much of the language in the song is as shocking as its title. Depending on Willie's target at any given moment, it's also homophobic, misogynistic or downright appalling, like this couplet directed at former Cosby Show co-star Raven-Symoné: “White folks don't love you black folks don't trust you/ When you was on that show Bill Cosby must've drugged you.” Then again, few people indeed listen to a song by any of the Geto Boys expecting it to be rated PG. One thing is for certain: “Coon” is vintage Willie D, for better or worse. About a week after the single dropped last month, he answered his critics via theboombox.com: “I ain't apologizing for shit.” But not everyone has thrown shade on the single, he notes.
“For the most part, it's been well-received,” the rapper told us one day last week. “Of course, you always have your detractors when you put out a song like this that you know is going to ruffle some feathers.”
Even the word's etymology is about as complicated as the issues Willie addresses in the song. Without the sharp racial overtones, it was once just another word for “hick.” And besides the allusions to the nocturnal mammals of the genus Procyon, the theory Willie says he thinks is most plausible derives the term from barracoon, a word of Spanish origin that denotes the barracks-like buildings where slaves were often kept, either before or after their voyage to the Americas. A man named Ernest Hogan also wrote a popular song in the 1890s called “All Coons Look Alike to Me.”
“He wasn't even referring to black people,” Willie says. “But people took it, and they made it out [as] what they wanted to make it out of, and then it took on a racial tone.”
Fast-forward to 2016, and “in the black community, the word is representative of a black person who sells out his community for the acceptance of others, specifically white people,” he adds. “Or a black person who reinforces the negative stereotypes of blacks.”
No one in Willie's song gets put on blast harder than Charles Barkley, the former NBA star turned TNT commentator and, according to Willie, bush-league social critic. The Geto Boy says Barkley’s support of the police officers accused in the deaths of unarmed black men Michael Brown and Eric Garner is what lit the fuse for his song, but before joining TNT, Willie says he found Barkley to be “refreshing” because back then, the ex-Rocket wasn’t afraid of publicly speaking his mind, consequences be damned.
“White guys are vocal and forward and they can get aggressive, and they're outspoken all the time,” Willie says with a chuckle. “But when black guys are outspoken, there's usually some type of penalty associated with it, whether that be somebody trying to prevent him from earning a living, or somebody trying to ostracize him or distance themselves from him because of this fear of a black man being aggressive. God forbid a black man stand on two feet and don't allow himself to be pushed around like any other American would do.”
No less raked over the coals in “Coon” are ESPN commentator Stephen A. Smith, who was suspended after publicly squabbling with a female colleague in the wake of the Ray Rice elevator incident; former Clueless actress turned Fox News personality (and Donald Trump supporter) Stacey Dash; and Don Lemon, the CNN reporter who infamously said, “Obviously, I smell marijuana” while covering the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, in the aftermath of the Brown verdict. What they all have in common, Willie says, is all of them put a fat paycheck ahead of the interests of the black community — the kind of behavior he believes simply wouldn’t fly if the tables were turned for any of the other races.
“Look, if there were other so-called pundits and commentators, analysts on these stations that [are] white, and [they] came on and disparaged the white community, I’d say, ‘Okay, it’s a level playing field,’" Willie says. “If they had people that were on there representing the Hispanic community and they came on and every time a Hispanic issue came up they disparaged the Hispanic community, I’d say, ‘Well, you know, it’s a pretty level playing field.’ But they don’t.
“The only kind of people that they have on their show that constantly disparage their community are black people,” he adds. “Period. That means that those stations are culpable, and they know what they’re doing. They have an agenda, and that agenda is to shit on the black community. And use black people to do it — that way they can’t be accused of being racist.”
Willie has said he's already planning a sequel to “Coon,” and that if he must, “I’d like to take this song to Capitol Hill,” he laughs. “I’ll take it all the way, man, because I ain’t gonna stop, because it’s always gonna be relevant.”
ENCORE: Stacey Dash's followers debate Willie's song on Twitter:
Willie D has a "hit list," wishes I'd been killed instead of Michael Brown - https://t.co/HelxTYjZ50— Stacey Dash (@REALStaceyDash) April 19, 2016
@REALStaceyDash who the hell is willie d ? Better who cares— Kirk Hollums (@KHollums) April 19, 2016
@REALStaceyDash you should be honored to be roasted by Willie D, he's the best at the Art.— Matt Brylinski (@Balbanes40) April 19, 2016
@REALStaceyDash What a piece of trash to say that! He just can't handle a dash of the Dash! He should be so lucky!— Brutha Trucka (@BruthaTrucka) April 20, 2016
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