“That was not the plan…”

While I believe modern music’s role as a source of empowerment is debatable, there is no denying that it provides unique commentary and insight into a wide range of issues. Look hard enough and it is possible to find songs related to almost any issue of class, race, gender, religion, or politics. After our discussion on Wednesday about blues women and their taboo lyrics, specifically their lyrics about domestic abuse, I stumbled across a very relevant song from just a few years ago.

“Dorian” by Brother Ali tells the story of a man (possibly the rapper himself) confronting his neighbor about the abuse he is hearing through his apartment walls. Just like in the 1920s and 30s, domestic violence is still taboo topic in American society, and while it may no longer be completely hidden, many people are not comfortable dealing with it outside of popular entertainment. People are unsure or afraid of confronting the issue in their own lives.

Lyrics (Italics mine)
“Here we are in the apartment corridor,
Dorian, right? yeah I been meaning to speak to you.
I don’t get up in my neighbours business normally right,
But yo these thin ass walls got everything leakin’ through

Now first thing’s first, I don’t judge you for the weed smoke
But I can hear your daughter yellin’ “daddy, please dont”
And it’s not once or twice, but every damn night
Man there’s somethin’ goin’ on up in here that ain’t right now
man to man, I can understand
They like to stress a brotha out, man we cuss each other out
But you crossin the line by puttin your hands on ’em
Ain’t nobody ever told you not to hit a damn woman? boy

I can tell that my presence was painful
Breathin’ truth down his neck it must have felt like a strangle
His eyes flashed confusion, wavin’ his hands around
He’s used to raisin’ his voice on people to back ’em down…”

“….See this is specifically why I left the pistol in the linen closet
Pullin’ this shit, if he was taller I’da went and got it
Damnit man, I’m in the right and I’m civilized
But little boys ain’t really used to bein’ criticized
First off scooter, take the bass out your voice
I’m respectfull with mine and yo you makin’ a choice here
and, understand it’s only once that I warn you
Make a move, make a threat, I’ll make it rain knuckles on you
I ain’t a woman or a baby dawg, I’m out of your league
My wife heard us gettin’ loud so she’s prayin’ for peace
She’s stuck her head out on some keep your temper shit
Little man gon’ say “close the door, and mind your business bitch”
Ha, now that’s sweet, just what I needed it, it seemed that
He invited my right fist to a party on his left cheek
I didn’t mean to seem rude so I accepted,
But arrived a half a second early, right cross connected –
Oh, staggered him, just by taggin’ him,
Mr. tough guy, one punch bring out the fag in him
Little man could make moves that I couldn’t,
He cut and tried to foot it, now how should I put it
I stood at full posture and swatted him down the staircase
Bare knuckles to bare face, all punches knew their place
Airport style, the second one take off, the next one land
Learn some respect young man
He glanced down for the brick on the ground,
Fist still clenched up I’m still stickin’ his crown
He’s in the jaws of the most turbulent blitz in the world
So fuck hittin’ ya’ girl tonight you’re hittin’ the ground
I said somebody need to beat your ass,
And then teach your ass, and I’m sorry I can only do half
And while his mellon swell up, a police cruiser pull up
He hopped out all puffed up with the holster of his gun up
Ready to protect and serve,
And it’s in his nature to .38 ya’ if you’re testin’ his nerves
He helped the wife-beater stand up,
But not before he helped Brother Ali into some handcuffs
And you can imagine my surprise,
When his girl came down the stairs with tears in her eyes
And a phone in her hand, holdin’ her man
Damn that was not the plan…

There is a lot going on in this song. Brother Ali is acknowledging that domestic abuse is still a prevalent problem and that doing the right thing is not always easy. His line, “Dorian, right? I been meaning to speak to you,” hints that this is to confront his neighbor and he probably had to work up the courage to do so. He also shows his surprise that his neighbor doesn’t seem to see the issue the same way, saying, “dammit man, I’m right and I’m civilized.”

Brother Ali does not pretend that this is a simple issue. Even though he was trying to stop abuse, his good intentions escalate into violence. He also points to an issue present today, as well as in the blues era, of abused women staying with their abusers. At the end of the song, the battered wife calls the cops and Brother Ali is arrested. His confusion and surprise are clear when he says, “Damn that was not the plan.”

I do not hold “Dorian” up as a great anti-abuse anthem, but I believe it offers a very interesting point of view into class and gender. It is a complex look at a very prevalent issue and that is why I find it so intriguing.

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