A shrill voice interrupts a man's sad reverie about his commitment to his lover and his imprisonment by his wife. I made you what you are, you hear me I paid the housenotes! I put you through school I paid for that pretty car your driving your woman or women around in Now if I can't be number one I will not be number two, unless I want to be And right now I am in no mood to be number two That's right I got papers on you .
So raps the wife. The love triangle that has prompted generations of sonnets and songs has again made it to wax. This time the wax is sizzling with more than a slow grind and a broken heart. This time "She's Got Papers on Me," a cut from an album by an unknown named Richard "Dimples" Fields (with Betty Wright as the scorned partner) has struck home with thousands of black Washingtonians, creating hot sales but an even hotter controversy.
The ballad-rap song has made Fields' album the best-selling rhythm and blues record in Washington. The Soul Shack has sold 1,500 albums since the June release, and the record is just as hot in New York, Boston, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia, according to the songwriter's record company, Neil Bogart's Broadwald Records. The request line at WOOK-100 has been jammed. "It's hot. It's an avalanche," says the station's program director, Dwight Langley. And, like "Keep on Truckin'" before it, the song has volleyed a bit of street lingo to the record charts.
"Papers," the story of the wistfulsounding, cheatin' husband who gets upbraided by a loud, unforgiving wife, has added to the debate about the tensions between black men and women that has acquired an unabased public face in magazines and on talk shows in the last few years.
The women buying the record -- and the are the majority, according to local record store personnel -- seem to be finding identity with the harsh frontal attack on the male ego. ysome women say the find "Papers" right on time, reflecting the strength a woman, hurt by a lover's indiscretions, should show; other women say they hear nothing but the age-old battle-ax stereotype -- a black woman with her hands on her hips, greasy head swinging back and forth, sounding matriarchal and ignorant; others think it's the fantasy putdown they all should memorize just in case their papers are trepassed.
"The song expressed to me how people feel," said Candi Wiseman, a junior at Suitland Senior High, shopping at the Soul Shack. "When you listen to it, those things go on. It could happen to you. I didn't think it was a put-down. When I'm breaking up with someone, I just get an attitude and say forget it."
"It's a nice song but it didn't strike me as totally real," said Janice Rayford, 24, a clerical worker. "I mean, you are doing all this for him, well, let him go. She's done all this, it's not going to do her any good to hold on."
Most men seem to be more sympathetic to the man. According to his record company, Richard Fields believes "that's what women always tell him. It's a classic story of black life. The women are dominant." Ruben Rodriguez, one of the label's vice presidents, says he first heard the demo tape of "Papers" on his Sony Walkman somewhere in the air between New York and Los Angeles. "I remembered the title from street talk back in my neighborhood of Brownsville in Brooklyn. It's one of those realistic songs, people live that day to day." As he bought the album, Arnez Olden, a 24-year-old maintenance worker, said, "ythe man sounds like he wants to leave and can't. Going through those problems is for real." My my my, don't we look pretty in that suit my money bought You better come on downstairs and have a seat But don't get to comfortable now Because you won't be here that long
The favorable reactions at WHUR-FM, the Howard University station, add unscientific evidence to the suspicion that infidelity is a common occurrence in Washington. "Eight out of 10 people [who call in] like the song. The other two say it's degrading to black men or the black family," says general manager Robert Taylor. "It reflects something that is common in the community, people who are torn between two people." The station's Jerry Phillips opened his "Morning Sound" microphone to the controversy recently. One woman said it was disgusting and a negative reflection on the black family. Phillips recalls another woman saying, "If she was doing her thing at home, it wouldn't happen."
Conversations have started right in the aisles of Waxie Maxie's according to Walter Toy, a salesman at the Kent Land Shopping Center store. "The women say, 'That's what that no-good-person gets.' The men say, 'The ladies better not come up and tell me that. They will be in the hospital,'" syas Toy. Young women, aged 20 to 30, are mainly the buyers of the 50 albums he's been selling every two days. At the Soul Shack, the women buyers outnumber the men, 3 to 1. "And some of them tell me if their men aren't acting right, they take it home and put it right on," says Toy.
At Kemp Mill Record Shops, "Papers" is the number two seller in the chain's 15 stores. "It's a wave. It happens once in a while," says Howard Applebaum, the company's vice president. "The R&B stores started selling it first. Now it has spread to the white or rock-oriented places. When I first heard about it, the people in the industries said this is not a good record. But I thought this is interesting, it can't be the same record we are getting all these requests for. This is a case where the public has won."
Demand for "Papers" forced WOOK's Langley to play a song he doesn't approve of. "It had that ethnic sound. Most black FMs these days tend to shy away from that approach," says Langley. "But you give people what they want, not what they should have. Whenever women come up with a male put-down, it's popular." A popular soul station in San Francisco, KSOL, has dropped the record because, according to the producers, they thought it was unbecoming to black women.
Frances Rankin, a psychiatrist who consults with couples and professional black women, says the lyrics hit a realistic chord in their discussion of the difficulty of commitments. "But the main thrust is to devalue through humor the one who is left behind," says Rankin. "His caricature is to make light of her determination, her pain, her emotions. The other women and the man are depicted as weaklings. The other woman represents his wish to be fully gratified without taking responsibility ad is depicted as a weakling."
Some women have laughed as they admitted the lyrics were their ultimate quitting-time, kiss-off fantasy. I am not going to let you out of this Unless you buy me out I am not going through no more hard times or bad times I can do bad all by myself, all by myself Yeah, I got papers on you But now I am throwing them in the trashcan of my memory .