How ‘Moesha’ Gave Black Kids Of The ’90s A Role Model They Needed
"Brandy's portrayal of Moesha was groundbreaking ..."
June 24, 2019 at 12:05 am
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It's been almost one month since the 21st anniversary of Brandy's sophomore LP, Never Say Never, a day that marked the evolution of R&B music as we once knew it. And while I've always understood the impact of Brandy's catalog, from her classic first single, "I Wanna Be Down," to her recent collaboration with Jhene Aiko, "Ascension," it's always been her groundbreaking late '90s release that left me with all the feels.
Understanding my love for the album, I used June 9, 2019, as an excuse to fall deep into a rabbit hole of pre-aughts nostalgia. In doing so, wholely allowing myself to relive my childhood through music, I realized many of my most vivid memories are entrenched in the Never Say Never era. It was time when Doritos were only 50 cents a bag, Celebrity Death Match was a phenomenon and Zoog Disney was still a thing — if you know, you know.
But what made this particular period, and the album for that matter, so notable for me wasn't solely the music. In all honesty, I was just too young to grasp the depth of the album's subject matter, much less the magnitude of Brandy's vocal performance. In 1998, I couldn't connect to heavy topics such as unrequited love or knowing when to walk away from relationships that no longer serve me.
However, what I could articulate was why Brandy’s vocal range made her the clear winner in any “The Boy is Mine” argument. I could spend hours in front of the television watching her music videos and interviews on MTV (pre-YouTube). And I could, and did several times, plead my case as to why I, an eight-year-old boy growing up in East Flatbush should own a Brandy doll.
Whether or not I could recognize the rarity of her talent or the breadth of maturity she exhibited in her music, I knew that I loved Brandy for everything she stood for. And in my eyes, as well as the eyes of four million others, what Brandy stood for could be summed up in six syllables: Moe to the, E to the!
I'm going to preface the following by saying that if you weren't immediately overcome with the urge to burst into full song (and accompanying choreography, depending on what season/version of the "Moesha" theme song you go up for), then this article probably isn't for you.
If you, however, remember obsessing over turning 16 so you could finally get your driver's license (and inevitably, your cherry red Jeep), questioning what condoms and birth control were, and why it was a problem having either on hand (ya know, just in case), or wishing you and your friends were creative enough to come up with a group costume for Halloween (an ode to the Divas…the Divas of soul), then you've found a fellow tribesman in me.
Whether or not you still consider yourself a Brandy stan, in 1998 you and the rest of your class knew that there was only one place to be on a Tuesday night at 8 p.m. — in front of your TV screen tuned into UPN!
For six seasons and 127 episodes, Moesha gave us the opportunity to see the world through the eyes of an intelligent, outspoken and wise young woman of color — a narrative that the Black community nor mainstream America had ever seen before. What's more is that she singlehandedly made box braids, a hairstyle plagued with the stigma of being "ghetto," the norm.
She proved that you have a right to an opinion, regardless of age, and she flexed her muscle in almost every episode. From defending her right to wear a midriff top, to having boys in her bedroom, Moesha always had something to say and came equipped with data points to back it up. She was brave. She was thorough. And for me, an only child struggling to comprehend his place in a world plagued by societal norms and expectations, she was a reprieve.
Moesha was the first time I'd ever come across a television show that focused on having its characters tell real stories; audiences were being given storylines that reflected their own community. And for those of you who dare to throw The Fresh Prince of Bel Air into that category, tell me how many of you were flewed out California to live with your rich family members, a butler and the privilege of in-house legal counsel — don't worry, I'll wait.
Brandy's portrayal of Moesha was groundbreaking in that it paved the way for future shows like True Jackson, That's So Raven and KC Undercover; these are shows that have continued to highlight the lives of Black adolescents who are intelligent, as well as socially aware, and most of all, just growing up and figuring it out.
We, as an audience, could see ourselves and our friends in the characters on Moesha. We could relate to her juvenile misadventures and the resulting life lessons because we were either in the trenches going through it with her, or on the cusp of realizing her trials as our own reality.
Think about it. You, or someone you know closely, has definitely gotten in trouble for minding someone else's business (because you care, of course). There was that kid in your class (maybe it was you) that got caught up in a three-way call (it's all fun and games until an unknown party unmutes their line). And you have at least one vivid memory of getting into it with parents over freedoms you feel you rightfully deserve, regardless of your age.
Moesha taught the world that Black girls were a force, and she taught kids like myself that our stories mattered. And despite my feelings surrounding the series finale (we deserved more, but I'm not bitter), I will forever be indepted to Brandy for gifting me, and a drove of other kids of color, with the role model that we needed.
Brandy, thank you for giving us Moesha. Thank you for giving us you.