OHIO PLAYERS / “Ohio Players Mixtape”
Quiet as it's kept, Ohio was a funk center back in the day and, other than Bootsy, nobody exemplified the Ohio funk sensibility better than The Ohio Players. So here is a Mixtape featuring a combination of some of their major hits and some of my favorite tracks.
I had planned to do a regular BoL background write-up on the band but their bios are available all over the internet. Two of the better bios are here and here.
The best summation of their style of funk comes from one of their members. Drummer James “Diamond” Williams dropped this assessment: "There's not enough light heartedness in the music world today. Nothing serious or heavy, just good dance records that everybody relates to. Silly, even! People can relate to silly all day long!"
That’s all I’m gonna say about the music, right now I want to talk about male privilege and females viewed primarily or solely as sexual objects.
* * *
We were marching in formation around the Southern University Baton Rouge campus. I was participating in a program called Bayou Boys’ State. I believe it was the summer of my tenth grade year, and one of the adults was leading us in a chant: “I don’t want no woman with her hair cut shorter than mine.” And don’t get me started talking about the chants we marched to in the good old U.S. Army when I took basic training up at Fort Lee outside of Shreveport, Louisiana.
None of this was in anyway unusual or abnormal. All of this was sexist to the core.
In the late sixties, bald heads became popular among young black men who were what was often called cultural nationalists. Then in the early seventies, Isaac Hayes forever altered the general perception of hairstyles for black males.
Sure the big afro was a popular style but so was the bald head. There were two ways to fight against the male style of wearing processed hair known as “the conk”: you could wear a big afro or you could shave it all off, neither style was beholden to aesthetics of white supremacy.
And then there was this amazing development (I hope yall are listening to the Ohio Players Mixtape while reading this), for a brief period the bald head was an accepted style for women. I know, I know, that’s hard to believe in this era of the weave, the extensions, the this and the that.
And once again, nobody better exemplified this genre-gender redefining of hair than did the Ohio Players with their album covers featuring a baldheaded model.
It wasn't just about no hair, it was also about the hyper-eroticization of the female figure. They went far, far beyond mere lust by employing images of bondage and sadism. The covers were striking and utterly unforgettable. One look and the image was burned into your brain.
An interesting twist is that went The Ohio Players signed to a major label, Mercury, the bald-headed model was dropped and a Miss Playboy Bunny was hired for the uber-controversial cover of Honey
By today’s standards, the sexual content may be tame but it was more than nudity. The art design was expertly done. Conceptual art and raw sex rolled into one funky package (and, of course, the music was slamming, further cementing the suggestive power of the image in the emotional make-up of the viewer.
By the eighties, the creative run of the Ohio Players was essentially over even though members of the band continued to perform into the new millennium, and feminist criticism of sexual exploitation via imagery was both widespread and widely acknowledged.
One tenant of feminism critique was organized around the male penchant for making a fetish of the female figure. In film criticism, the incisive question was: “is the gaze male?” Is the popular act of looking at the female figure and that figure being put on display in all the popular media, is that act essentially a male activity and by extension both patriarchal and sexist?
My answer: in the context of American capitalism, which uses sex to sell everything, anything, I believe the “gaze” is specifically patriarchal and not specifically male. Generally speaking, women like to look at men as much as men like to look at women but women don’t control how male figures are created and how that representation is used to sell items.
The Ohio Players created not only music they also associated themselves with album covers that were sexist to the core. I can hear my man Diamond tapping out the refrain that I’m taking it all too seriously they were just funking around.
The problem is that this "funking around" too often reinforces some of the more negative of male sexist behavior.
Frankly I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to those Ohio Players album covers, mainly because I wasn’t that deep into their music. When I began putting this Mixtape together I was surprised by how much of their music I liked and was familiar with. That’s the thing about popular culture, it gets to you even when you’re not directly paying attention.
One of the last Ohio Players albums from back in the seventies was called Mr. Mean
. What is suggested by this cover? The exploitation of women is an ongoing problem. I don’t think it will be solved in my lifetime but I do know one thing for sure—I’m not going to be silent about the negative impact all of this can have on us.
On the other hand, I’m not going to become a puritan about eroticism, nudity and sexual representation. It’s a complex issue. I believe it is far, far healthier for us to openly discuss these issues than to have well over half of our population suffering in silence while we males continue to blithely go about our business of figuratively and sometimes literally consuming women with total impunity.
For those who are interested, I wrote a speculative fiction story (published in the anthology Dark Matter
that came out in 2000) built around the theme of what happens to a man who has an operation and has his wife’s eyes put into his head. Go here to read Could You Wear My Eyes?
—Kalamu ya Salaam
Ohio Players Mixtape Playlist
All of the tracks are from the Gold
album except where noted.
02 “Love Rollercoaster”
03 “Good Luck Charm”
04 “Skin Tight”
05 “Let's Love”
06 “Sweet Sticky Thing”
07 “Time Slips Away”
08 “What The Hell”
10 “Funky Worm”
12 “Heaven Must Be Like This”
14 “Time Slips Away/Shoot Yer Shot”
15 “Varee Is Love”
16 “It's All Over”
17 “Pride And Vanity”
18 “Alone (Live)”
20 “I Want To Be Free”
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