Musical legend and MUVA Chaka Khan is catching heat for saying “fuck her,” when asked by Luenell, in a VLADTV interview, if she would do a collaboration with Ariana Grande. She said “She’s alright, but no, no, I would not.” Chaka also expressed she had no interest in working with other female artists at this time either, as they wouldn’t have anything they could sing about together—or as Mama Chaka put it “I ain’t singing with no heffa.” Which to the untrained ear comes off as a slap in the face to young artists—or shady, depending on which generation you hail from.
But when we unpack her choice of words, we see she simply said “at this point in time, I have no interest in sharing my creative space with another feminine energy. I don’t wish to eclipse them with my personality.”
We can’t claim she wasn’t willing to try at some point, as evidence by their collaboration on Nobody for the Charlie’s Angels soundtrack– which sounded as ill paired as you can imagine it to be (Chaka’s exact words when asked about it were, “it’s cute, it’s not gonna change the world, OK? It’s a good song in a movie.”)
And we can’t claim that she does not keep up with younger talent as she mentioned Lalah Hathway and Anderson.Paak as creative powerhouses finding their own stride and shine in the world.
I know it’s hard to find good examples of how an older generation is supposed to interact with a younger generation, but this is the definition of a healthy attitude towards youth. She’s an elder. That’s what elders are supposed to do. Keep an eye on the youth and find the appropriate vessel to pass the torch to. Or, if they see no vessel is ready to pick up said torch, they nurse the flame, holding onto it until a ready soul comes about to carry on that mantle. They never pass until they know someone will pick it up.
I experienced this when my grandmother died: she held onto her final breaths, keeping her spirit tethered to her body until my uncle arrived. She needed to lay eyes on him, because in her mind, he was the one who would carry her burden and role in the family. That’s what elders do.
We saw this with James Brown, passing his torch to Michael Jackson. Even Chadwick Boseman spoke of this idea in the now immortal speech he gave for Howard’s 150th commencement. When speaking of a moment on the campus grounds, he conjures the image of Muhammad Ali, transferring a fighter’s spirit to him one day, seemingly at random. The wise Ali, an elder himself, must have known Chadwick would need it to fight his battle with cancer long enough to deliver to the people T’Challa.
This is the idea Chaka was trying to convey when she spoke as she did in that interview. She was saying she didn’t see anyone she wanted to transfer that spirit to, or share it with, right now. That’s it. But apparently the untrained eyes and ears of Ariana Grande fans couldn’t hear the words of wisdom. Now they are coming for the legend.
Look. I love me some Ariana Grande: with her spray-tanning, over-the-lip-lining, tryna-be-a whole-black woman self. I love that at some point in time, Ariana’s music is going to be played at drag shows, in houses packed to the rafters with flamboyantly dressed divas breaking their necks trying to keep pace with elaborate foot-work and body snatching moves.
But what y’all not gone do, is disrespect the Queen of Funk by tryna pretend she and Ariana are in the same category. Ariana is damn good. Can sing the pants off Celine Dion good. But Ariana ain’t funk. She ain’t out here, as Chaka so elegantly describes later in the interview, “raising the spirit of people”. Taking ‘em to church and what not. Right now, she could maybe get away with singing the lead for a youth service. Maybe. But she ain’t ready to lead a four-hour revival with Chaka yet.
What I find interesting in Chaka Khan’s five minute discourse with Luenell, aside from the rapid pace of her thought patterning resulting in a staccato conveyance akin to the drums you hear on her songs, is that she gives no disrespect to Ariana in any way.
She acknowledges Ariana for the royalty she is. She respects the kingdom of Ariana Grande, and says outright, “look we have nothing to come together on. Your stuff is amazing in it’s own right, but I would not dare over-shine nor overpower you by trying to pretend that we are in the same category.”
Sidebar: Chaka Khan has a star, a star, a whole star, on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Which means your grandparents probably know who she is, she so authentic. And y’all wanna put her and Ariana on the same stage. Don’t make me laugh.
This is not a boast. This is not a moment of pomposity for Chaka. She has collaborated with other legends, like Whitney Houston, before. This is a moment of acceptance of herself and all she has done, is doing and is capable of becoming. This is a woman who has taken the time to hone her craft to the point where she is LITERALLY a recognizable drag identity for people. Inspiring folks all over the globe to know they can find freedom of expression in who they are, by embodying her—Chaka Khan that is.
Ariana…Ariana does not have that. And that’s not to say she never will– she’s still young,. Only time will tell whether she will gain the courage to be that authentic. But right now? No. Not even close. She’s impersonating a Black woman at the end of the day. The day she stops doing that, along with Kylie Jenner and all the rest of the Kardashian coven, then, then maybe we can talk.
But until that day, to the fans of Ariana Grande, bucking at the bit tryna come for Mama Chaka Khan: don’t. Sit down youngings, and let Mama Chaka learn ya somethin’.
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