Muni Long Teaches Us How To Love

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Cynicism is a growing phenomenon in music. True love songs are hard to come by these days. Deriving its name from Rihanna’s “We Found Love,” Yellow Diamonds is a series of lyric breakdowns in which VIBE Senior Music Editor Austin Williams celebrates songs that sound like love found in a hopeless mainstream.

On Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14), this column debuted with a lyric breakdown of Muni Long’s “Hrs and Hrs.” Like what’ll be the case with future breakdowns, that analysis came from a place of fandom. But in music, there’s admittedly no better source of translation than the songwriter.

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For this special edition of Yellow Diamonds, Muni Long revisited the lyrics of her breakout hit upon the release of the song’s jazzy reinterpretation that she performed for Amazon Music. The live rendition, which premiered on VIBE last Thursday (Feb. 24), could be the first of many versions we’ll hear throughout the years. “I have a feeling I’ll be singing this song for a long time,” Long tells me.

If “Hrs and Hrs” already feels timeless, that’s a result of its subject matter. Even as true love songs have gone out of style, true love itself remains an evergreen pursuit. A student of romantic music, Long understands this well. As we discuss her favorite songwriters, she lists everyone from Stevie Wonder to Elton John as dream collaborators. She also gushes over Usher’s Confessions, and names SZA and Summer Walker among singer-songwriters from her generation she respects and admires.

Outside of traditional R&B, our conversation turns to our mutual love of The Weeknd, whose pop ambitions have complicated his relationship with certain day-one fans. “I definitely love R&B Abel,” she admits, later insisting “his songwriting is gorgeous.” But she ultimately makes a valid point about fans’ attachment to the genre that made the Dawn FM performer famous: “Is he R&B because he’s Black? Or because he wants to be in that category? Because he’s a pop artist [now]. He makes pop music. [And] it’s amazing.”

The topic of creative freedom hits close to home for Long, which is likely why the latest version of “Hrs and Hrs” sounds of a different era than the original. “I’m not limited,” she tells me. “I can’t remember which article it was, [but] I think it might have been Billboard that called me ‘genre-agnostic,’ which I really love because I can do anything. I love all music.”

Yet, even as this Amazon Original take on the song is performed at a faster pace, with beautifully embellished runs that have an air of improvisation, the lyrics of “Hrs and Hrs” remain the same. Below, Muni Long discusses the meaning of some of those lyrics, as well as the bad dates, nights spent praying, and eventual heaven-sent marriage that inspired them.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

VIBE: In my Valentine’s Day breakdown of “Hrs and Hrs,” I used the song to describe the difference between love songs and songs about sex. Would you agree that there’s a distinction between the two?

Muni Long: Absolutely. I think a lot of people don’t really understand what intimacy is. It’s not necessarily [about] being intimate. [“Hrs and Hrs”] is a song about intimacy, which can be really uncomfortable for some people. A lot of people don’t know how to do that without being sexual.

How did you tap into that non-sexual intimacy? I feel like a lot of songwriters struggle with that today.

It’s true to life. I’ve been married for eight years now. It’ll be eight years in June. And I really just enjoy intimacy. Like, spending time, nonverbal communication, all of those things. And I don’t care about people feeling like they’re too cool or feeling like it’s corny or whatever. Because you wouldn’t say that if you’ve actually experienced it.

I think that’s one of the problems in R&B right now. I think a lot of people haven’t experienced true love. The truth you’re describing in the song is rare these days. What advice would you give to inexperienced people out there trying to maintain long, loving relationships?

I think it’s individualistic. It just depends on the person you’re with and your willingness to forgive and start over, have compassion, not be a quitter—unconditional love. It’s a lot of things. A lot of elements. It’s definitely not easy to share space with somebody, but I think it’s beautiful when you figure it out.

On “Hrs and Hrs,” you sing, “When you do what you do, I’m empowered/ You give me a superpower.” For people who haven’t experienced this type of love, can you explain what it means to feel empowered this way?

It’s about being fearless and getting that encouragement and validation from your partner, which cancels out the need for anything else outside of that. It’s like, you know, “My boo likes it. He doesn’t care. He encourages me to dress how I want. Express myself the way I want.” Which is also rare. Because a lot of times in relationships people are super jealous and it’s not really about loving that person, but it’s more about controlling [them]. So, yes, it’s very empowering when you have someone who encourages you.

Has there ever been a time in your life when you experienced the opposite of that? When you didn’t feel empowered in a relationship?

Absolutely. Not even just in romantic relationships, but [also] friendships, business relationships. Just having those people that are fearful themselves or who don’t want to relinquish control. Which manifests in, like… maybe backhanded compliments [and] snide remarks that can chip at your confidence.

I definitely don’t have that problem anymore. At all. With anyone. Like, I really don’t care. Also, my relationship with my husband has encouraged me to really work on myself to get myself to a place where even if he doesn’t agree, I’m still good.

The next lyric I want to ask you about is, “A love like ours, I pray on my knees for it for some hours.” Was there ever a time when you felt like the type of love you have now wasn’t ever going to enter your life, and all you could do was pray for it?

Absolutely. Especially in LA, man. We met in LA. I didn’t know if I would ever get married. I always felt like I might have to just marry a nerd or somebody who would just be happy to have me, you know? Just so that I can get somebody. Because it’s tough. People are super self-centered. It’s hard to find people who won’t be intimidated by somebody like me. And he said the same thing. Neither one of us thought that we would be married, or that we would find somebody in LA.

It’s interesting that you mention LA. I’m from New York. I feel like this city and LA have similar dating problems. Especially in terms of superficiality.

Mm-hmm. It’s just very carnal. Nobody really wants to get to know each other. Everybody just wants to smash. Or is just trying to, like, crash on your couch [laughs]. You know what I mean?

Yeah. Especially in New York and LA, man. That rent gets crazy. What’s the difference between dating in LA and where you’re originally from in Florida?

I don’t know. I was 19 or 18 when I moved from Florida. I never really dated. I went on maybe five dates my whole life—and I hated all of them. [They] were terrible. Horrible. Every date I went on, I hated. Before I met my husband. I’d be like, “I’m bored. I’m ready to go home.”

If you don’t mind me asking, what was the worst of those five?

I’m just very intellectual, and I want somebody who can stimulate me mentally. And the guys that were trying to take me out were just very shallow. They were buying me flowers and stuff. I just didn’t want it. I was like, “Ugh. This is so… I hate this” [laughs].

It’s interesting hearing you describe this. Most fans don’t know this about you. When they hear your music, especially a song like “Hrs and Hrs,” they probably imagine you as this sort of hopeless romantic. But it sounds like you’d consider yourself more of an intellectual than a romantic.

I’m a romantic for the right person. But I don’t like people like that [laughs]. I’ll be nice and everything. And I’m very kind. But as far as me wanting to spend extended amounts of time around people? I’m good. I’d rather just be myself and read my book and watch my movies.

I was just telling one of my friends from high school this. I really enjoy being by myself. So, when I say, “I can sit and talk to you for hours,” that means I really like you.

Watch Muni Long’s performance of “Hrs and Hrs” for Amazon Music below

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