Down Low

Down low, or DL, is a term originally used within African American vernacular tradition to connote actions performed with discretion, or outside the realm of surveillance. The DL, according to Geneva Smitherman (2000), describes things in the Black community that were “kept very quiet and secretive; also something done on the sly” (p. 109). These acts of discretion took place on several fronts: political, social, criminal, sexual, and so on.

In 1995, rhythm and blues artist R. Kelly took the term into the public with his hit song titled “Down Low (Nobody Has to Know).” This song was all about secrecy, but Kelly specifically linked the DL to discreet heterosexual acts of infidelity. The term shifted from its social and often nonsexual usage to having a ...

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