Friday, December 14, 2018

When It All Falls Down

It’s been almost 15 years since Kanye West released his debut studio album, The College Dropout, awarding the him his very first career Grammy. Presented on this album is a track titled “All Falls Down” ft. Syleena Johnson, a song that I have been bobbing my head to since I was a child. Although, at the time I was more focused on singing along with Syleena’s background vocals as I listened to this song at the loudest possible volume our radio could reach, I have come to learn, appreciate, and relate to every word of this 2004 hit.

According to the article we read that answers the question of what poetry is, I learned that poetry is a kind of language that relays a message more more intensely than ordinary language. With each verse of this song, I feel that listeners are exposed to a new issue that people in our society are plagued with. Kanye goes from reflecting on the life of a young girl who is forced to make important life decisions, then he moves to a reflection of his own self and his own values, and he ends with a verse reflecting and questioning the world in which we live and how we function, all while using his unique word choice to emphasize how much there is a need for a boost and improvement of confidence and self-worth of minorities in our society.

Kanye tells the story of a young woman and how she struggles to create a secure life for herself, but throughout all of this her main concern is the way other people perceive her. Afterwards, he shares his own story and shows how they both share a similar experience. Their story follows:

She has no idea what she doin' in college
That major that she majored in don't make no money
But she won't drop out, her parents'll look at her funny...
She like, "Fuck it, I'll just stay down hurr and do hair."
‘Cause that's enough money to buy her a few pairs
Of new Airs...
Couldn't afford a car, so she named her daughter Alexis
And she be dealin' with some issues that you can't believe
Single black female addicted to retail
Man, I promise, I'm so self-conscious
That's why you always see me with at least one of my watches
Rollie's and Pasha's done drove me crazy
I can't even pronounce nothin', pass that Ver-say-see!

Kanye sets up a story that is relatable to a lot of people. There is a lot of pressure for young adults graduating high school to know what they want to do in life. For some families, education is the main priority, hence why this young lady’s “parents’ll look at her funny” if she decided to cease her education and choose a different path. Despite knowing what her family expects of her, she decides that her appearance and her material possessions will be the driving factors in her life. She is more concerned about the things that will make her look like her life is put together, rather than striving for an education that might allow her to obtain all these things and more with her intelligence. Of course listeners also get to hear a play on words towards the end of her narrative. This young lady names her daughter “Alexis” which is a homophone of “ A Lexus”, a high end car, which would give her another way to say she is capable of owning something of a high value.

In the next verse, the point of view switches to a young man living in America. He is also concerned with how he looks to other people, which is why he always has to be wearing something or owning something expensive. He even reveals that he can not pronounce the name of expensive brands, which is shown by his mispronunciation of “Versace” when he says “Ver-say-see”. This alludes that he does not have the education to pronounce certain words, but it is again another example of people putting more value on material possessions than their education.

This leads me to the second half of verse two and last verse of song which analyzes these experiences in the context of our society and whether or not material possessions will make a difference in these two people's lives.

We shine because they hate us, floss 'cause they degrade us
We tryna buy back our 40 acres
And for that paper, look how low we'll stoop
Even if you in a Benz, you still a nigga in a coupe...
Things we buy to cover up what's inside
'Cause they made us hate ourself and love they wealth
That's why shorty's hollerin', "Where the ballers at?"
Drug dealer buy Jordan, crackhead buy crack
And the white man get paid off of all of that…

These young African Americans feel that material wealth is the only way they will be able to keep up with others around them, which explains the reason they “floss” is because other races often “degrade us”.  They believe that material possessions will allow them to excel in the social hierarchy and become like those that are deemed to be superior due to their wealth. However, in the end, this song reveals that it does not make a difference. To show this, Kanye uses the expression, “you still a nigga in a coupe”. This can be read to mean a coupe as a two door car or a coop, which is a small cage or confined space. This continues the theme of internalized racism that holds people imprisoned in our society. Kanye is saying, no matter their material possessions or wealth, African Americans or other minorities will always be looked at as inferior to the other races which profit off of our insecurities and adversities, shown in the line “the white man get paid off all of that”.  To tie it all together the chorus of this song encourages listeners to think about what will remain when it all falls down and all of their wealth is gone.

All in all, I really encourage people to actually listen to the lyrics of the songs we hear played on the radio and consider the deeper meaning they have to offer.

1 comment:

  1. It really shows the poetic growth of Kanye West and his writing.