Listen Closely: The Double Meaning of ‘All Day’

kanye-west

Swimming Pools (Drank) was a terrific record. Kendrick told his story of childhood surrounded by alcohol abuse and vicious cycles of addiction. The production was very fitting: the bass was deep moving, creating an almost underwater-like atmosphere as if the listener was drowning in a “pool full of liquor”. T-Minus’ drums seemed to violently wake up the drunkard in Kendrick’s narrative from his inebriated sleep, only to have him slip away into unconsciousness at every rest note in the drum kit. The true brilliance of the song however, lies in its accessibility and appeal. Typically, so called ‘conscious’ songs do not excel in the mainstream. You don’t hear many songs on the airwaves about the detrimental effects of liquor on health, family and society at large. No, listeners today are bombarded with tunes that propagate the molly crazy, sex-fiend, instantly gratifying messages of today (see Miley Cyrus). Now, let’s make one thing clear: I am not some hipster who sits in a cave and drinks some pretentious drink (Shiraz) while analyzing a painting by some equally pretentious artist with a 90’s era rap album playing on my pretentious record player in the background. The internet age has undoubtedly facilitated the creation of some incredible music. All I am saying is that typically, music that makes a person stand back and question whether he or she should go out and hit the club for the third night in a row just doesn’t do well in a music industry dominated by major labels. When people just want to have a good time, no one desires to hear about the risks of substance abuse! There is something to say about our tendency to turn away from inconvenient truths – but that is an entirely different issue altogether. Somehow, Kendrick Duckworth Lamar was able to package this cautionary ballad about the perils of drinking in an attractive way. Perhaps it was the mesmerizingly infectious hook that could be heard on college campuses and high-school house parties across the land – “wake up, (drank)”. And therein lies the brilliance of the track: that even though the song was about deterring peoples’ alcohol consumption, the sound of it was such, that the song actually became synonymous with drinking games. Essentially, the song became an ironic double entendre.

Just last week, a new song was released and I suspect that it follows in the footsteps of Kendrick’s 2012 Swimming Pools. All Day, the new single by Kanye West, features Theophilus London, Allan Kingdom, and production from a team of producers and composers so eclectic that it might be the only time that French Montana’s name will ever appear alongside Paul McCartney’s. On the surface, it is an upbeat, in your face, party rocker – shades of Niggas in Paris mixed with Kanye’s growing haute-couture direction and more focused artistic flair. Grandiose, yet minimalistic in some regards: it is a song that fully embodies “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. But if one were to listen just a little more closely…and dig a little bit deeper, it might be revealed that this song is about issues that are much more heavy and politically charged than shopping at malls and getting fly. Let’s cut to the chase: All Day is an extended double entendre that ironically comments on and contributes to the exploitation of black culture. As such, this is Kanye’s most politically driven song to date.

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If you right click on your itunes purchased version of All Day (because you didn’t download it  illegally, for you are a good person) and hit ‘get info’, you will notice something interesting. Under the composer section, if you were to scroll to the right, a name appears: Kendrick Lamar. It is not a surprise that West and Lamar have collaborated – they did of course tour together, so it is not inconceivable that these two musicians got in the studio. But do not mistake this for a simple studio get together or a rapper playdate that came to fruition due to circumstance alone. If Kanye has proven anything, it is that he has purpose to most of the “dope shit” that he does. Let me remind you that Kendrick Lamar has taken a new direction with his upcoming album: a direction marked with pro-black, anti-discrimination messages of empowerment as heard on his I and The Blacker the Berry, clearly seen in lyrics such as “I love myself” and “I am a proud monkey”. Combine the Kendrick presence with Kanye’s political outspokenness (remember, George Bush doesn’t like black people), so it is not much of a surprise that a collaboration between these two would be molded into a politically charged tune.

Let’s also look at some context. All Day comes at the top of the new year, breaking the musical silence that Kanye held for the better part of 2014. And that is quite surprising, considering what was going on last year, particularly in America. It was a year marred by racial tensions and racially fuelled violence. The shootings of African Americans such as Michael Brown and Tamir Rice (rest in peace) made many question whether picket fences and coloured lines are truly a thing of the past – or whether now they are simply disguised. Issues of race were not only confined to the political and social spheres. The music industry also saw conflict with accusations that artists like Macklemore and Iggy Azalea were exploiting black culture. Musicians such as Azalea Banks and J. Cole claimed that “white people snatched our sound”. All things considered, it would make sense that Kanye West, who is widely considered the spokesperson for Rap and Hip-Hop as a whole because of his boundary pushing and crossover achievements, would eventually comment on these issues…right? So how does All Day convey its double meaning?

The lyrics are littered with double entendre and irony. The entire hook is composed of African American stereotype after stereotype, and although they may be misconstrued as catchphrases, they are actually Kanye’s evidence of specific black stereotypes. “How long you spend at the mall? How long do you ball? How many runners you got on call? Tell your P.O how long you been high?”. Each and every one of those bars has a meaning beyond the ‘turn-up’ aspect that they have been associated with. Stereotypes of consumerism (mallrats and sneaker obsessed), and drug abuse are clearly reinforced. The chorus ends with an ignorant “South-south-south-side!”, referring to the minority populated Southside of Chicago where Kanye grew up. Again, this highlights ideas of ‘black struggle’ and general subordination and marginalization of the African-American people. Allan Kingdom begins his bridge with “I took a young sweet breath”. Perhaps this is in reference to the taking of lives of black youth, and more specifically, the police related shootings that dominated news telecasts. But because the song is presented in an accessible way, it will be listened to for all the wrong reasons that Kanye points out in the song itself.

Slowly but surely, it becomes evident that like Swimming Pools (Drank), which pointed out the destructiveness of alcohol abuse but was listened to as a party song, All Day also has a double meaning. Kanye is commenting on the stereotyping of African-Americans, making it clear that he is cognizant of the labels that African-Americans are stapled with. But West cleverly packages the song in an attractive way. Ironically, the song will be the soundtrack to shopping adventures and rap music parties everywhere.


But I could be reading way too far into this.

 

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Photos retrieved from:

http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/music-festivals/6121358/bonnaroo-friday-kanye-west-sam-smith-skrillex

http://www.factmag.com/2015/03/08/kanye-west-premieres-all-day-video-in-paris/

http://il.b2.mk/news/music-video-all-day-by-kanye-west-all-noise?newsid=IzL

http://www.passionweiss.com/2015/03/10/kanye-west-all-day-grime-allan-kingdom/

http://hypebeast.com/2015/3/kanye-west-premiered-all-day-music-video-during-paris-fashion-week

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