Thursday, January 7, 2010

Shades: The New Wale, both Good and Bad

I've been thinking about Wale's song Shades a lot recently, both after his concert, where I enjoyed it thoroughly, and then even more after I declared that I wanted to write about why it was one of his best songs. And after thinking about it for a while, I've stumbled onto a kind of two part (albeit short) argument, not that it's one of his best songs, but that it could have been, were it less interfered with. The first point that i want to adress is how good the lyrics of this songs are, and why they show off what Wale can do so well. The second part I want to adress is why I hate the chorus so much, and furthermore, how I see the chorus handicapping the song as a microcosm for the way that the studio-endorsed guest spots on the album tend to handicap the best features of Wale's rapping.

This song is obviously intensely personal for Wale, as it would be for anyone talking about their insecurity rooted in their skin color. The song is told in first person, so there can be no doubt who the subject is. "I never fit in with them light skins/ I felt the lighter they was, the better that they life is/So I resented them/And they resented me." What makes this lyric especially interesting is it's attention to the way others might feel as well. Wale mostly talks about his own resentment and feelings of anger, but he also recognizes that his resentment breeds resentment in others. And because he mostly dwells on how he feels, it doesn't feel as if he's pushing a nonexistent resentment onto others. In fact, he gives a reason for the more light-skinned to resent him; "cheated on light skinned Dominique when we was 17." Because Wale keeps his lyrics so personal, understanding a racially charged situation becomes as simple as understanding his feelings about it, which is why you could see every segment of the enormously diverse crowd at his last concert enjoying the sh** out of the song. And although we can't assume that every darker skinned guy feels the same way, it would be safe to think that Wale is speaking the mind of many, many people, which makes the song both appealing and prescient, without being preachy.

Unfortunately, the chorus goes a long way towards negating that understanding. Christette Michele has a beautiful, jazzy voice, but her lyrics here counter Wale's. The refrain goes "From a light skinned girl to a dark skinned brother, shade doesn't matter, heart makes the lover." Then Michele chants a bunch of different skin colors, while backing herself up chanting "beautiful boy, finally finishing on "boy you're so beautiful." This sounds very nice, and complimentary, but because it's oversimplified, it rings false. The point of this song isn't that everyone, of every different skin color is beautiful, and thus you should not be ashamed of your skin color. The point is that you may be attractive, or you may be ugly, but the shade of your skin has absolutely nothing to do with it, as color does not do much for signifying attractiveness. It's a Ratatouille argument. Everybody is not beautiful, no matter their skin color but anyone has the potential to be beautiful no matter their skin color. That's the point of the song, and the soothing thing about it, and the chorus seems as if the song is saying that everoyne is beautiful in their own way, which when talking about appearances is ridiculous and cliche. Furthermore, the chorus points to a problem that the entire album has, namely that the R&B choruses take away from the honesty and fun that used to be Wale's signature.

As always please comment, and because this song and issue is somewhat racially charged, please let me know if you think anything I've said is totally ridiculous or ignorant.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Jonah, I never was one for wale's music. He has a couple popular songs I like (you'll snub me for having unsophisticated music taste but w/e) and he's from dc which is cool.

His song shades is a typical Wale song I dont care for, musically. Then I read your post about his lyrics and I looked them up. His lyrics are really good save the chorus; I completely agree it sucks. and why is she saying shade doesnt matter when Wale is saying the exact opposite?...maybe she's one of those innocent open minded damned light skinned broads (Dominique) whose skin he "cut deep" but she's still holding onto her beliefs despite all that.

His point about Barack makes you think. And I do think he'd less likely be president if he were all black. but a lot of people still consider him black. I did and he's widely considered the first black president. the woman in the chorus describes skin on a continuum but for wale its all or nothing. your either all black and in the doldrums or you're fine as a light skinned brother or white.

It seems he's reconciled a lot of this inner strife: "and know it was an act a defense mechanism what I thought I lacked". and does believe you can be whatever in whatever skin, as you say. That said, I think he still holds the notion that its harder to be "whatever" in a completely black skin than in a lighter skin or white skin.