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Lyrical genius, humble honesty and emotional rollercoasters
So anyone who knows me, or has taken the time to read some of my previous articles, will probably know that I’m a complete sucker for a song with a story. This doesn’t necessarily mean that I sit vibing in my room to ‘Humpty Dumpty’ though, and to be honest I’m not prone to spending too much time listening to cheesy love songs that detail every stage of the romance. I think for me, in some weird masochistic twist, the story telling songs that really appeal are those that dive deep into some sort of pain or anguish. I love that connection you feel to the music either through sympathy for the artist or an empathy, having had similar experiences yourself. What I also love is songs that shed light on a perspective that maybe we hadn’t previously considered. Justin Bieber’s ‘Lonely’ received high praise from myself (I’m sure JB is over the moon with that) for telling his side of the story and detailing that whilst many of us saw a spoiled rich kid we didn’t stop to consider the challenges he was facing.
Some of you reading may also know that I’m a big fan of Quadeca, the rapper who made his name on YouTube. Having reviewed his artistic and powerful ‘From Me to You’ last year and shedding praise on it (I’m sure Quadeca is just as excited as Bieber was) I thought it would be good to go back and review one of the songs that made me so interested in the artist in the first place. Yes that’s right, I’m writing a review on something that was released three years ago. Some would say late to the party – but really I just wanted to switch it up; so instead of reading my ramblings on the latest new album from someone or other and concluding ‘it wasn’t bad but could have been better’ as I tend to - you’ll be reading me rambling about something that I already know I love – but I’ll be telling you more about why.
Now – you’ll realise more about why later but if you haven’t already then go and listen to the song! This is sort of a spoiler alert warning, if that does apply to music. If you read this and then listen it would be a bit like reading the plot of ‘Fight Club’ then watching the film – the experience is so much different if you already know what happens!
From the moment you press play on this song it is driving home a message. Opening up with a tuneful piano intro that is quickly topped with a gospel choir. I’ve always loved hearing gospel choirs in music, there’s just something about the sound that adds a texture and a feeling that is yet to be emulated by anything else. A key example would be Stormzy’s ‘Blinded By Your Grace Part 2’ – an amazing song but for me wouldn’t be half of what it is without the beautiful sounds of the gospel choir. Although in this song they don’t play as large a part as in Stormzy’s they still add such a beautiful sound to even this intro. It’s the lyrics too – ‘everybody loves a winner’ – without much impact at this stage but almost a foreboding hint as to the subject matter of the song. I also love how the snare is introduced underneath. When I first listened, I wasn’t a huge fan mainly thinking that it sounded out of place but now I’ve come to realise that’s almost the point. I think it helps to connect the sample used at the start with the rest of the song as when the verse comes in we lose the choir and the piano but the snare remains constant, sewing it all together as one.
After Quadeca lets us enjoy the intro for twenty or so seconds we are thrown straight into the chorus. For me the chorus in itself is unbelievably powerful despite only being a few lines.
‘I swear, they only love me when I'm not there
I know you trust me, but I don't care
I swear that I don't care
I know you love me, but I don't care’
What stands out is the repetition of ‘I don’t care’ and particularly when the ‘I swear’ gets thrown in front of it. This is also what makes opening up with the chorus so intelligent. The thing is, and what the title and first chorus don’t really say, is that he really does care. You’ll only realise this when you listen to the rest of the song. This is why I dropped the spoiler warning in. If you still haven’t listened yet – go do it! If you hadn’t heard the song before you would assume from this chorus that the message is genuinely ‘I don’t care’ – that the song is Quadeca maybe sticking a finger up to the haters or something like that. When you listen to it back you realise that what it actually represents is Quadeca attempting to convince himself. This is where the repetition and the ‘I swear’ come into it – because you can picture him almost pleading to himself hoping that if he just says it enough and with conviction then he genuinely won’t care, and that it won’t hurt anymore.
Continuing the theme of impactful lyrics – the first verse is such an open and honest reflection of how Quadeca feels about his career, and that ultimately, he isn’t happy. The way the verse is written pairs the good and the bad together, and in a similar way to Bieber’s ‘Lonely’ makes us realise that someone who appears to be doing well isn’t always doing well. This verse feels somewhat like a coming of age, it is Quadeca realising that success isn’t what he thought it would be. Speaking about his passionate fans but also suggesting he doesn’t have the time to engage as well as feeling numb when he looks at his ‘numbers’ (suggesting streams/views and potentially money); it’s the harsh reality for him that actually he’s sort of got everything he wanted but it’s nothing like he imagined it to be. The second line is simultaneously very serious but somewhat comical; ‘Mom wanted me to be a doctor, But I came out as a patient’, ironically suggesting how far apart his dreams are from his reality. The final line is the verse is equally profound; ‘I wonder why I feel so little 'Cause I ain't been on the top, I think I'm somewhere in the middle’. This is probably one of my favourite lines in the whole song, mostly because it’s something you don’t usually see. Usually, you hear rappers bragging about being the biggest, coming out with an arrogance and a swagger that gives an energy to their music. Alluding to the classic ‘heavy is the head that wears the crown’ phrase here Quadeca is suggesting that he doesn’t consider himself to be one of the best, but within that is questioning why he therefore feels all this pressure.
The second verse opens up with Quadeca speaking more about the pressures of his career suggesting there’s a hole in his soul before dropping another profound, but once again simultaneously comical line:
‘I know this'll make 'em proud, but I know they gon' need another
And another, and another, and another, and another
Like I'm DJ Khaled with a motherfuckin' stutter’.
What I love about this, apart from the DJ Khaled gag, is that it once again gives us an insight into how it feels to be an artist and that actually it isn’t all we would expect. It’s weird to digest because as fans we all obviously look forward to new releases from our favourite artists, we want new great music from them as much as possible, but the way Quadeca frames this almost gives me a tinge of guilt – should we always expect and demand more? And what does this do to the artists? I think this resonates throughout the years too as anyone who has seen the new ‘Elvis’ film will know, as this documents the story of how Elvis became one of the most sellable commodities in the world, and how his manager worked him essentially into an early grave. Whilst I’m not suggesting that we are all like Elvis’ infamous manager it does make you think about that side of things.
The second verse is also what really brings us the ‘twist’ that makes the first parts of the song make more sense, particularly the chorus. The tragic story that Quadeca proceeds to tell is that he received a long message on social media from a profile without a picture, and thinking it was spam tried to delete it but accidentally opened it, and upon doing so decides to read it anyway. Quadeca then proceeds to paraphrase the message:
"My homie was a huge fucking fan, used to play your shit every day
He struggled with depression and he told me that the music was the thing that always set him straight
But I guess it must of gotten too much for him, killed himself a couple months back, it's felt so fucking long
But it reminded me of him when you popped up on my page and I went and started listening to a couple songs, so...
Keep doing you, bro"
Whilst already incredibly profound, the twist comes later in the verse when Quadeca goes to look at the profile of the fan who killed himself
‘But all the sudden, in the instant, everything felt grimmer, read the name again, and realized it sounded familiar
Clicked the DM, to see if he had talked to me before, saw this was the same kid I consciously ignored a couple months ago’
As if not powerful enough already the song then finishes with a repeat of the chorus but this time with the gospel choir sort of underneath and interspersed. Honestly, I think this is genius. The revisiting of the chorus offers the listener a chance to hear it but with the new knowledge of what happens in the song; giving them that new perspective on the lyrics. This is then represented by the choir underneath the chorus; the lyrics stay the same but the choir makes it sound different; giving that feeling that whilst you are listening to the same thing it’s got a whole different spin on it now. It’s also genius because of what the choir is singing. ‘Everybody loves a winner’. It’s so profound – that contrast of the message from the gospel choir, probably representing what Quadeca had thought success would be like, underneath the pleading of Quadeca trying to convince himself that he doesn’t care in order to numb the pain of the weight on his shoulders.
This song is honestly one of my all time favourites and offers such a powerful new perspective on what it is like to be in the limelight. We heard Bieber talking about how no one really knows him or what he’s going through, but Quadeca takes it a step further by underlining the pressure and the responsibility. The story is so sad, and I’m unsure whether it is true or not, but you could see how this would really affect someone. Quadeca is obviously blameless but you can understand why he blames himself. You would never expect him to reply to every fan’s message but the knowledge that he could have made a real difference to this fan’s life with one simple reply is undoubtedly something that would weigh heavy on his mind. That’s what makes this song so unbelievably memorable. I remember the first time I listened, and thinking that as well as being great to listen to I was so engaged in the lyrics. I was in the car at the time and I remember spending the rest of the journey just trying to put myself in his shoes and imagine how he would feel in that situation. I also love that the song is so ambiguous at the start but later reveals it’s true meaning, you start to wonder why he is so insistent he doesn’t care but then in the first verse details how tough he finds his situation before revealing all in the second verse. It’s not something I’ve seen very often but it gives this amazing scenario where the first and second time you listen to the song are entirely different – the first time giving you this moment of realisation and the second giving you a chance to listen back to the lyrics with a new perspective. This song is one of the key reasons why I do like Quadeca so much, he does things his own way. As a skilled lyricist it would be so easy for him to just make loads of commercial tunes with fast verses in but, as with ‘From Me To You’, he really puts everything into his art and that gives you this sense of connection with him every time you listen.
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