Back in the viral video heyday of 2007, the baby-faced singer Tay Zonday released a song on YouTube called "Chocolate Rain." It has pulled in more than 100,000,000 views since its release and has become meme in a variety of ways. But the seemingly silly title and Zonday's surprisingly deep voice may have distracted many of us from the song's true message: he's talking about racism.
Perhaps it was the fact that it was released in a less politically-charged climate, or that it was just part of the mainly teenager YouTube and meme culture at the time, but many of us just laughed at the repetitive titular refrain of "chocolate rain" without paying attention to the lines in between. In my case, being white and relatively privileged probably had something to do with it.
But now, more than 10 years later, I saw Tay Zonday tweeting about economic injustice and how "poverty charges interest." I was going to make a joke reply about how "Chocolate Rain" was actually talking about issues of inequality... so I looked up the lyrics and realized... it really is. The song's true meaning suddenly became much more apparent to me.
Even now, he seems reluctant to explicitly state what the song's meaning is, instead wanting to let his music do the talking. So let's do just that.
From the first line, "Some stay dry and others feel the pain," the song immediately establishes an unbalanced system. "The school books say it can't be here again," reads the next line. "The prisons make you wonder where it went," referring to how textbooks talk about racism as a thing of the past, and how prisons are disproportionately filled with black people.
Every lyric in the song addresses one aspect of racism, poverty or inequality in one way or another:
Build a tent and say the world is dry / Zoom the camera out and see the lie
This alludes to the idea that just because things aren't as bad now or as bad in one particular place doesn't mean that the problem no longer exists.
Raised your neighborhood insurance rates / Makes us happy living in a gate
Here, Zonday is referring to how white people fled neighborhoods when black people started moving in, instead moving to richer "gated communities."
Worse than swearing, worse than calling names / Say it publicly and you're insane
This pair of lines seems to be addressing how speaking out against racism is constantly shut down, and being told that it no longer exists, especially when follow by the lines:
No one wants to hear about it now / Wish real hard, it goes away somehow
Nailed it, Tay.
Every February washed away / Stays behind as colors celebrate
February is Black History Month, but that doesn't mean that racism goes away during that time.
The same crime has a higher price to pay / The judge and jury swear it's not the face
This one isn't hard: African-Americans serve longer sentences for the same crimes as their white counterparts.
Dirty secrets of economy / Turns that body into GDP
Whether referring to slavery in the past or the use of prison labor today, Zonday is pointing out that the economy runs on the cheap labor of black people (GDP = gross domestic product).
And finally, the last pair of lines before the final hook:
More than marching, more than passing law / Remake how we got to where we are
These are just some examples, but reading the full lyrics reveal many more.
Zonday was clearly ahead of his time, but the internet at large missed his genius and message at the time, instead reducing him to just a meme of that guy who sang the song in a deep voice and turned away from the mic to breathe.
Follow his recent popular tweet, Tay received many similar stories from fans of how poverty has "charged interest" in their lives. He thanked them for sharing and for their kind words. He even made a song in 2011 about the economy (featuring violinist Lindsey Stirling, another popular YouTuber at the time), though it has many fewer views than his original hit. He's now starting a "business podcast for the social media age" called Chocolate Pains.
Thankfully Tay Zonday has turned his viral internet stardom into a force for good in the world. It's about time he got recognized for his brilliance.