Song lyrics are like poems set to music. They rely on a series of stresses (rhythm) in the lyrics, typically feature a rhyme scheme, and typically use a small amount of text to tell a story, evoke an emotion, and/or deliver a message.
Before you watch the video for “Chocolate Rain” (yes, we’re going to pretend you haven’t seen it before), I’d like you to examine the lyrics in isolation.
The website “Genius” is a spinoff of a site called “RapGenius” that exists to explicate the meaning behind song lyrics (this mission has since expanded to include poetry, speeches, and more). The site allows users to add annotations to individual lines to explain the meaning behind them. Because it is not heavily moderated (IE, there aren’t barriers to entry in terms of who can add content—ANYONE can go on and claim an annotation), it’s a bit like Wikipedia in that we can’t assume what’s on there is factual. Like any interpretation, the argument for a line’s meaning must be supported by evidence and analysis.
So, keeping in mind that the annotations may or may not be accurate, I’d like you to visit the Genius page for Chocolate Rain (Links to an external site.) and read the lyrics all the way through without the annotations. Then, return to the beginning and read them again, this time clicking on each line to view the corresponding annotation.
Now, here’s your prompt for this CR Exercise:
We’re going to treat these lyrics like a poem and analyze them to practice our critical reading skills and unpack the meaning behind Zonday’s song.
1. WHAT IS CHOCOLATE RAIN? (~200 words)
The Genius page claims that the phrase “Chocolate Rain” stands for “racism.” This makes sense in some contexts: the line “Some stay dry and others feel the pain,” for instance, can refer to the sporadic, unpredictable nature of racial prejudice. However, does this equation hold up? AGWR Chapter 3 has a great section on why it’s dangerous to write about “symbols” in texts, because claiming “symbolism” is subjective and reductive. It doesn’t allow you to talk about a text in its full depth. If we’re going to claim that “Chocolate Rain” represents racism, we need strong evidence and convincing analysis.
When Zonday sings “Chocolate Rain/The prisons make you wonder where it went,” the racism analogy breaks down. Advocates for racial equality in the United States often point to the fact that prisons are filled disproportionately with people of color. So, if “Chocolate Rain” is racism, would this line make sense? Would today’s prison system make you “wonder where [racism] went”? Probably not!
For this first portion of the assignment, tell me what you think “Chocolate Rain” stands for or means. Does the meaning change throughout the song or does it stay static? You’ll need to provide evidence to support your reading, and explain how that evidence supports your claim about what the phrase “Chocolate Rain” means in the context of this song. Use proper quote integration skills to include lines of the song in your argument.
**Please DO NOT seek outside resources (other peoples’ interpretations, Tay Zonday’s opinion) about this question—first of all, if you ask postmodern theorists, it doesn’t matter what the author thinks his song means. It’s all about YOU, the reader. But, more fundamentally, I want you to get practice with close reading—and I want to know what YOUR opinion is, not what some-random-dude-on-the-internet’s opinion is.
2. ENGAGE WITH ANNOTATIONS (~100 words each)
Above, you engaged with one annotation from Genius—the claim that “Chocolate Rain” stands in for racism/racial prejudice. Now, I’d like you to engage with two more. Choose two annotations that you think you have something to say about. For each one, write a brief argumentative paragraph in which you explain your opinion of the annotation. Do you agree or disagree, or do you somewhat agree but think the annotation could be deepened? What evidence in the song lyrics themselves push you to your interpretation? Be patient with your close reading and explain as fully as possible.
3. THE MESSAGE (~20 words)
What do you think the message of “Chocolate Rain” really is? Write it in one sentence here.
Post this CR exercise as a response to this discussion topic, and print it out to bring to class.