The song, which was released 13 years ago, is resinating with those protesting on behalf of #BlackLivesMatter.
On 22 April 2007, Tay Zonday shared his song, Chocolate Rain, to YouTube. It quickly went viral and fell in front of the eyes of many on the internet. However, some may not have stopped to ponder the message behind its lyrics, for the song is actually a metaphor for the racism those of colour face on a regular basis.
Speaking in an interview with BET back in 2018, Tay shares the backstory of Chocolate Rain and the message he hoped to send with its release. “Chocolate Rain was intended as a ballad about institutional racism,” he says.
Throughout the course of the song, Tay touches upon many issues faced by Black people, including economic hardship and the trickle down effect that has on the likes of education. In the lyric, “Raised your neighbourhood insurance rates/Makes us happy livin’ in a gate,” he is referring to the fact that many Black people live below the poverty line due to the racism and disenfranchisement they face on a regular basis.
As he later goes on to sing, there’s a correlation between this poverty and how Black children do in school. While some may wrongly assume it’s because of their race (“The bell curve blames the baby’s DNA”), it’s actually related to how economically secure their families are, as many don’t have access to the same tools as White students and their parents sometimes have to hold down numerous jobs just to make ends meet. (“But test scores are how much the parents make.”)
Tay also speaks about the injustices Black people face when it comes to the criminal injustice system. Through the lyric, “The same crime has a higher price to pay/The judge and jury swear it’s not the face,” he is discussing how Black people often get harsher sentences, compared to their White counterparts. While many will try and say that it is not an issue of race, there are numerous documented instances where someone received a longer sentence purely because they were Black, while White offenders were let off with a lighter punishment – for example, Brock Turner.
Many of us are guilty of being ignorant to the fact that racism is systemic, and many have turned a blind eye to it. This sort of behaviour is unacceptable, and it’s something Tay calls out on numerous occasions. “Build a tent and say the world is dry/Zoom the camera out and see the lie” references how we don’t question the larger picture outside of what we are presented by the media, while “Seldom mentioned on the radio/It’s the fear your leaders call control” eludes to how crimes against Black people are rarely reported to the wider public.
“No one wants to hear about it now/Wish real hard it goes away somehow” is a direct callout to those who claim they want to make a difference, but shy away when it’s brought up. Many of us are aware of this. There are people out there who claim to be allies and who claim they want to make a change, but pretend to not be listening when the calls come to take action.
One of the key messages we took from Chocolate Rain is just how ingrained racism is – to the point where, for some, racist acts become second nature. For example, “Made me cross the street the other day/Made you turn your head the other way” is essentially talking about how White people turn their backs on Black issues and how many Black people feel they need to keep their distance from others, out of fear for their safety and of being treated with prejudice.
Pair that with the line, “Forecast to be falling yesterday/Only in the past is what they say,” and one can see the mindset many have regarding racism being a past issue, a point Tay touches on toward the end of the song.
He uses the final line of Chocolate Rain to make a call to action in regards to this, asking everyone listening to change their outlook and work to reverse the systemic racism seen throughout political and social institutions. Despite many claiming racism is in the past, it’s far from that. Through the song’s final verse, Tay urges us to reflect on just how we’ve let the situation get as bad as it has and to work on how we can make a change. “More than marchin’, more than passing laws/ Remake how we got to where we are” is a line many need to stop and contemplate.
We highly suggest everyone revisit Chocolate Rain and take the time to not only listen to, but consider the message Tay is trying to get across with his lyrics.