Today’s song goes to a determined emcee who came a long way to make it in the game. One thing that we have in common is our Nigerian roots (both born in America with immigrant parents). In this song, Wale goes in-depth with his experience and tells us the hardships that he had re-adjusting in order to fit in with the other American students. This song is very personal to me as it is to the writer and the first time I heard this track, it really spoke to me.
“Shades” is track 8 on the Attention Deficit album, which is Wale’s First studio album.
(Marvel does awesome hip-hop cover art remix’s so I thought I should at least drop it here to see the comparison)
Chip on my shoulder
Big enough to feed Cambodia
See, I never fit into they quotas
Sneakers wasn’t fitting and my knees needed lotion
Long before I knew the significance of a comb
I roam like phone with no vocal reception
Immigrant parents had me feeling like a step-kid
And black Americans never did accept me
That’s why I thrive so much, win and respect dig
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
Cheated on light-skinned Dominique when we was seventeen
I figured I’d hurt her, she’d evidently hurt me, and all women who had light features
See, I never let a light broad hurt me
That’s why I strike first and the first cut’s deep
All my light skinned girls to my dark skin brothers
Shades doesn’t matter heart makes the lover
Boy you’re so beautiful boy you’re so beautiful shades doesn’t matter heart makes the lover
Boy (beautiful caramel),
Boy (beautiful coffeepot)
Boy (Beautiful chocolate)
Boy (Beautiful toffee)
Boy (Beautiful pecan)
Boy (beautiful licorice)
(boy you’re so beautiful)
Just another knotty head nigga
Hoping Wes Snipes make my life a bit different
In middle school, I had the right to be timid
I had beautiful words but girls never listened
Listen, blacker the berry, sweeter the product
Well, I’m fruit punch concentrate and they water
Walk into my room thinking how to make moves
Ain’t thinking like a student but how Ice-T do it
Light dudes have the girls looking there all year
It’s not fair, the ones with the good hair
Couldn’t adapt to naps, I wavecap they naps and slept on me
Man, I hate black
Skin tone, I wish I could take it back
Or rearrange my status, maybe if I was khaki
Associating light skin with classy
The menstrual show showed and me, that was not me
They say black is beautiful
But ask them beautiful light girls if its black they attract to usually
What if Barack skin was all black, truthfully?
Would he be a candidate or just a black in community?
Because black dudes tend to lack unity
And them blacker girls ain’t on the tube, usually
Right now, at 23, I ain’t mad at them reds no more
But for long time I had gone cold
Blindfolded my own insecurity was holding me back to reds, I ain’t know how to act
They would get the cold shoulder and know it was an act
A defense mechanism what I thought that I lacked
Lyrics and Personal Interpretation:
Wale opens up the first verse by saying “Chip on my shoulder big enough to feed Cambodia,” he uses this metaphor to describe the way that he felt becoming new and accustomed to the American culture while growing up. Because of this, he had weight on his shoulder as he claimed that “Black Americans never accepted him.” This song is entitles “Shades” and Wale reiterates the significance of his skin color while growing up. To him, he felt that the light-skinned people got more attention and they were able to do what they wanted because of their lighter complexion compared to Wale’s that was dark. So eventually it came to a point he had a girlfriend who was light-skinned but cheated on her because he felt that she would do the same, finding someone of a lighter complexion that would satisfy her more. Here, he is stating the insecurities that he had with himself because of his upbringing and the new culture that he was living in now.
The hook sang by Chrisette Michele is beautiful. She is saying that it doesn’t matter what your skin color reflects, because everyone is beautiful the way that they are.
Now Wale opens up the second verse with imagery, describing that his head was often “nappy.” (A comb and a brush were invented for a specific reason). But Wale continues with another crazy metaphor. “Listen, blacker the berry, sweeter the product Well, I’m fruit punch concentrate and they water.” Just think about it, concentrate is the purest form of a a drink and people tend to add water in order to diffuse the sweetness. So if he is concentrate, he is again implying that he was very dark and by water-he is referring to light-skinned people. Now, he continues on why he hated his skin color at that point-the people of lighter complexion got more attention and were popular among his crowd.
To finish the final verse Wale talks about his insecurities and tells us how he would ignore reds -short for redbone – another word for light-skin. He explains that he would ignore them whenever they tried to initiate him and it was all a part of his defensive mechanism to prevent himself from being hurt. Wale ends by telling us, he has finally grown and he has the confidence to be comfortable in the shade that he is in.
I could definitely see where Wale was coming from, but I feel that his experience was not as bad as mine. Growing up, I didn’t feel as comfortable with my African heritage, due to the way the culture was back then -surrounded by ignorance. When people would pronounce my name wrong and I constantly told them how to pronounce it, it felt demeaning especially when a substitute teacher came in. Terms like “African-booty scratcher” or other names was part of the reason I was not a big fan of my culture. But now as I have grown and culture is much more welcoming, I am proud of my name, where I come from and who I am. It really doesn’t matter what shade you are. We are all beautiful.
Listen to “Shades” below