Music Poetry: A Defence of Song 33

I saw a demon on my shoulder, it's lookin' like patriarchy
Like scrubbin' blood off the ceiling and bleachin' another carpet
How my house get haunted?

Within the first lines that Noname sings in her 1-minute and 9-second single titled Song 33, released in June of 2020, it is clear that the upcoming song will be nothing short of a masterpiece. Song 33 was written and released during the peak of the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests centered around the police murder of George Floyd. The main topic covered within this song, however, is the disproportionately common and infrequently-covered murders and disappearances of women of color, more specifically black women who, while being 13 percent of the female population, accounted for 35 percent of all missing women in 2020.

Within these first 3 lines, Noname has already constructed a full image of the message she is trying to send within her art. She begins by describing the patriarchy, the system that upholds the racial and gender inequalities that cause and maintain both this lack of coverage and increased disappearance rate, as a demon on her shoulder, an evil force constantly influencing her and other people’s actions, while being impossible to get away from. Next, she references cleaning up a murder scene and acting like said murder never happened, much like how society tries to cover up and ignore these missing black women, assisting in the crime through inaction.

Why Toyin body don't embody all the life she wanted? A baby, just 19 
… 

One girl missin', another one go missin' One girl missin', another

Noname continues this theme throughout the rest of the first verse by mentioning the murder of Oluwatoyin Salau, a Black Lives Matter activist from Tallahassee, Florida, who, at the age of 19, was found dead one week after being reported missing. Just hours earlier she had Tweeted about a sexual assault she had endured. Her story got relatively little coverage and Noname is pointing out an abundance of stories like Oluwatoyin’s. Then, in the closest thing to a chorus within the song, Noname repeats, “one girl missin’, another one go missin’”. This use of anaphora, both in the line itself and in its repetition between every verse, works to both make the line stick out and stay with the reader and also creates a parallel with the way how society treats these women, not as people with lives, but as inconsequential losses.

But n****s in the back, quiet as a church mouse
…
It's time to go to work, wow, look at him go
He really 'bout to write about me when the world is in smokes?
When it's people in trees?
When George was beggin' for his mother, saying he couldn't breathe
You thought to write about me?

After the anaphoric chorus, Noname proceeds to call out the silence she has noticed from other artists, comparing them to a church mouse, a clever simile using two words strongly associated with quiet while simultaneously sending the message that if just one starts making noise about this issue, or squeaking, it will, because it is surrounded by silence, be heard by many. She then digs deeper, further examining the tendency rappers around her have of writing about each other rather than about issues within society. It could also be argued that Noname is speaking about the media, of reporters writing about celebrities and media personalities while glossing over the actual problems that people around the world are affected by.

After another chorus of repetition of “one girl missin’, another one go missin’”, Noname continues,

Yo, but little did I know, all my readin' would be a bother
It's trans women bein' murdered, and this is all he can offer?

And this the new world order
We democratizin' Amazon, we burn down borders

Here, in the last verse, Noname partially expands her focus, bringing up the murders of trans women, in this context, she is clearly focusing on black trans women, who are even more disproportionately likely to go missing or be murdered. She then transitions off of focusing on the present and shares her idea of a better future. Clearly, she believes that the only way to stop this issue- to get the demon off her shoulder- is to rebuild the system in which we live. She speaks about how we are “democratizing Amazon”, both a reference to growing support and numbers of unions within large corporations like Amazon and the idea of giving more power to the workers of a company. Proceeding this, she mentions burning down borders. This could be taken in multiple ways, either abolishing the physical borders between countries for a freer world or abolishing the metaphorical borders that separate people into groups- gender, race, class, sexuality, etc.

Song 33 is not only a great song but a deep, complicated piece of poetry. In the chapter “What is Poetry?” within the book Perrine’s Sound + Sense: An Introduction to Poetry, by Laurence Perrine, he defines poetry as “a kind of language that says more and says it more intensely than does ordinary language.” Simply, poetry is an art that translates a complicated thought and/or feeling into a shorter but no less complicated or emotionally intelligent volume of language. If Song 33 does not match this definition I do not know what does. Within only 1 minute and 9 seconds and a total of 3 distinct verses of 7-8 lines, Noname is able to distill not only powerful messages surrounding current societal issues but her own picture of a better, more equal world into a truly moving song.

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