Stream: YZ “When The Road Is Covered With Snow”
YZ thinks deeply and projects his voice far but he makes every effort to hold your attention in the process. “When The Road Is Covered With Snow”Â is a song based on an extended metaphor. As such,Â it demands that listeners engage in interpretation and self-reflection while revisiting the lyrics. He knows that this is a tall order for youths who attend substandard urban schools and have grown accustomed to hearing rap music that is banal and sophomoric. The problem is cultural.
Poor urban youths that bear the additional burden of living in acutely dysfunctional households are often left with no space or time of their own to concentrate or create. Even if they manage to develop a liking for intellectual or artistic pursuits, their opportunities and resources are limited. The time they spend immersed in their headphones might be their only chance to hear someone convincingly argue that black people are not inherently relegated to the margins of history. YZ knows this and he has no time for games.
He chooses a beat that is dope but only minimally funky. This song cannot be a retread of “Thinking Of A Master Plan,” theÂ surprisingly danceable conscious song that put the Jersey emcee’s name on the map. YZ is proud that he made an intelligent song with mass appeal but “When The Road…” is not meant to shake club speakers. For such a young man, he carries with him a considerable amount of concern for the plight of his people. He is still tied up in the streets, andÂ is thus keenly aware how hard it is to live righteously, but he wants his people have to rise to the occasion and flock to the plain truth already willing to learn. He is patient and will wait.
While YZ does not goad anyone to his sermon with sugarcoated platitudes or dumbed down rhetoric, he makes sure that his five minutes are lined with subtler jewels. His job is to provide the key to the treasure map, so he cuts to the chase: “The road symbolizes the first man’s history.” The snow piled high? It smothers “my pride, my blackness, my African culture.” The sun? Well, we already know who that is.1 On this song it is YZ taking a stand against a Euro-centric narrative but it could be any one of us shining at our full potential. And the fact that we have a coded language to express our self-esteem and our love for our brethren means we really “know something that he will never know” right?
The first verse is all about the tumultuous early stages of identity formation. The metaphor of white snow on black asphalt is a tad obvious but that is how you reel them in. The mere fact of white domination is not the topic of discussion. The song is not meant to incite an adversarial response to racism, but to encourage analysis: “The snow covers me up so I won’t notice the plot/Â Then sets me up so I seem to be in a spot/ Then locks me ’cause there I’m considered a slave/ and surrounds me, in a mass of pavement.” The stakes are higher than wounded pride. Concentrated poverty is a testament to the hypocrisy and failed promise of American liberal democracy; upon amassing historical knowledge you become a potentially threatening voice of dissent.
That is a lot to digest, which is why YZ noted back in the first verse that the blanket of snow that obscures black achievement also stifles the community’s economic development. Do the math: if you do no rise above society’s expectations you will not get paid in full. If one’s identity is only closely associated with poverty and minor criminal schemes, one remains on the outskirts of the history and by extensions, participation in every other aspect of American society. YZ wants you to know that your disenfranchisement ensures that the historical record and all major arenas of power will continue to appear lily-white.
You are your best advocate. Without your input the global media will place a microscope on your worst tendencies as if your existence can be summed up by fratricidal rage and thievery. The anti-logic of white supremacy relies on a neurotic manipulation of the facts; to paint broad swaths of the American population as prone to violence one has to cover up the brutality of white racism. In turn, the triumphs of black Americans, typicallyÂ hard-won in spite of incredible odds, are robbed of their significance and beauty. At points in the song YZ likens black people to the road itself,Â walked upon but fully intact beneath a light dusting of white lies.
All of this is informative and useful but the shiniest gem of the song is one that is suggested and not stated outright. If the road is the totality of black culture, what is revealed by clearing the snow? Is the black experience reducible to a laundry list of achievements and setbacks that occurred entirely under the auspices ofÂ a white-dominated society? Which aspects of black history and culture are poised to reemerge and demand notice once the Euro-centric narrative is fully discredited? Can a future of increased black participation in American society usher in an age of greater equality or will the oppressed simply inherit and preserve an innately flawed system? Is the road constantly evolving in response to such developments?
The songs that attempt to answer these questions are hopefully being written by bright, creative teenagers as you read this. — Thun