This one might be more about my own analytical process, and where I sometimes just miss the mark, than too in depth an analysis of these two songs. The two tracks I’m talking about are Lauryn Hill’s To Zion on The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill and how I had essentially deconstructed its meaning in my mind, to the point where I was going to write a post on it in and of itself, only to have the meaning I had built up in my mind be destroyed (maybe elevated is a better word though) with Donnie Trumpet’s companion or response piece Zion featuring Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa on his debut EP.
I’m now almost a bit embarrassed to admit what I had initially thought Hill’s To Zion was all about. I think I almost took her opening verses literally; Hill confused and touching her pregnant belly. I was listening to the song in almost isolation from any information about Hill’s life, and in the understanding this was a very personal and vulnerable song, I took the religious and angelic symbology at surface value (as any good critical thinker does) and concluded, oh clearly this is about an immaculate conception. Yes, I won’t even attempt to explain this away by saying this could be an analogy for a situation where the father is no longer around for whatever reason, I literally thought, baby from nowhere, message received Lauryn! Then to further this, I deduced that, while the mother chooses to defy what those around her think, that she should think about her career and get her abortion, as the chorus iterates “the joy of my world is in Zion”, I once more nodded in meaningful understanding. I’m no theologist, but I’m pretty sure “Zion” is something religious, it must be synonymous with Heaven; therefore, unfortunately, the child died. And I was genuinely moved and sad, it is a beautiful song after all, the song concludes with the repetition of “marching to Zion”, meaning the mother is dreaming of being reunited with her deceased child in Zion, AKA Heaven…because it is dead.
(Now I just feel the need to clarify here, I now understand that Hill’s first child, who she had early in her career, she named Zion and this song is a tribute to the inspiration and creative love that he gives her. But, hey, who could have known. Also, now a number of other verses make more sense. Hindsight is beautiful!).
Satisfied with by probing dissection of To Zion, I ticked that meaning off as done. Then, a year or two later, eagerly awaiting anything new by Chance the Rapper since Acid Rap, I notice this Donnie Trumpet video: Zion. Huh, okay, let’s see how this holds up with my understanding of the original (It took a few listens before I actually make the connection between these songs if I’m honest). Man oh man, Donnie Trumpet playing the tune from To Zion, it’s so smooth and warm, I loved it (listen here for an extended version where the trumpets get centre stage). Chance is on point as usual and it was his lyrics that struck me and made me think: wait a minute holdup; maybe To Zion isn’t about immaculate conception. (just quickly also, I don’t love Vic Mensa’s verses on this, I think they come in a bit too fast compared to the rest of the track for my liking, this is purely my personal opinion). Chance’s rap made me rethink the whole song, that it could be about the relationship and love between the mother and the (living) child, about the strength of a mother as a child’s “Queen”. The clincher comes as she sings as she wraps her child’s dredds, described by Chance “my momma loves me like the song that she sings, but I think she loves me just a little bit more”, channelling (what I now know) is the message of Hill’s original track, that she will put her own family before her career.
To gush just a little bit more over both songs, I love the image that Chance creates with his lyrics in Zion. It really forms a nice vivid scene between a mother and child in a few simple lines. In its spirit though, I believe Zion to be a really powerful companion, homage, tribute to Hill’s original; and the respect that can be felt from Zion towards Hill perfectly captures the themes of Hill’s To Zion, as she serves as a forerunner, a mother, for new aspiring artists whom her music has touched across the generations.
I could go on, however I will just conclude by saying if you haven’t listened to Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment’s new album Surf (which Chance the Rapper is part of), then jump up on it, grab it like you want it. Watch the video for Sunday Candy here, it is tight!
(And also since writing this, there has been even more Chance activity, a freestyle mix tape with Lil B: I’m currently crushing on Amen. AND a great little song Israel dropped about a week ago. Phew, so much good stuff to be getting on with.)