Queens, we keep coming back to you. Last week we featured Andrew Lane, and today we want to showcase another gem from this royal borough of New York City: Young Lyonne, presenting, “Black Boy Joy”.
The track opens with a light and summery feel while Young Lyonne conceptualizes “black boy joy” to us over an easy melody. What is “black boy joy”? In the effortlessly smooth and memorable hook, Young Lyonne seems to suggest it consists of a multitude of things including: the confrontation of choice(“I got a choice to be like/ I ain’t got no choice”), mental health (“self-employed by my inner voice”), and identifying and eliminating threats to that joy by not messing with “Becky” (“Becky” – a name the internet has collectively decided to use as a trademark for the product of problematic whiteness). There is a lot of substance from the get go, and it’s easy to miss the gravity of the lyrics over the production which bops along in a friendly manner.
However, the gravity becomes more difficult to ignore in the verse. Young Lyonne crafts undeniably compelling lyrics that cleverly weave in and out of word plays while lamenting what it means to be Black in the United States, “Vacay in AmeriKKK got overrated when I was nearly killed in LA/ Oh my what a shame”. And yet that merry backtrack continues. As the listener settles into the song it seems to be very intentional – there is a conflict between the depth of the lyrics and the frivolity of the production. In a way, the production acts like a hastily put together band-aid to symbolize how the ugly truths about racism in America are covered up.
Inherent in those societal conflicts are the competing narratives for creating one’s own definition of “black boy joy”. Young Lyonne speaks about the desire to make his own rules for himself: “Writin poems in high school/ To me that was cool/ Cuz I wrote the rules”, and immediately countering that with the oppressive narrative that makes autonomous rule-making impossible: “Whoops! Doesn’t matter these they rules,”. And the rules leave no space for joy or any ability to design one’s sense of joy.
Again, the depth and devastation of the lyrics over the bouncy melody line and plucked guitar strings is paradoxical, seeming to ask the listener: what are you going to hear? What do you want to hear?
And then at the 3:30 timestamp, Young Lyonne drastically shifts the entire tone of the song and tells you exactly what he wants you to hear. The jovial and happy-go-lucky backtrack is replaced by a hard-hitting, cutting, sharp-edges production, and Young Lyonne has the last word, which for all the power and theatrical drama evident in the track, your Tonemamas will leave fully for you here below, so that the choice of what to hear is made for you:
Rest in peace to all of the fallen
I’m alive gotta do what i can and
Just wanna take one lil moment
Let racists know that my quarantine was good
Held a meetin’ wit the kings of the hood
Quarantine has been about self empowerment
Taught myself how to daytrade (yall not smart)
Told myself gon figure it out today (yall quitters)
Everyday take ten minutes just to pray (yall satanic)
Back in the day thats how they stopped the rain (you don’t know)”
Best listened to: with zero distraction so as not to miss the hundreds of details in this tightly-packed song
Listen for this moment: 3:30 at the totally unexpected shift in tone/music/drama