In honor of today being Friday the 13th and the day before Valentine’s Day, the Breaks examines a gut-wrenching gem from Wale‘s Festivus mixtape, and Marcus J. Moore offers his insight on Joe D.‘s latest single.
The Impossible Depths of the Friend Zone
Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, a day that some folks—whether they’re in relationships or not—put entirely too much emphasis on. For some, it’s a day to bask in the glow of their relationship. For others, an unpleasant reminder of their loneliness. Because today is Friday the 13th, I’m going to focus on the dark side of love via the best song from Wale’s most recent release, Festivus.
“Friendship Heights” bears the name of the Northwest D.C. neighborhood, but it’s about a far less enticing location: the purgatory-like area known as the friend zone. This space, birthed by unrequited love, is where dreams go to die and resentment festers. However, through delicate production by Omega and Raak that builds into a crescendo on the chorus, Wale and Chicago’s Chance the Rapper transform the pain into something beautiful.
On the song’s opening verse, Wale breaks down how vulnerability often pushes people together for the wrong reasons: “Both of our exes issues with both of us now seem perfect/Hoping our imperfections aren’t noticed or unimportant/We all just rush the feeling, nobody loves the searching/Of course we need our intentions before we meet the person.”
The issue with this, as Wale acknowledges, is that it leads to miscommunication. What happens when one party wants more from the other than simply the comfort of a kindred spirit? An indefinite, and likely permanent, sentence to the friend zone.
This is Wale’s song, but Chance the Rapper is the true revelation. His verse includes brilliant references to using his newfound fame to escape the friend zone like Bruce Wayne did Bane’s prison in The Dark Knight Rises: “Fishing through smaller ponds for girls I knew ‘fore the concert/Conquer the friend zone first then, beat through the bush I wonder.” However, it’s the two bridges he provides that take the song from good to excellent.
The first one, inspired by Erykah Badu’s “Love of My Life,” addresses the hope that blooms when someone you’re interested in confides in you. “But whenever you got lonely, and needed some advice/You called me your brother, that word is cold as ice.”
The second bridge, a nod to Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend,” highlights the problem of dating within social circles. “Same circle loving, a town too small for lovers/You say I’m just a friend/Oh, you say I’m just a friend,” Chance sings, his falsetto cracking at the end. The problem is that dating makes these circles even smaller, and the “town too small for lovers” is definitely applicable in D.C.
Heartbreak is a frequent topic for Wale. There’s Back to the Feature’s “Warwick Avenue” remix and “Goodbye”; More About Nothing’s “The War” and “Breakup Song,” and Ambition’s underrated “Sabotage.” This latest show of vulnerability is not only the standout, it’s the standout because it’s so damn relatable. Even if you’ve never been friend-zoned, you’ve seen it happen. It ain’t pretty.
In addition to appearing on Festivus, this ode to the pain a young Jon Cryer felt as Duckie in John Hughes‘ classic Pretty in Pink is also included on the seventh edition of DC to BC’s Singles Awareness Day (S.A.D.) mix.
Whether you’re single or taken, enjoy your weekend. —Julian Kimble
These days, Prince George’s County native Joseph “Joe D.” Dunlap is known as the architect behind rap trio Gods’Illa’s soulful aesthetic. For his sound, Joe D. pulls from different genres, spinning obscure samples into street-savvy boom-bap. Before that, though, Joe was one half of Dirty Water with emcee Akil Nadir, who died suddenly in April. While he isn’t a solo artist, Joe spits standout verses with Gods’Illa—namely those on “Fine Line” and “Glaciers,” from the group’s stellar 2011 project, CPR: The Blend Tape.
For his new single, “Sisyphus,” Joe culls a darker tone while speaking to the daily battles of middle-class existence: “Push that rock, up that hill/I look down, it’s rollin’ still,” he repeats on a piano-laced instrumental. In an email, Joe says he thought of the lyrics on his way home from work one day. “I had just gotten some disappointing news and I had the beat playing,” says the emcee/producer, who now lives in Atlanta. “The song is about overcoming that feeling of stagnation even though you think you’re doing everything you can. Life can sometimes feel like running in place and wrestling with the same issues over and over.”
“Sisyphus” is slated for Joe D.’s debut album, Kairos, out this fall. Stream the track after the jump.—Marcus J. Moore
Photo by Darrow Montgomery