Song of the Week
What words come to mind when your given the imagery of a single rose growing out of a concrete jungle, hope or strength? Teyana Taylor’s “Rose In Harlem” paints a gruesome picture of how a roses thorns are a necessary defense. Whether its realism or pessimism, the melody engulfs themes of strength and betrayal. Teyana Taylor released “Rose In Harlem” in 2018 on her album K.T.S.E or Keep that same energy with the help of producer Ye. The title is inspired by a poem titled “The Rose That Grew from Concrete” by Tupac Shakur. They both share a theme of perseverance and dangerous beauty. Taylor is from Harlem and looks back on her life noticing one pattern, You can’t trust anyone.
The bumping melody slides in with a sample from The Stylistics song, “Because I Love You, Girl”. The repeating intro sounds like a warning alarm interrupting a formidable silence. “A rose in Harlem” echoes like a distressing memory as Taylor leads use into the scene. “Been through more than a lil’ bit / But I ain’t callin’ no names out / No, no free promotion / naw, naw I ain’t late, I don’t do due dates / No sneak diss, no sneak shit / That’s just how I was raised”. The story begins with Taylor living through a less than optimal childhood. She admits that everything went down a while ago but still carries this pain and this grudge with her everyday. Some people have this habit of cheating, lying and thinking they can get away with it. In Taylor’s story it seems like they did.
I love the tiny jab she makes by refusing to name anyone because what she says is right. Whether it’s a serious crime or internet drama people will get off on the infamy.
The verse continues with trumpets pushing her sharp words and smacking bass. “Had to get it out the soil / I been down, I been loyal / When you really hold it down / N***** ain’t even really down for ya / oh no, What a shame / 10 years in the game / N***** like ‘You ain’t hot? You ain’t pop yet?’ / ‘What’s up wit’ you and Ye?'”. The line saying, “get it out the soil” has to be about herself getting out of Harlem or where she grew from. Here Taylor delves into her music career and it’s critics. Taylor first came on the music scene in Beyonce’s hit single “Ring the Alarm” as the music video choreographer at 15-years-old. Entering the industry young has damaged many lives. With the shaky foundation Taylor references before, it must have made her climb to the top that much more difficult.
Despite the sorrowful topic her tone remains stagnant and full of strength. The gullible child she once was is now an empowered and forcefull women. She wants the listener to know, things were bad but this isn’t a pity party.
Her critics perpetuate the sexism she most likely experienced her whole life as a dancer by muddling down her career to her relationship with one man, Ye. She made it to the top and a complaining audience still doesn’t see the work it took to get there.
Once again that warning siren blares throughout the chorus. Back and forth it’s like she’s talking to it when she says, “Grew out the concrete / You know it ain’t sweet / Can’t tell me any-any-any-anything”. Concrete is hard and suffocating. It’s made so that nothing can survive. She managed to get out of that soil but it left her with all this distrust for the people around her. When someone gets lied to over and over again eventually they won’t believe a thing.
In her stunning refrain, the impenetrable concrete melts away and all that’s left is this raw torment of past disloyalty. “It be the ones who say they ride for you / It be the ones, the ones you love, them too / It be the ones who swear they real, not true / … / Don’t get caught up / It be the ones, the ones you closest to / It be the ones, the ones you trust – them to / It be the ones, the ones you look up to / … / Don’t get caught up, young girl”. The repetition leaves her begging the audience to listen. Her silky lyrics sting with sadness from past trauma that forces the listener to hear her cynical cry. Despite the doom and gloom she comes towards us with support and advice rather then leaving a despairing taste in our mouths. She’s been let down by the people she loves in many ways and yells to the young girls out there, it could be ANYBODY.
The second verse returns, reconstructing that same powerful tone. “If it ain’t ’bout blessings / I can’t even address it / I just bought my third house / No album out and I got ’em asking / ‘What do she do?’ I do everything / I move everything / Put that on my wedding ring / Put that on my baby name”. The first line is about her only giving out praise and never hate. She puts herself above pettiness and repeats that she doesn’t perpetuate infamy. Taylor throughout her career has been a dancer, choreographer, actress, singer and model. Her critics still have the audacity to say she doesn’t do anything to deserve the money she has. She refuses to put up with that and swears on her family that she’s worked hard for every cent she’s earned. The pulsing song ends with an elongated refrain. A violin adds an edge of sentimentalism to these concluding words. The final chords struck however end on an eerie note leaving the listener uneasy. She wants her audience to hear her pain and learn from her mistakes. Your loved ones might hurt you and an industry might try to break you but a rose still managed to grow in Harlem.