“Believe What I Say” by Kanye West
We presumed that it would only be a matter of time before we came across a song on the playlist of Donda that was more head-scratching than it isn’t. Well, at least such can be the case if you try to understand this song in a traditionally, linear fashion.
Going a bit out on a tangent here, we would venture Kanye West’s best days as a rapper appear to be a thing of the past. And this is no insult against him, considering that there isn’t virtually any rapper who manages to remain a potent emcee even into middle age.
Indeed the music industry in and of itself is primarily a youth sport. For instance, even if you take your favorite musician whose in their 40s, 50s and so on, chances are they blew up in their early-20s, if not earlier. So we know that, taking a song like 2005’s “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” for example, there was moment in time when Kanye could drop like a 50 bar verse that was for the most part easily understandable from start to finish. But these days, let’s just say his lyrics tend to be a lot more metaphorical.
So in the first verse for instance, well, it has been acceptably put forth that he’s speaking to a concept like media persecution. This is something we all know Kanye has had dealt with, especially during the last couple of years or so. But if such is the case, then we would also have to presume that the addressee of the chorus, where he makes statements like “don’t let the lifestyle drag you down”, would be someone like himself, not a romantic interest as inferred later on.
And the way the second verse plays out supports this theory. So therein the “you” would be Kanye referring to himself, albeit in the second person. And again, what he’s saying line-for-line isn’t really discernible.
But overall, Yeezus is letting us know that being one of the top celebrities in the world, as he is, has its downsides also. No, it’s not like negative social-media comments or even things Yeezy says himself that he later regrets are going to cause him to pack his bags and quit.
But at the same he is human, so when people say nasty things about him in public it does in fact hurt.
Later in the verse, the subject seemingly changes around the time he references Brad Pitt and drops a line about “too many family secrets, somebody passing notes”.
Well what isn’t a secret to the public at large is that Yeezus has also recently had issues in his marriage with fellow celebrity Kim Kardashian (a situation similar which, publicity wise, is similar to what Pitt went in his marriages).
And needless to say, the above line is dealing with a subject a lot more personal than nasty tweets. So perhaps this is the part of the song where it transform from one more centered on Kanye to a piece about a troubled romance, let’s say with Kim K. in particular.
Buju Banton steps in on the Bridge of “Believe What I Say”
But the bridge that directly follows the verse, as rendered by Buju Banton, re-suggests that Kanye intended “Believe What I Say” as more as a piece more focused on himself, i.e. where he ‘showing’ us, the listeners, “all” of his inner “thoughts”.
But of course being that he is concurrently caught up in some serious marital drama, well that would definitely be on his mind also.
So the bridge, as noted earlier, is one in which the vocalist is apparently addressing his significant other. And even this segment on its own is a bit confusing considering that Buju at one point refers to the addressee as “man”, even though we know neither he nor Kanye is gay.
So it would appear that this is also a single passage though with different meanings. Or rather, let’s say there is a uniform meaning though more than one addressee. And what Banton is telling a particular lady as well as one of his homeys is like shame on them for getting caught up in the lies of others concerning their relationship.
Or put differently, the addressee is getting chastised for being too gullible.
Then comes the challenge of trying to relate all of the above to the chorus. And once again, we would argue that this is a dual-addressee affair. On one hand we have Kanye presenting himself as someone to “follow”, presumably as a model of an individual who can deal with mass persecution yet not allow such to destroy his joyful outlook on life.
But then when put into more of a direct-relationship context (like the bridge), then this doesn’t become a general statement but rather one being relayed to a close associate. And in that case, on top of acknowledging that said individual may be in need of love, Kanye is also presenting himself as someone who can lead them out of the darkness, if you will.
Conclusion of “Believe What I Say”
So even though this song really isn’t deep, thus far “Believe What I Say” has proven to be our lengthiest analysis of a Donda track. And again, that isn’t due the piece being profound but rather, for lack of better word, disjointed.
But perhaps it is one of those songs that is meant to have a dual meaning throughout, considering the intro, i.e. the Lauryn Hill sample, also sort of implies that this is meant to be a romantic piece.
And as far as the thesis sentiment goes, what the vocalist is telling the addressee to do, seemingly whoever it may be, is to ‘believe what he says’, even when presented with opposing views by others.