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'Chocolate Rain' is some deep shit

Tay Zonday's YouTube phenom is the song of the year.

By Gabe Meline

I don't usually champion YouTube videos, but the surprising and hilarious success of Tay Zonday's 7-million-views-and-counting "Chocolate Rain" has brought me great joy, and it's been fueling many a buckled-over guffaw to everyone I know who discovers it. The reactions are always fivefold:

1. This is the funniest shit I've seen in a long time.

2. OK, no, wait, this is the funniest shit I've seen, period.

3. As repetitive as this beat is, it's actually pretty fresh.

4. You know what? This is totally creative and one-of-a-kind.

5. Lemme listen to it again. I think he might actually be singing about something important.

It's rare to find entertainment, creativity and social commentary wrapped so tightly together, especially with an arrangement that all but gets down on its knees and begs the listener to join in; everyone who hears "Chocolate Rain" wants to start making up their own verses. It's the new haiku: come up with nine syllables, and increase their contextual power with a James Earl Jones–style recitation sandwiched between strange gurglings of the words "Chocolate Rain" (my favorite syllables so far, from one of hundreds of YouTube tributes by Darth Vader, Tré Cool and a fecal monster named "Turdzilla," are "Barry Zito Colonoscopy").

Also, the music's not as redundant as it may appear on first listening. If I'm not mistaken, Zonday plays swift, arpeggiated sixteenth notes that fly all over the upper keys, and listen to his left hand—it's hiding right around middle C, playing tricky almost-triplets against the right hand, something I think Bud Powell would get a kick out of. Then, somewhere around the chorus, he drops the left hand and pounds low octaves with an entirely different and more complex syncopation, like a production trick off Dr. Dre's The Chronic.

Which takes us to the lyrics, the sweetest surprise of all: "Chocolate Rain," far from a collection of random nonsequiturs, turns out to be a metaphor for racism. Zonday is so goofy-looking and has such a weird-ass voice, we don't expect him to be singing about insurance rates, test scores and criminal law. Yet after a few listens, his poetic indictment hits right up there with Phil Ochs, bringing to a new, tech-addled generation a list of unanswered questions that are unfortunately very old.

Song of the year in my opinion.

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