Meaning Behind the Music: Materialism


One thing that’s been slightly underrated in modern society is the importance of a great music video. Of course, we have some videos in recent time that have given deeper significance to the song (the most prominent of these being Childish Gambino’s “This is America”). However, there have been many phenomenal music videos that have been created that many people overlook. In this series, we plan on highlighting those music videos. For this edition we plan on discussing music videos on materialism.

“ATM”- J. Cole
I’ve always seen J. Cole as Hip-Hop’s wise father for the newer generation of rappers. He always seems to share his wisdom or tell stories with meaningful morals. However, sometimes he tends to poke fun at trends, while also warning the future generation of different issues. This is most prominent in the music video for his track “ATM.” In the song he exaggerates the importance of money, claiming it helps to fight his demons and to solve his problems. The importance of money is glorified in a satirical way to give a bigger impact to the song. And the music video further amplifies this message. The music video has J. Cole play multiple parts, including a car salesman, a man on a flying throne with a dollar bill on a string, and a Sound Cloud Rapper.  The images presented to the reader depict Cole betting all of his money, spending excessive amounts of money for his girlfriend who appears to use him for the money, and literally spending “an arm and a leg” for a car. All throughout, J. Cole is being chased by people wanting his money, and, when he eventually goes broke, he chases the man on the throne, leading him to crash his new car; ultimately, he dies in his chase for money. These images show how the pursuit of money and spending it in such a reckless manner can lead to pain. This is shown by him spending “an arm and a leg” and the car crash. Also, there is a scene where Cole as the rapper runs out of money, leading him to resort to selling his own limbs to afford a car. Another notable image is J. Cole being restrained by a straight jacket in a cell padded with money. This image can represent how money can drive to someone to insanity, as it is surrounding us at all times. The cell may also represent how the  money is seen as a way to comfort Cole, and help make his issues seem as if they could be remedied by his excessive wealth. The images of money and the negatives Cole associates with it, is meant to leave a lasting impression. It warns the world of the evils of chasing money, while presenting it in a less straightforward and amusing manner.

“All Falls Down” – Kanye West

Kanye West has been the most polarizing figure in society ever since his emergence as an artist in the early 2000s. From his outburst during a live Hurricane Katrina charity event to his recent stint with Donald Trump, Kanye has never shied away from speaking his mind. One of his earliest examples of this is the song “All Falls Down” off of his debut album The College Dropout. During the track he raps from the perspective of a single college student and from his own point of view. Kanye addresses how society molds everyone to chase materialistic things and makes us believe that we need those things to be happy.

The video is entirely from Kanye’s perspective as he and his girlfriend rush through the airport to make a flight. There are subtle hints at his girlfriend using him for his money throughout the video; for example, at the beginning she asks for cash for her trip and she ends up taking most of the money Kanye had in his wallet. The music video takes a little break in the middle for Kanye’s verse about himself, during this portion he is standing in front of a bathroom mirror criticizing himself for his greed. It closes with Kanye going through an X-ray machine, which is a reference to the plate in his jaw, as he raps about people using materialistic things to cover up their real issues.During the duration of the video, Kanye begins to realize how society has forced an addiction to money and greed in everyone including himself. He recognizes how materialism makes him feel insecure about what he owns and secretly torments the celebrities we all adore. “The prettiest people do the ugliest things, On the road to riches and diamond rings.” It’s ironic and sad to see how Kanye now has become victim of the very things he warned us against at the beginning of his career. As he continues to parade in the media with sweaters supporting Collin Kaepernick while rocking a custom “Make America Great Again” hat, I can’t help but reminisce about the Kanye of old who was unaffected by the Hollywood lights.