Listen for it: Storytelling makes music better

By Gio Gennero | Sports Writer

Music is at its best when a story is being told, whether the story is being told in one song or throughout an entire album. Music without a story is still great; sometimes it’s good to not pay attention to every word and to just be able to vibe to instrumentals.

For me, though, there’s something about having a story to follow along with that makes it that much more captivating. Allow me to show my work.

The art of storytelling is a beautiful thing. Different aspects make stories engaging, emotional and thought-provoking. In “Da Art of Storytellin,’” Outkast drops a lot of names to go along with a quick description. Even though we don’t know who Sasha is in the song, we know she is partners with Suzy. When she is asked what she wants to be when she grows up, she responds with “alive,” prompting listeners to feel for Sasha even though we only know her through the words of this story.

Storytelling can be very simple. Sometimes, this is the best route to go. Some stories don’t need to be explained.

Tupac Shakur was known for his lyricism and storytelling abilities. I believe the power of his stories comes from delivering in-depth, thought-through, surface-level schemes.

In the classic song “Brenda’s Got a Baby,” he details a true story about a young girl who became pregnant as a preteen and eventually turned to drugs and prostitution, only to be murdered. He doesn’t deliver it through double entendres or through anyone’s voice but his own. He doesn’t drop hints about the tragedies of her life. He simply says it, and that’s powerful in its own way.

The song has such raw emotion and pain that a lot of people don’t see the appeal. The idea that someone can tell a story so well — in such a way that can make you feel for someone you’ve never met and will never know existed for sure — is the appeal.

Other artists, such as Kendrick Lamar, tell stories just as powerful but in much more complex ways. His song “FEAR.” is a nearly eight-minute song describing what fear means to him, and it is told through multiple perspectives surrounding a central theme.

The song starts with a voicemail from his cousin. In the first verse, he is talking to a younger version of himself from his mother’s perspective. In the second verse, he is a young adult. In the final verse, he’s caught up to the present, and the song ends with a voicemail from his father.

In each verse, Lamar doesn’t just tell you his fears. He paints a vivid picture that really comes to life with each passing moment. He doesn’t leave it at “I’ll prolly die ‘cause that’s what you do at 17.” He details a potential death for himself in every line.

Even things that seem normal could go wrong for him at any point. The chilling lines almost make the listener anxious and uncomfortable, but that’s the point. Through storytelling, you understand what an artist is really feeling and why they’re feeling that way.

Listen for a story the next time you’re listening to music. It gives songs and albums a deeper meaning, and you can form a deeper connection with the music itself.

I could go on for days about different music with good stories, but instead, I’ll leave some suggestions.

Stan” by Eminem — He literally got a word added to the dictionary.

It Was a Good Day” by Ice Cube — It’s the definition of a feel-good song.

4 Your Eyez Only” by J. Cole — It’s another story told over an entire album, but the title track is also a great storytelling song.

Good Kid M.A.A.D. City” by Kendrick Lamar — The entire album should be considered peak cinema.