April 2007. America teeters on the edge of financial collapse, as the subprime mortgage crisis looms. On April 16, a gunman opens fire on the campus of Virginia Tech, killing 32 and wounding 17 in the then-deadliest mass shooting on U.S. soil. Only two days later, a series of bombings across Baghdad claims the lives of nearly 200 people, injuring hundreds more. On April 20, earthquakes ripple through Japan and Chile. Amid this miasma of death, simmering tensions, and apocalyptic portent, an uneasy nation’s eyes wearily turn to YouTube. And it is there, on April 22, they take solace in a 25-year-old kid with a really deep voice singing about chocolate rain.
It’s been 10 years since Tay Zonday (real name Adam Nyerere Bahner) first uploaded “Chocolate Rain,” a song whose 19-or-so verses, according to some interpretations, offer a searing indictment of institutionalized racism through impressionistic lyrics like, “Chocolate Raaaain / Some stay dry and others feel the pain / Chocolate Raaaain / A baby born will die before the sin.” Not to mention, “Chocolate Raaaain / Raised your neighborhood insurance rates / Chocolate Raaaain / Makes us happy livin’ in a gate.” And then there’s “Chocolate Raaaaain.” As well as “Chocolate Raaaaain.” Together, they describe a world of injustice and grim history repeating itself—though Zonday himself has resisted assigning too deep a meaning to them, preferring to let his imagery speak for itself.
Delivered over a hypnotic, ever-looping piano melody, and sung by Zonday as he continuously moves his head away from a condenser mic to breathe in—explaining in a caption, “I move away from the mic to breathe in”—”Chocolate Rain” captured so many of America’s unspoken feelings in one five-minute clip. It became among the earliest “viral” hits and near-singlehandedly carried Barack Obama to the presidency, probably. You can’t prove that it didn’t.
Following a decade of internet fame—a time during which “Chocolate Rain” entered the pop lexicon through parodies and references on things like South Park, 30 Rock, and SpongeBob SquarePants, and after which its message has, sadly, only become more timely—Zonday has now paid tribute to his defining creation with a new, 10th-anniversary “acoustic” version, played live on electric piano. Time and success have inevitably changed Zonday, now 34. Rather than stand with the impudent resolve of youth, he now sits in the most ergonomic chair ever created. Over his signature white T-shirt, he now wears a blazer of success. He is different, as are we all.
And yet? “Chocolate Rain” has not been diluted. The rain falls still, chocolate as ever. Who will stop it?