The first time I heard the song, “Fast Car” by Wyclef Jean, I really liked it because it was catchy. After listening to it a few more times, I realized there was a lot of meaning to it. To me, the main goal of this song is to teach the young listeners a difficult lesson to be careful before they do something that could potentially ruin their lives. Also, Jean is showing his listeners there is help out there and tomorrow is not promised – everybody needs take advantage of their available resources so they do not harm themselves.
Basically, Jean wants everyone to be careful with the life that they currently have rather than wasting time here on earth. Jean explains his story by using a type of music that will get to young people without making them feel like they are being scolded. He also relates his verses to famous people such as Kanye West, Notorious B.I.G., Tupac, Sean Bell, Left Eye Lopez, and an innocent 16 year old girl; by using this type of song writing style, young people will listen to the song and learn from it rather than avoiding the topic.
The first verse of the song is allduding to Kanye West having a major car accident.
He was driving home from a recording studio in Los Angelos at three in the morning when he fell asleep at the wheel. He totaled his car and broke his jaw severely. After this accident, Kanye wrote a song called “Jesus Walks.” It was part of the album called “Through the Wire,” which Kanye West actually produced while he had wires holding his jaw together(“Kanye West”). The first verse of Wyclef Jean’s song says “I heard a man say Jesus walks, me myself I heard Jesus talk.” This line shows how Jesus is real and how both West and Jean have personally had encounters with Him. The next lines say, “Cause when I heard his beat I felt Jesus’ force, I heard it Through The Wire that he made it out the coma, from a fast car.” This line shows West’s devastating accident and the aftermath of it. Kanye was in a coma and nearly died because he failed to be responsible with his car. The purpose of verse one is to show the listeners that driving at late hours of the night or while tired is not safe. It is better to stay somewhere rather than risking a life by driving a car. West was lucky to survive his accident; not all situations have fortunate outcomes however.
West dealt with a lot of pain personally, while other peoples’ problems involve their enemies. The second verse of this song is about Tupac and Notorious B.I.G., who is also known as Biggie. Tupac and Biggie had a feud that went on for days before anything was done about it. Biggie was a bad boy, and Tupac was an outlaw. This is explained in the song when Jean writes, “Some of us are Bad Boys, Some of us are outlaws.” Biggie took the name “Bad Boys” when he and his producer decided to pair up to make music. Tupac was considered an outlaw because he did not necessarily have any place where he belonged. One day, during November of 1994, Biggie shot Tupac multiple times in the lobby of a recording studio in New York and stole a large amount of jewelry. Everyone suspected Biggie, but he denied it and never got the full blame for it (Huey).
During the song, Jean says, “Unsolved mystery, the killer gets away.” It is very clear he is talking about the incident between Biggie and Tupac. Eventually, their dispute carries on into Vegas and LA, where Tupac is murdered in his SUV from a shot by a neighboring car. The song also explains this because Jean talks about the drama moving on to Vegas and LA and driving a fast car. This rivalry was out of control, especially when Tupac was eventually murdered. Everyone thought the world would become a better place because people would learn from the situation. This was not the case, however, because the rivalries got bigger and America became more violent in the 20th century. Jean is once again trying to show everyone the importance of our lives; he does not want anyone to get into trouble so badly that their lives are ultimately ended by the violence. The chorus speaks the loudest in terms of meaning of the song.
The first half is, “you don’t got to be no billionaire, to get a ticket up to the moon. We all know somebody up there, you need a helping hand, look, I’m right here.” Basically, Jean means everybody goes to the moon, or heaven, one day. However, a person does not have to be rich to take a trip up there. We all know people who have passed away and gone to heaven; it is never easy to say goodbye to people who leave Earth. He wants everyone to know that there is plenty of help on Earth. Jean does not want anybody to mess up their life to the point that it isn’t worth it to fix it. This part of the song has the most symbolic meaning. Cars symbolize the journey of life – from birth to death, just as they help you travel from one place to another. Jean uses the verses to show literal meanings of why we need to be careful with cars; he uses the chorus to show the symbolic meaning associated with fast cars and why they have the ability to be so dangerous. Also, he prefers not to have any hardships to control his listeners’ lives either.
The verse goes on to say, “…to help you see clearly now.” Jean wants to be the helping hand for everybody. Why die, when you could fix your problems and live as a happy individual? The whole purpose of the song is to be smart and not let our cars or problems control us. The bridge of the song emphasizes the dangers of cars. A person might be drinking or not in the right mental state to drive, however if they pick up their friends to drive, most of them will probably get in the car. Paul Simon comes into the song at this point and says, “When that fast car picks you up, you will have no choice. You may hear the tires screaming, but you will have no voice. But as the fast car picks you up, you will weep and smile. And see heaven in the headlights, mile after, mile.” This is a very good representation about what life is really like. People don’t want to stand up to their friends because they will be the only one. However, making the choice to not speak up might cost a person their life.
Even if it does not ultimately end their life, they will feel regret as they “see heaven in the headlights, mile after mile.” People know they are making a mistake by getting in a car with people who have been drinking. Yet most people just go along with it in order to fit in. The danger with cars is they do not seem like weapons and people are not very careful with them because they see them as a toy. They can be a weapon though because they can easily hit somebody and injure them or the people in the car. After this song, hopefully everybody begins to see the importance in safety and good decisions. Jean is not even close to done – he keeps bringing in more examples so he can really get is message across. The third verse of this song references the Sean Bell shooting that occurred in November of 2006. Bell held his bachelor party at a Queens Strip Club in New York City. He was drinking and then got into his Nissan Altima with two of his friends.
He began to drive and he ran into a New York officer. The rest of the officers thought Bell was a danger so they began to shoot at his car. They killed Bell while injuring two of his friends. All together, they shot 51 times. The officers involved in the incident were indicted, “charging the two who had fired the bulk of the shots, Detective Michael Oliver and Detective Gescard F. Isnora, with first-degree manslaughter, and the third, Detective Marc Cooper, with reckless endangerment” (“Sean Bell”). This is explained in the song when Wyclef Jean writes, “what would you do after your bachelor party? In the bar celebrating with all your homies,” and “over fifty one shots but you ain’t ready to die.” Jean shows how everybody has a bachelors party and makes bad decisions, but that does not mean he or she deserves to die, or wants to die. Bell made a bad decision by getting in his car when he was under the influence of alcohol, however he did not think it would cause him his life.
Jean is showing his listeners a lesson through Bell’s story. He is showing the importance of responsibility, especially when people are under the influence of alcohol. Nobody wants to die, especially right before their wedding. Jean’s lesson is to be careful and mindful of our actions. The fourth verse of the song is about a member of the hip-hop band, TLC. Her name was Lisa – left eye – Lopez and she was on a spiritual trip to Honduras to get her life in order (“TLC’s Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes dies in wreck.”). Jean explains this by saying, “Everybody needs some TLC, so she headed to Honduras for some TLC (Tender Loving Care).” Lopez died an innocent death. She was a passenger in a van; she died instantly, while the other seven passengers were uninjured. Jean states, “Well she was a passenger, never a driver, in that fast car.”
At this point in the song, Jean turns to people who are trying to save their lives, yet they still suffer deaths. Lopez was on a journey trying to figure out her problems, but she was killed by a dangerous fast car. She was not ready for heaven, but she ended up taking her trip early. The fifth and final verse of the song is about an innocent 16 year old girl who just had her sweet sixteenth birthday party. She was crossing the street when she was hit by a car and died. The verse says, “Sweet sixteen, I see her leaving the scene. Crossing the street, she won’t see seventeen.” The person that hit her was under the influence of alcohol. Just as Jean says, “Blink of an eye, DWI. Hit and run, the assailant flees, in that fast car.” This verse goes along with the chorus very well because the girl was innocent, not ready to die, and she probably was not going through anything difficult that caused her to want to end her life.
Instead, she was the victim of a fast car and bad decisions that ultimately ended her life. This song is full of meaning and lessons that meant to be passed on to the reader. Jean is looking out for his listeners while he sings this song. My favorite part will always be, “You don’t got to be no billionaire, to get a ticket up to the moon.” This line defines the song; it is all about safety and using street smarts so we do not die prematurely. I like to be adventurous and live my life to the fullest, but safety always comes first. I would feel terrible if I left my family behind by making a bad decision – we have to think about our own safety, as well as the way life would change for our loved ones if we took our trip to the “moon.” This song made an impact on my life, and I hope it changes other peoples’ lives too.
Huey, Steve. “The Notorious B.I.G.” Bad Boys Forever. Bad Boys. 2002-2010. http://www.badboyforever.com/artists/the-notorious-big. 21 Feb 2011. “Kanye West.” Chicago Tribune. Chicago Tribune. n.d. http://www.chicagotribune.com/topic/entertainment/music/kanye-west-PECLB004230.topic. 21 Feb 2011. “Sean Bell.” NY Times Online. NY Times. 28 July 2010. <http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/b/sean_bell/index.html> 21 Feb 2011 “TLC’s Lisa ‘Left Eye’ Lopes dies in wreck.” CNN Entertainment. CNN. 26 April 2002. http://articles.cnn.com/2002-04-26/entertainment/obit.lopes_1_watkins-and-thomas-tionne-t-boz-watkins-rozonda-chilli-thomas?_s=PM:SHOWBIZ. 21 Feb 2011.