What is the word for being attracted to someone's voice? Specifically, what is the word for being attracted to the manner in which someone uses language? Let me coin the phrase, 'linguistic charisma'. Both Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar possess this elusive and enchanting quality, graciously demonstrated in their latest duet, NILE.
Stationed as the 10th stop along the journey provided in Beyoncé's newest work, The Lion King: The Gift, these two artists allow us access to play and adventure with their words through their use of malapropism and juxtaposed imagery. They've enchanted to the point where each line beckons its own breakdown so that we may understand the ways in which they impress their images upon us through music and auditory adaptation.
The song opens with:
One time I took a swim in the Nile I swam the whole way I didn't turn around Man, I swear It made me relax when I came down I felt liberated like free birds, I'm stimulated now Plunging away 'less my body's on top All of these currents might cost me my life, right now Where danger finds me, it follows with tides Many miles ahead of me, still I'm in stride
|One time I took a swim in the Nile| I swam the whole way, I didn't turn around| provokes its own imagery. On one hand, it beckons to the image of the Nile River, the longest river in the world at 4,130 ft long. No one in recorded history has swam through its entirety, yet here they impose the image of themselves having swam "the whole way". This presents itself as a metaphor for overcoming an insurmountable feat, that being, in my opinion, transcending their mundane circumstances to achieve such internal and international acclaim. This line also evokes another image; it's sensuality beckons the image of sex and sexual relation. "Taking a swim" within and "[swimming] the whole way" reflects not only the act of embrace but also the process of seduction. This image is further reinforced in the second line: |It made me relax when I came down| I felt liberated like free birds, I'm stimulated now|
They further strengthen this sensuality with the words: |Plunging away 'less my body's on top| All of these currents might cost me my life, right now| Now remember, the literal image is that of someone swimming through the Nile river, achieving that high that only exerting the body against nature's forces can provide. One must use their arms to cut through the waves, or they may float atop its pace, but inevitably they're still moving and their energy continues to flow. At its surface level, the liberation and stimulation they describe are connected to that journey through the Nile, but embedded within this is the metaphor of how freedom can only be achieved through mental and spiritual exertion against the forces and flow of life; how it can only be enjoyed through the understanding begat from personal hardship. It's third layer, of course, alludes to sex; that relaxation and satiation post-climax, that comfort and freedom we allow ourselves and our bodies when we reach release. Of course, the most exquisite pleasures are only so because of the risk, be it in actual life, or within the endless death and rebirth of ego found through life passions and the passions of pleasure.
The hook officially ends with the lines: |Where danger finds me, it follows with tides|Many miles ahead of me, still I'm in stride| Swimming through the Nile is a perilous feat, as is confronting ones dreams and surmounting their current position in life to achieve them. The challenges and dangers come in tides, big or small, yet those who would attempt great feats laugh in the face of danger and continue ahead, seemingly undaunted by the impermanence of a journey without a clear ending. The same feeling is found in good sex, the build up to the edge of climax juxtaposed with the calculated withdrawal at the hint of peak; it helps to keep both parties in stride for an unseeable length of time. It is an elegant way to demonstrate how life fucks us. This could also allude to Beyoncé and Kendrick's seemingly limitless ascension toward musical mastery. Will they ever find a peak to their transcendence? One can transcend the constructs and constrictions of time and schedule when diving deeply into the activities that give them pleasure, be it swimming in or swimming within.
The hook transitions into Beyoncé's verse:
Hey little buddy, where you goin'? I'm not sure of how to know I'm still motion You seem regular, I seem regular These streams (dreams) may take me out to the ocean
In reference to the initially established image, this could be her exemplifying the feelings one might have as they journey through the longest river in the world. The endless questioning of where this sojourn might take them, the crippling doubt that they may not be the special kind of person that accomplishes such feats, the debilitating confusion found in being unable to know the line where you begin and where what surrounds you ends. These very same emotions can be attributed to one's life journey, their understanding of purpose, and their understanding of self. Beyoncé sensually muddies the pronunciation of "streams" so that it also sounds like 'dreams' to reinforce the connection between these two images. Rivers do indeed lead to the ocean, and she calls into question that body larger than man that his dreams and aspirations push him towards.
Kendrick's verse follows:
Told myself if I dive in it without precaution of a lifejacket Then I'll dive in it 'til I'm exhausted and I'm type lacking Waistline on four deep, senses on 4D Feel like there's four of me
|Told myself if I dive in it without precaution of a life jacket|Then I'll dive in it 'til I'm exhausted and I'm type lacking| The most poignant line, in my opinion, is his opening to this verse; in one line he has completely encapsulated the three images being superimposed onto our subconscious throughout the song. The framed image, the one who swims through the Nile, is given thought and narrative. By swimming in the Nile without any protection, he has resigned himself to giving 100% of who he is, or he will not survive. This kind of mindset, often described by artists as blind faith, must be adopted to achieve any amount of awe-inspiring success. The metaphor of one engaging with their dreams is again touched and tied in expertly with its underlying sexual implications. If you are to "dive in", especially "without precaution", then you must give it your all; the risk involved in sex like that must reap the best rewards possible, the most satisfying climax. This image is again reinforced with his last two lines: |Waistline on four deep, senses on 4D|Feel like there's four of me| Swimming through the Nile, exerting that much effort, would cause delusion and deliriousness, as such, along the journey of one's life path they might experience mental and emotional delusion and disillusion. When it comes to sex, he alludes to the complete surrender and submerging of the body to the senses, which are in turn heightened to arenas that are inaccessible outside of sex.
The song flows through the hook again, transitioning its way back to another verse by Beyoncé:
Got the Nile runnin' through my body Look at my natural, I'm so exotic Darker the berry, sweeter the fruit Deeper the wounded, deeper the roots Nubian doused in brown, I'm lounging in it Fountain of Youth, I said I'm drowning in it
The song shifts toward assured celebration of the female-form, or more specifically, the black woman. Beyoncé is no stranger to the work of assigning her image to phenomena; by assigning herself to the image of this great, natural phenomena as something that runs through her veins, it helps her audience assign her image to that of an earth goddess or deity. Along with that, Beyoncé simultaneously connects her image to that of the African woman, providing a voice for the deep-seated, complicated beauty black women hold within our connection to the land that is at the heart of this Earth. We are practically elevated toward mythological status through her use of image and imagery.
The song comes to climax on its own with a joint refrain:
I'm in denial, deep in denial
I'm in the Nile, deep in denial
Throughout the piece, Kendrick and Beyoncé use malapropisms to allude to the deeper meaning they derive from the thoughts of the swimmer; we as the audience are privy to this view. It would not be too far off to say that someone swimming through the entirety of the Nile would hold some sense of denial; be it that they deny their own power, or the will of others, be it that they deny themselves, or they deny themselves access to others, overcoming something seemingly insurmountable is a catalyst and trigger for any feelings held within us that 'deny'. Acknowledging the depth with which they can feel such a thing, likening it to the grandeur of the Nile river, is the most sensual quality of this song. By allowing us slivers of the depth with which they view life and themselves, their affect is deeply humbling and seductive, it is, in essence, linguistic charisma.