This song by American rapper Fetty Wap, known for his extravagant behavior, violent antics, and constant trouble with the law, is a tribute to, and partly a remake of, the song “Yam,” by Devin Morrison. What a yam is is known to all connoisseurs of agriculture or black American life. The yam is a plant with sweetish tubers native to Africa that has long been established in the New World, although it is inferior in popularity to another native of the American continent, the world-conquering potato. All this because potatoes are the “second bread”, which is invariably present on the table of both the U.S. president and the inhabitant of the black ghetto, and an inveterate gourmet and unpretentious frequenter of McDonald’s, while baked yams are a typical food of the poor. It was yams that the kindest Uncle Remus planted in his tiny vegetable garden, as did the cunning Brother Rabbit, his friends and enemies. So what is the meaning of the song by Fetty Wap, whose title translates into Russian as “Can I Get to the Yams”?
The story of the song “Can I get to the yamz”
As Fetty himself tells us, the title of this song was a password used by black slaves fleeing the plantations to find out if they were friends or enemies. This secret language was incomprehensible to white planters and slave hunters, who believed that the raggedly dressed beggar was simply lost and wanted to get to the yam field as quickly as possible so as not to incur his master’s wrath. On the other hand, the “own” people, both white and black, were well aware that this was a daredevil trying to get into the free states, and they helped him, risking their own safety and lives. When America ended slavery and declared recent slaves free men, the phrase was used by homeless vagrants to mean, “Is there anything to eat here? It was also used as a password by gang spotters who roamed around the farms to find out if the men were home, if the farm owners had guns and vicious dogs, and if the farmer and his family were willing to stand up for their goods. The word “no” meant “we’d better get out soon,” the short “yes” meant “it’s all right, the way is open.” So this short phrase has many meanings, which explains the song’s multiple meanings.
The meaning of the song “Can I get to the yamz”
At first glance, it seems that the hero of this song is a tired, bloody-footed tramp who asks the first person he meets, “Hey, buddy, can you tell me how to get to the field where the sweet yam grows?” He behaves like a deathly hungry man, ready to pounce on any food, even undercooked, overcooked or sour, in a word – hopelessly spoiled. The lyrical hero says bluntly that he is lonely as a finger, has no friends and in addition is extremely poor, although he must pay his bills immediately. In short, the poor man is exhausted by endless wanderings, accustomed to being scolded and chased away from everywhere. And at the same time he has reached a desperate state where anyone who dares to oppose him or block his way is clearly in trouble. But why does he make his desperate request to the “baby” or “little girl,” simply put – a pretty girl, obviously long out of kindergarten age? And why does his plea sound at times like a pitiful plea, and at times like outright blackmail?
And here again we must turn to the folklore of black slaves, who are used to addressing their girlfriends in allegorical form – both to frighten the head of her strict parents, and in order not to incur the wrath of the master, who may have his own views on the girl. In this slang, “to go to the field” or “to the garden” meant “to go on a secret date”, “to pick yams” meant “to make love”, and the girl herself was compared to appetizing ripe tubers that just beggar for the pot. In a word, everything is as it should be with the slaves, who lead a double life and outwardly obey their masters, but in reality are ready to start doing anything at the first opportunity. And when the hero of the song confesses that he sees his reflection in the eyes of his companion, it is clear that the black girl likes compliments no less than her young mistress, and that her heart melts just as much from her lover’s ardent words. Even if she boils over with feigned anger and chases her lover away with a broom, she will surely wait until dark to go out with him.