What It's Like

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"What It's Like"
Single by Everlast
from the album Whitey Ford Sings the Blues
Released November 10, 1998 (1998-11-10)
Format CD single
Recorded 1997
Genre Alternative hip hop, blues rock
Length 5:03 (Album Version)
4:37 (Video Version)
3:50 (Radio Edit)
Label Tommy Boy Records
Writer(s) Everlast
Everlast singles chronology
"On Point" (with House of Pain)
(1994)
"What It's Like"
(1998)
"Ends"
(1998)
Music sample

"What It's Like" is a song by American musician Everlast. It was released in November 1998 as the lead single from his album Whitey Ford Sings the Blues. The song is typical of the style Everlast embraced after leaving hip-hop trio House of Pain, being a combination of rock, hip-hop and blues incorporating characterization and empathy towards impoverished protagonists.

The song went to number-one on the Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart for one week and number-one on the Hot Modern Rock Tracks for nine weeks.[1] It also peaked at #13 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the singer's only solo Top 40 hit on the US pop chart to date.[1] In the United Kingdom, the song reached #34 on the UK Singles Chart.[2] The song went to the Top 5 hitting #4 on the Pop Songs chart. The song was also unexpectedly and surprisingly a hit to adult contemporary stations since most rap songs or songs with rap verses cannot be played on the format. Despite that, the song went to the Top 10 at #9 on the Adult Top 40 chart.

Everlast performed the song on Saturday Night Live in 1999, on the show hosted by James Van Der Beek. He also references "What It's Like" on his 2000 song "Whitey's Revenge" in response to an ongoing verbal dispute between him and rapper Eminem. This song was also used as a promo for the 2006-2007 seasons of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

Song structure[edit]

Structurally, the song consists of three verses, a chorus and a bridge. The last line of the chorus varies in accordance with the particular situation faced by the character in the preceding verse. Each character is presented in a sympathetic light as a victim of circumstance and as being an object of derision. Each verse ends with the line God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in his/her shoes (in the third verse, "...you ever had to wake up to hear the news") and Cause then you really might know what it's like to, with the action varying depending on what the character has to do (sing the blues, have to choose, and have to lose, respectively).

The characters are:

  • A beggar (the man at the liquor store beggin' for your change)
  • Mary, a pregnant girl who decides to have an abortion (Mary got pregnant from a kid named Tom who said he was in love); when she goes through the door of the clinic, she gets called a "killer", "sinner", and "whore", reflecting criticism thrown to her namesake, Mary Magdalene
  • A drug dealer named Max, a man with violent friends and an alcohol problem (He liked to hang out late, he liked to get shit-faced and keep the pace with thugs)

At the end of the music video for the song, all of the characters (along with other people) are crowded around a window. Behind the window, an idyllic family is having an enjoyable dinner, oblivious to the less fortunate who are outside.

Censorship[edit]

When the song came to pop and adult radio a censored version was released that removed the explicit language, drug references and violence in the verses to make it more appealing to adult radio. Certain iffy words were replaced with record scratching however certain stations also bleeped the words in question with silence. Rock and Alternative and some pop stations that leaned more towards rap and hip hop only censored "fuck" and "shit" when they appeared in the lyrics. Today most stations still play the "squeaky clean" version however most leave the gun references in the last verse uncensored and stations like Lithium, Faction and even the 90's on 9 play the Parental Advisory version after 10:00pm.

Charts[edit]

Peak positions[edit]

Chart (1998-1999) Peak
position
Australia (ARIA)[3] 26
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[4] 17
Canada Top Singles (RPM) 6
Canada Rock/Alternative (RPM)[5] 14
Germany (Media Control Charts)[6] 17
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[7] 58
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[8] 31
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[9] 20
UK Singles (The Official Charts Company) 34
U.S. Billboard Hot 100 13
U.S. Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks 1
U.S. Billboard Hot Modern Rock Tracks 1
U.S. Billboard Hot Adult Top 40 Tracks 9
U.S. Billboard Top 40 Mainstream 4

Year-end charts[edit]

Chart (1999) Position
U.S. Billboard Hot 100[10] 28

References[edit]

External links[edit]

Preceded by
"Turn the Page" by Metallica
Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks number-one single
February 13, 1999
Succeeded by
"Heavy" by Collective Soul
Preceded by
"Never There" by Cake
Billboard Modern Rock Tracks number-one single (first run)
December 26, 1998 – February 20, 1999
Succeeded by
"Every Morning" by Sugar Ray
Preceded by
"Every Morning" by Sugar Ray
Billboard Modern Rock Tracks number-one single (second run)
February 27 – March 16, 1999
Succeeded by
"Every Morning" by Sugar Ray