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Meaning of the song ‘UMI Says’ by ‘Mos Def’

Released: 1999

“UMI Says” by Mos Def is a powerful expression of black consciousness and self-determination. At its core, the song is about embracing the power within to influence the world and being reminded of life’s fragility and the drive to make the most of it whilst seeking complete freedom and unity for the black community.

Opening up with the lyrics, “I don’t wanna write this down, I wanna tell you how I feel right now,” Mos Def is expressing the immediacy of his emotional state and how he prioritizes authentic expression over calculated composition. It’s raw, it’s real, it’s Mos laying it all out there.

The chorus, “Tomorrow may never come/For you or me/ Life is not promised,” is a solemn reminder of our mortality. It’s a call to seize the day, to appreciate life in the present, because tomorrow is never guaranteed to anyone.

The repeated phrase “I ain’t no perfect man” is a humble acknowledgement of his flaws and imperfections. Yet, he emphasizes that he’s just trying to do his best with what he has. This line not only resonates with humility but also serves as an empowering reminder that everyone, despite their flaws, can strive to bring about positive changes with what they have.

“My Umi said shine your light on the world/Shine your light for the world to see” is a heartwarming piece of life advice from Mos Def’s mother (Umi is Arabic for mother), encouraging him to share his gift with the world. Similarly, “My Abi” refers to his father (Abi is Arabic for father). The phrase “shine your light” connotes positivity, visibility, and a willingness to make a difference.

The repeated phrase, “I want black people to be free, to be free, to be free,” this becomes the mantra for the song. Mos Def is calling for liberation, freedom, and justice for black people. This goes beyond just a physical freedom, it’s a call for mental, emotional, and spiritual emancipation as well.

Lines like “Sometimes I get discouraged/I look around and, things are so weak/People are so weak,” reveal Mos Def’s frustration and disappointment with the world’s state. Yet, he continues to urge his audience not to give up, even in difficult times, reflected in the lines, “Don’t be afraid, to let it shine.”

Towards the end of the song, Mos Def incorporates lines “Black people unite and let’s all get down/Gotta have what, gotta have that love”. He’s urging his community to unite, and fight for their rights, and to do it with love, peace, and understanding, the foundational values required for any successful movement.

“UMI Says” thus serves as a powerful motivational anthem, urging individuals to make the most of their lives while they still can, while pushing for collective action and unity amongst the black community.

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