In October 1999, singer/songwriter/producer Donnell Jones released his second album, platinum-selling Where I Wanna Be. The first single featuring Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes was a hit—his highest-charting hit, in fact—landing inside the top 10 of Billboard’s pop charts. Interestingly, the first record I remember hearing from the album was “Shorty (Got Her Eyes On Me),” though that must have been a street single; it had a video and everything.
But the true gem on the album was the title-track and bayang-er, “Where I Wanna Be.” Actually that’s not true, “Where I Wanna Be” isn’t so much a bayang-er as it is good and entertaining; it’s a ballad where Jones sings words like “sweet do do do dee do dee dee” while simultaneously engaging in peak fuckboi...and some perspective-driven truth-telling. It’s awesome. It’s viewed in the same manner as Jagged Edge’s “Let’s Get Married,”—that is, it is viewed as a foolywang jam—except it, too, is very much written from a man’s point of view, which makes that alleged foolywangedness not as clear cut. Don’t get me wrong: There are absolute nonsense and a clinic fucboi-ology (or maybe just toxic behavior) present, but it’s not nearly as bad as folks make it out to be.
So let’s do a line-by-line analysis of this song, Donnell Jones’ “Where I Wanna Be,” to see what wrap (bad, good, head, etc.) it actually deserves. Lyrics provided courtesy of Genius.com. Lyrics in bold italics, my comments are not.
I just left my baby girl a message
It’s the late 90s so he called her on her landline (and given the next line THEIR(?) landline) presumably when he knew she wasn’t going to be home because fuckboi. He probably called her while she was at work trying to save up money to buy one of those hats Donell likes so much. He’s a hat guy. In fact, given his hat proclivity maybe they both had cell phones, probably that Sprint $75, 2,000 minute plan that was so popular; hats aren’t cheap. Also, if I had to pick 90s Hat Guys, Donnell Jones, LL Cool J and Slick Rick would be on Hat Mt. Rushmore. WE should talk about this at a later time.
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Sayin’ I won’t be coming home
I’d rather be alone
Aight, so he called his own house—considering he ain’t coming home, I’m guessing he moved in with her—to tell his baby girl that he’s not coming back. Instead of telling her to her face, he leaves a message. Whew chile, the ghetto. Now, I can understand needing some time for yourself. Maybe he knows he needs to work on himself as a human in order to be a better man. He needs to be alone, or at least he’d rather it that way. Usually the only rather I acknowledge is Dan, but I’ll allow it.
She doesn’t fully understand me
Cause I’d rather leave than to cheat
Oh, they’ve had this convo before. So, he has been trying to break up with her but I guess she told him, “no,” Seinfeld-style. I’m guessing he’s a cheater. Like, there’s no way a nigga trying to break up with you to sleep with other women, who has had this convo, has been really holding himself back. I’m guessing that he got caught before (probably several times) and she keeps taking him back after he promises to change (I’m sure he meant it every time he said it) but internally he feels guilty. “I can’t keep doing this to you.”
If she gives me some time
I can be the man she needs
Okay, I get how this sounds ridiculous but really he’s just saying he has some shit he needs to get out of his system. The problem is that he was trying to work through it while in a relationship—again, trash behavior—and he’s trying to rectify that by getting out of the relationship. It can’t fix the hurt he’s caused but the answer isn’t always to do better. If you can’t (or won’t) do better, and you know it, you do the other thing you can do: you leave. At least that way, while it will be hard, she can move on and the regret is on him, such that it exists. Now, I get how selfish this sounds, but it sounds like it would be more selfish for him to stay since she keeps taking him back. He’s actually making the best choice for them both, it seems. As opposed to “I was just fuckin’ them girls, I was gon’ get right back,” (Jay-Z, “Song Cry,” The Blueprint) he’s opting to leave and get right for her, and hope that she’s there when he gets right.
But there’s a lot of lust inside of me
And we’ve been together since our teenage years
I really don’t mean to hurt her, but I need some time
To be alone
Already covered but my man wishes he could fuck every girl in the world. This is the part that falls heavily into fuckboi/toxic territory. He’s effectively saying he needs to go and sow his wild oats since he never got the chance, at least not as a single man. Thing is, he is saying he doesn’t want to hurt—by leaving—but I’d wager he’s been hurting her for quite some time with his philandering ways. Philander is a good word, it’s even got its own college: Philander Smith College. Ray J is (was) going there. There’s iron in that knee. Again, to me this song sounds more selfish than I think it is. At least through this verse.
But when you love someone
You just don’t treat them bad
Facts. Or at least it should be. This gets into whether or not you can love somebody and treat them bad. Compartmentalization is a sport many men know in many facets of life.
Oh, how I feel so sad
Now that I wanna leave
I mean, based on you, you kind of need to go through. You’re not good for her. You need to be more resolute about this. Then again, there’s a song here so I suppose we need some of that “it hurts me more than it hurts you” old school parent beating language.
She’s crying her heart to me
How could you let this be?
I just need time to see
Where I wanna be
Where I wanna be…
She’s clearly not happy about this. Though, I’m guessing she’s not surprised he wants to bayang out every other woman, she’s just upset that he’s breaking up with her to go do so. I have to wonder if she’s significantly pissed at the amount of time she’s invested into this relationship and now he’s willing to bounce, until he’s ready to bounce back.
Sweet little dee-do-dee-dee...
I don’t mean to hurt you, baby, oh, no, no…
But you fixin’ to anyway.
Never did I imagine
That you would play a major part
In a decision that’s so hard
This is that bullshit though. He’s surprised he’s fucking over this woman that he claims to love so much. Oh, why is it that bullshit? It’s because his decision is do I stay with you and finally do right (but probably cheat) or do I leave and go fuck off for a while and try to get back when I’m ready. Either way, he’s about to lay his game down quite flat on women who he hasn’t committed to. Again, he needs to bounce, like a basketball. Dave Hollister also bounced, like a basketball in a different song.
Do I leave, do I stay, do I go?
Or think about my life and what matters to me the most
See, this is where everybody who hates this song has a real case; this nigga is speaking out of both sides of his hat. And he’s about to do more of it in the next few bars. Like you just spent a whole verse talkin’ about you need to smash ‘em all. Now you’re reflecting on your life and the woman you’ve been hurting? Also, you’ve already left her a message and said you won’t be coming home.
Girl, the love that we share is real
But in time your heart will heal
I’m not saying I’m gone, but I
Have to find what life is like
I’m just gonna lump this all together. Nigga. Again, he’s speaking out of both sides of his hat. “I love you, you’ll be alright.” “Don’t stray too far, though, girl, I just need to try this single thing out for a while; I just need to know if I like it….but after these messages, I’ll be right back.”
This is the set of bars that is the killer; it’s similar to the “we ain’t gettin’ no younger, why don’t we just do this…” line in “Let’s Get Married.” Except that JE line is just restating a convo EVERY couple has who has been together for a while. Donnell, though, is literally sending mixed messages, being selfish in telling her he’s not saying he’s gone, gaslighting and greenlighting. He’s all of the lights, hell he’ll probably reflect Kanye’s verses at some point from “All of The Lights.”
So while I think his original premise makes some sense—no need to hurt this woman further, I’ll just leave—then he goes full toxic gaslighter and tries to play both sides by being all insightful and reflective and then not being straight up, telling her she’s both going to be okay without him and that he’s not saying he’s not coming right back.
Basically, Donnell Jones’ “Where I Wanna Be” is an absolute, gold-standard certified foolywang jam.
Verdict: Guilty. Gets the wrap it deserves.