Universal Harmony: DEATH OF A SPOUSE – Dru Hill’s “5 Steps,” 1997
Music is the vernacular that can describe all human conditions. There are emotions that every person may come to feel in their lives, despite the barriers of language and environment. There’re experiences that nobody is immune from, like…death of a spouse. When a bride and groom say those vows, “until death do us part,” each tend to think that death is far away and they’ll be white-haired and wrinkled before they have to deal with that. Of all the uncertainties that life entails, death is the only certain thing we all have to look forward to, and losing your life companion unexpectedly is something that none of us can prepared for. There’s an immeasurable amount of pain that forever changes the living. A situation personified by Dru Hill’s “5 Steps.”
Baltimore vocal group Dru Hill were up-and-comers in the realm of contemporary R&B, popularized by groups like Jodeci and Silk. On their 1996 eponymous debut CD, Sisqo, Jazz, Nokio and Woody had notorious songwriters like Daryl Simmons and Keith Sweat contribute, but the songs the quartet penned and produced themselves proved as comparable as the output of their big named contributors; no more evident than on the CD’s fifth single.
On an album featuring provocative production and lyrical content, (“Tell Me,” “In My Bed,”) “5 Steps” was a torch song of the tallest order, fusing gospel undertones to a secular song. It communicates how a spouse’s death could push our lives pass a spiritual point of no return. In the first lyric, sung by Nokio, the man pensively braces himself for the hit: “I don’t know how much long you’re going to be here…,” We all do what we can to reduce the likelihood of losing someone without them knowing how we feel about them.
Jazz’s verse follows the bereaved as he goes through his day to day still feeling the surge of loss. His vocal , seamlessly moving back and forth from falsetto to natural tenor, demonstrates the peaks and valleys of one’s soul brought on by this tragedy. These lyrics show just shattered we can become from the constant reminders of death:
“And what was reality once – a love true in form – is now added pain for a man scorn,
forced to wear the memories of pain around an empty heart.”
During the bridge, Sisqo extracts the ineptitude of continuing life in a hopeful way, despite life going on around him: “I sit in silence and begin to think as laughter echoes through the air; I can’t get you off mind, but a whole new love I could never bare…” Not only can we not imagine loving anyone as much as our dearly departed, but we couldn’t fathom the idea of going through it again, especially since regret drapes over us like the shade from a skyscraper. As the chorus expresses, the premature passing of a spouse conjures the thought that all the potential of love and passion we had ahead of us was ultimately unfulfilled while still on Earth:
“We were five steps from eternity;
We were four steps past love;
And three wishes from touching the heavens above.”
“5 Steps” was the closing song on the album, appropriate considering how emotionally draining it is. While not one of their bigger chart hits, it’s sustained classic status, thanks to it’s message: Having the love of your life die is something we all have to expect, whether it’s a day or 50 years from now. To resist the pain is futile, but to let it permanently diminish our quality of life is a sin. The sooner we realize it’s a blessing to be loved at all, the simpler we’ll be able to cope…in universal harmony.