I don’t recommend tinting the windows of your car if you live in Los Angeles. Anderson .Paak’s earworm single “Tints,” which he just performed alongside Kendrick Lamar on the most recent episode of Saturday Night Live, makes quite a convincing case for privacy and security benefits of these after-market alterations: hiding from the omnipresent, vampiric paparazzi; keeping sexual dalliances discreet; and being able to observe the surroundings without anyone knowing you’re watching. But window tinting is illegal in Los Angeles in most cases, even if its application is widespread. The police are too busy chasing moving violations or drunk drivers to worry about your windows, so most people get off without even the “fix-it ticket” Kendrick references in the track. It’s a curious thing that in a city obsessed with being noticed, so many people would want to hide.
The actual laws are arcane, complicated, and rather dull. Do whatever you want with your rear side mirrors. Tinting is allowed on the rear window, but you can only tint the top for inches of your windshield. Front side windows have to let in at least 88 percent of light. Why 88 percent? Why not 90? Why even bother with tinting at that point. That 12 percent you can tint might shield your eyes from the sun, which is the only practical reason to get tinting. A recent change to the law — Assembly Bill 1303 — made it acceptable to tint your car windows if you have a medical condition that causes sensitivity to light.
The laws clearly exist to allow the cops a chance to look into your window and see what it is you’re up to. You can probably guess why some of us don’t want the police peering into our windows. Sure, there’s the illicit activities that could go down in your ride, but I’m talking about a more pressing concern. The deaths of young Black males at the hands of law enforcement is one of the great stains on our society and is a problem that doesn’t seem poised to go away any time soon. If my windows are tinted, you can never know if I’m Black. You can’t profile me or judge me ahead of time — a concern .Paak touches on early in “Tints.”
Whatever the rules are, they don’t stop car enthusiasts and people who just want to stunt in their vehicle from going to an auto body shop to darken up their windows. Psychologically, the impulse to tint your windows isn’t all that different from the reason some of us wear sunglasses indoors or at night: Anonymity and clout.
But .Paak talks about tinting as a shield from his newfound fame. He’s performing on SNL and collaborating with Dr. Dre. His album, Oxnard, debuted at no. 11 on the Billboard 200 — the highest chart placement of his career. He needs to hide because everyone wants a piece of him now. It’s a common refrain from artists in the album that immediately follows their big break. Oh, how things change in an instant. With the rags-to-riches story complete, all that’s left is to ponder whether or not success is really worth it.
The fame and fortune inevitably lead to retreat: Gated communities, personal chefs, and those tints on your ride. If you grew up in the Los Angeles metro area, like .Paak did, what you end up losing is a big part of LA’s charm.
The first verse of “Tints” sets the scene: Rooftops down, skies so bright you don’t need a flash on your camera. It’s idyllic, going so far as to drop the cliche that it never rains here. I can tell you for a fact that it does, but that shouldn’t get in the way of a good verse. The vision of paradise is only broken when .Paak references the homicide rate in the African-American community as he rolls into the second verse. Despite all his wealth, he’s still in danger thanks to the color of his skin.
Securing the bag is what gets so many young Black men and women into the hip-hop game in the first place. Conspicuous consumption is a hallmark of the culture, but it also puts a target on your back. How connected can you be to the world when people either covet what you have or resent you for having it because you’re black? That’s why it’s possible to label someone like Kanye out-of-touch even before he started stanning for Donald Trump. When you really show out if you can’t go out?
The very fact of that isolation being a facet of wealth and cultural esteem makes what seems like a trap into a coveted signifier for everyone outside of the increasingly rare environs of the wealthy. You might be a receptionist or (god forbid) a writer on the internet, but if you tint the windows of your Prius, maybe you can feel like a star. Sure, LA emphasizes aesthetics, image, and the idea of “fake it till you make it,” but hiding can be a flex, too. We can wonder just who is behind the dark glass. “I need tints” might have been meant to be a chilling reminder of the price of fame, but if you need tints, it also means you are somebody.
Those of us without notoriety, who lack the sort of name value that can earn us seven figures or more, desire nothing more than to be noticed. Many of the mundane aspects of life in LA are opportunities to get eyes on you. When you valet your car in front of a restaurant, people see what you’re driving. That you can afford to valet at all can be a flex. Where you vacation, what gym you go to, what grocery store the food in your fridge is from, and what area code you rock are all opportunities to be somebody. But nothing can compare with the feeling that being visible is a burden.
Imagine if you saw someone walking down the street holding a newspaper over their face. Would you wonder who it was underneath all of that? Would you speculate that they might be famous, or better yet, infamous for doing something shady? This is not a truly revolutionary idea, but it’s one that sometimes seems lost in 2018.
This is not to say that one is better than the other. God forbid we all got tinted windows or wore masks like in the movie Eyes Wide Shut. That would probably be much worse than people stopping traffic to take selfies at stop lights or @‘ing every single brand in an IG Story. Human nature is to want appreciation, visibility, and respect. That’s never going away, but maybe the enduring legacy of “Tints” will be a newfound appreciation for holding back some of your cards, being more private, and finding the value in disappearing.