Hip-hop is poetry, whether you’d like to admit it or not. I equate a great 16 bar verse to a great 14 line sonnet; sure, they are stylistically different, but both rely heavily on sound, meter and vivid imagery. Most people wouldn’t necessarily make this connection (imagine Shakespeare and Tupac freestyling with one another), but these two art forms are very intertwined. I feel the masses—especially Fox News fed White America—viewing hip-hop as a degrading art, not only to society, but to music and grammar as well. Being a poet, this frustrates the hell out of me. Some of the most honest and thought-provoking rhymes to come out in the past 20-30 years were from hip-hop artists; they are the poets of the people, the poets of the struggle. To combat this injustice in the hip-hop world, I bring to you The Art of 16 Bars. Every couple of weeks, I will break down one of my favorite MC’s lyrics.
To begin fittingly, I will discuss the poetry of Common, who is basically the poet in-residence of hip-hop. I mean, he got invited to Poetry Night at the White House, which freaked Conservatives the fuck out. They said he was a “thug” that supported “terrorists” (Assata Shakur)—man, could they be anymore off? Seriously, it’s time to set the record straight; this man has the heart and soul of a poet, spitting holy words of wisdom and health: that holistic language.
1.)Pharoahe Monch- “The Truth (featuring Common & Talib Kweli)”
Despite being a Pharoahe Monch song, Common’s verse is too good to pass up. This song gets into some real shit, real quick—by the time Common spits, my mind is already unraveling. His verse has two key elements: the internal rhyme scheme and the extended metaphor.
Common flips the internal rhyme on its head and gets meta as fuck:
“But the false prophets by tellin’ us we born sinners / Venders of hate, got me battlin’ my own mind state / At a divine rate, I ain’t in this just to rhyme great.”
In these lines, Common literally rhymes great while rhyming great; he rhymes multiple words with great (hate, state, rate), and by doing so, rhymes in a great way. Taking a step back from the words, the full poetic meaning comes into context: Common isn’t rapping just to rhyme, he’s rapping as a messenger of The Truth. He steps beyond aesthetics, unraveling a deeper meaning, by using aesthetics. Poetry!
He then concludes the verse with an extended metaphor, which I’m pretty sure contains the meaning of life:
“Took a picture of the truth and tried to develop it / Had proof, it was only recognized by the intelligent / Took the negative and positive, cuz niggas got to live / Said I got to get more than I’m given / Cuz truth’ll never be heard in religion / After searchin’ the world, on the inside what was hidden / It was the truth.”
He uses the metaphor of taking a photograph to the art of hip-hop, which led Common to his own understanding of the universe—in a sense, he is creating a “still life” within the poem. In the art of photography, it takes time to “develop” a picture, just as it takes time to develop MC skills; his “proof” are the words right in front of you. The “negative and positive” not only symbolizes the duality of life, but refers to developing negative and positive photographs. He ends the metaphor by bringing it back to The Truth, which he uncovered within himself through rapping—not through religion like commonly believed.
Just listen to this damn song. The assonance. The alliteration. The puns, punch-lines and metaphors. Everything about this track is on point. I’ll leave the poetry to Common.
Electric Circus is such an amazingly weird experience, and “Aquarius” is definitely one of the best cuts on the album. It is poetic in it’s odd delivery and interesting use of syntax. Common begins the track by comparing his wisdom to that of a revolutionary high:
“Nigga deep in the rhythm, experience speak / Some keepin’ the wisdom, the life hustlers seek / I seeking it with ‘em, I’m dope the streets need me to hit ‘em / With some of that (revolutionary rap) / Revolutionary blunted rap / My peoples want hits, I hit it from the back / Under the cherry moon, I hold notes and carry tunes.”
These lines are another example of extended metaphor; Common carries the metaphor of dope through multiple changes. It starts in the streets, representing his wisdom, as what the people need. Then, it becomes “that/Revolutionary blunted rap” that gets passed around—revolving—to whoever wants a hit. He ends the metaphor as “the cherry moon,” giving it multiple meanings; one being the cherry of a blunt, holding in the hits, and the other being the red recording light, which shines as Common “holds notes” and raps in studio.
He also uses Aquarius very nicelyas a reoccurring concept. Aquarius is an astrological sign, whose symbol is the water carrier; Common literally carries water as a metaphor throughout the song. He begins by mentioning “the Age of Aquarius,” which represents a shifting of human consciousness. He is making a connection between his knowledge, and the knowledge obtained during the Age of Aquarius: “water that arrives/to purify the world.” In the second verse, Common floods the verse with water metaphors and consciousness:
“Between churches and liquor stores, my mic leaks.” (…) “I flow over water that’s as troubled as teens / For the love of the team, trying to double the dream.” (…) “The black human genius will never play out /I take you way out, where you never been before / Been it since birth, sent to replenish the Earth.”
All in all, this is one of Common’s strangest moments, but it’s truly a beautiful, empowering song. He’s got those “punch-lines like Roy Jones poems.”
4.)“I Used To Love H.E.R.”
Like seriously, this is THE HIP-HOP POEM of all time, ever! This was one of the first songs that really made me realize that hip-hop is poetry; it functions as a poem much better than most rap music. He uses the trope of a young girl to explain his relationship with hip-hop, while in turn telling a story about the history of rap. It is thought-provoking and an example of why Common is that motherfucker. This man is a poet. He even starts the song with that classic hip-hop refrain:
“Yes, yes, y’all and you don’t stop / To the beat ya’ll and you don’t stop / Yes, yes, ya’ll and you don’t stop / 1, 2, ya’ll and you don’t stop / Yes, yes, ya’ll and you don’t stop / And to the beat Common sense’ll be the sure shot.”
This song is just the gospel of life. It is one of Common’s finest moments, and Cee-Lo just makes the experience that much sweeter. If “The Truth” and “Aquarius” doesn’t solidify Common’s Buddha mind, “G.O.D.” seals the deal—I literally feel like an enlightened angel after listening to these golden bars. Just play the damn song, paying particular attention to these lines:
Understanding and wisdom became the rhythm that I played to And became a slave to master self A rich man is one with knowledge, happiness, and his health My mind had dealt with the books of Zen, Tao, the lessons Qu’ran and the Bible, to me they all vital And got truth within ‘em, gotta read them boys You just can’t skim ‘em, different branches of belief But one root that stem ‘em, but people of the venom try to trim ‘em And use religion as an emblem When it should be a natural way of life Who am I or they to say to whom you pray ain’t right That’s who got you doing right and got you this far Whether you say “in Jesus name” or “Hum do Allah” Long as you know it’s a bein’ that’s supreme to you You let that show towards other in the things you do Cuz when the trumpets blowin’, 24 elders surround the throne Only 144,00 gon’ get home
Last week, Bonus Cut writers Justin Cook and Victor Anderson experienced Bonnaroo 2013. This is what they had to say.
How R. Kelly Saved the World By: Justin Cook
I look forward to the Bonnaroo experience every year; I first attended in 2009, and it’s been a tradition ever since. The people, the atmosphere, the love: something is so magical about that hot-ass farm in the middle of fucking nowhere Tennessee. I also enjoy the variety of music Bonnaroo has to offer every year. They cater to everyone’s musical tastes, and you get a little bit of everything—even hip-hop! In the past, I have seen acts such as Al Green, Jay Electronica, The Beastie Boys (who performed their last show at Bonnaroo 2009), Eminem, Jay-Z, Raphael Saadiq, Big Boi and Danny Brown, just to name a few.
This year was quite a crazy year though, but not for reasons one would commonly associate with Bonnaroo. It was just strange; wonderful, but strange. I went with a large caravan of people (about 20 in all), and by the end of the weekend, most of us had purged the demons out of us. Like for real, this shit was a purge; I puked up straight guts for 8 hours on Friday afternoon. I was slightly disappointed because my sickness prevented me from seeing Earl Sweatshirt, but later I came to realize, that even Earl got sick, and did not perform all weekend. But besides all the fucking chaos and vomiting, I had an otherworldly time—here are some of my highlights of Bonnaroo 2013:
1.) Paul McCartney
Now, I know Sir Paul McCartney isn’t hip-hop, but this motherfucker was in the Beatles. He came, he saw, he rocked (I’m pretty sure he was super stoned too). His performance felt like an intimate night with Paul McCartney, which is weird because about 80,000 people watched him perform at the What Stage (Bonnaroo’s largest stage). He laughed, told stories about hanging with Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. We laughed as well, singing along to some classic Beatles tunes, and the love was all around. It was a great way to really kick the festival into a higher consciousness. Also, I’m pretty sure his beautiful voice cured my sickness; after those words of wisdom, my body was radiating.
2.) Hip-Hop Superjam
Every year, Bonnaroo has a Superjam, which features artists from different bands, and brings them together to form a jam band. This year they decided to do a hip-hop Superjam featuring the likes of Schoolboy Q, DJ Jazzy Jeff, the electronic group Lettuce, and some other secret MC’s. Earl was supposed to be in this too, but he couldn’t perform. But I watched a majority of the set, and that shit was funky as fuck. I really didn’t know what was going on, who was performing, or really what song I was even listening to, but I remember the music being ridiculously awesome; my body was stuck hard in the groove. I mean, this was the one of the first late-night sets at Bonnaroo, which tend to get really weird (the drugs, I mean freaks come out at night). I remember Schoolboy coming out, the horns got hazy, and I got lost.
The stage was alive. Everyone was out of their fucking minds. I swear to god the universe imploded in on itself. I was so terrified with happiness. I really can’t explain this show. Trying to capture it with words is nearly impossible. If you know Animal Collective, you know they laid it down. They began the madness at two in the morning and didn’t stop until everyone was sufficiently mind-fucked.
This show was probably the highlight of my entire weekend. I did not expect this dude to be THAT fucking amazing; R. Kelly can sing, can perform, all while saving the world from apocalyptic destruction. The beautiful thing about R. Kelly: you had bros, hoes, hippies, hipsters, old people, teens, gay, straight, people from all around the globe, coming together, bumpin’ and grindin’, and having the absolute best time of their lives. I seriously thought Bonnaroo was going to turn into a huge orgy orchestrated by R. Kelly—I was actually really close to trying to start it, no joke. Everyone was smoking that herb, passing it to strangers, that lovin’ and huggin’ going all around. And it hit me: this is what humanity needs. Just a little bit of R. Kelly and a little bit of that love making—it makes the world go round! I have never felt so much positive energy radiating from one place. All around was carefree smiles, and people just enjoyed every piece of every little second.
I left the show on a high note, literally. So I’m leaving, and one of my buddies was like, “no dude, he’s bringing out the choir!” I turn, and this motherfucker has a FULL CHOIR, in straight gospel threads, and they go into a soaring rendition of “I Believe I Can Fly”. And motherfucker, I was FLYING!!! You got a crowd of a bunch of drugged-out people singing along to the theme from Space Jam, with fucking balloons and confetti poppin’ off everyone. Holy fuck, I’m pretty in those moments, I died like 7,000 times, went to Heaven, R. Kelly performed, and then I was shot back to Earth, reborn like never before. Oh, and maybe I am mistaken, but when R. Kelly hit that last note of “I Believe I Can Fly,” he opened his chest, split his ribcage—and I swear to Jesus—fucking doves flew out of his heart and flooded the sky. And I knew from that very moment, though times are hard now, every little thing gonna’ be alright my dudes.
It was a great year. I didn’t really catch too much hip-hop though. I saw Kendrick for a few songs, but I wasn’t really feeling it. Last year, he performed on a small stage later in the night, and it was off the chain. This year they had him at the biggest stage, and he could barely finish his bars, running around on that big mother fucker; he was out of breath and just seemed out of his element. I really hope his newly-found fame won’t ruin his artistic abilities. I left to see The Swans, who shook the core of my soul and wiped the dirt clean. All you hip-hop heads should go listen to The Seer by The Swans—it’ll make you rethink your own existence. Anyway, Bonnaroo is always a pleasure, but this being my fifth year in a row, I think it’s finally time for a break. I just thank God for R. Kelly. That’s one show I will never forget, because that man did save the world. One day, you’ll understand.
Bonnaroovian By: Victor Anderson
“It amazes me that people are willing to spend this much money so that they can live like people from third world countries,” was a cynically paraphrased statement from an Oklahoma City insomniac who went by the name of Bryan. I met him in the early morning of the last day at Bonnaroo after purchasing and devouring an $8 breakfast burrito. I kind of agreed with Bryan but I didn’t see it in such a negative context.
Before Bonnaroo I had never been to a music festival but something about them always appealed to me. I try to apply the “live with no expectations” method to things in life and I wanted to go about my first music festival experience by applying that exact method. So, that’s what I did and I had an amazing time.
I went with a rather large bunch of familiar, semi-familiar and unfamiliar peeps and left there feeling pretty happy about all of the wonderful people that I got to spend time with while visiting this magical land.
The daily routine was simple: The sun would serve as your alarm clock, forcing you to leave your humid tent early in the morning. You’d pick your poison; whether it was instant coffee, water, liquor, wine or beer. The food vendors offered ridiculous prices so apples, oranges and strawberry cream cheese, jelly and strawberry sandwiches often filled my tummy. I heard great stories about the legendary Wonder Waffle but sadly I didn’t get the chance to try it. Some people came prepared with grills and dry ice for bacon, hot dogs, eggs, etc. Some people packed canned goods like peas and corn.
Overall, the place was its own tiny city. From the Ferris wheel you could see tent after tent for miles and clusters upon clusters of individuals all over Centeroo (where the stages were) and The Farm (where the tent plots were.) But it was a total libertarian city; it was like Portugal. The lackadaisical patrol officers rode stubby horses and were most likely paid to look as if they are doing something, which sat well with me. “I’ll arrest you if you’re not having fun!” They actually said that. So, people roamed The Farm with beer in hand, joint in mouth passing countless faces, port-a-potties and golf cart taxis and nobody batted an eye. For the first part of the day you almost forget that you were at a music festival. Pre-gaming commenced until the time came to enter Centeroo. Once the threshold level for “fucked-up-ness” had been reached, it was time to begin the musical adventure.
Single file lines of tens of thousands of people constantly poured in beneath the grand arch and side entrances. Half-assed pat-downs and backpack checks allowed us to smuggle in beers, water bottles full of liquor, smokeables and edibles. After passing through the beeping wristband detector which registered the trusty accessory, you were free to roam the land.
This Tent, That Tent, The Other Tent, What Stage and Which Stage showcased the great performances that we came to see. But if you were there to see Mumford & Sons or Earl Sweatshirt, you were shit-out-of-luck. Jack Johnson saved the day and provided posivibes for nearly 60,000 people with their heads in the sky. A very spectacular firework display followed his performance and if you were under the influence of something like LSD, you would have loved it. Oh, and the world famous Paul McCartney graced the same stage the night before and played a damn-near 3 hour set and nobody complained. He even told a rare tale about how he witnessed Hendrix asking Clapton to tune his guitar halfway during a gig.
Many others performed but unfortunately conflictions occurred and you soon realized that seeing absolutely everyone that you planned to see was not possible.
It was pretty surreal to see these artists with your own two eyeballs. Not to mention constantly being surrounded by such a large crowd of people. Traveling from stage to stage was a task because you had to correlate agendas and schedules; you also had to struggle not to get lost and detached from your group. Cellphones were almost always dead and you were forced to revert back to good ole fashion verbal communication. But by belonging to such a large group, separation was inevitable. Sometimes individuals had to roam around on solo missions to check out acts at other stages. Some factions came prepared with huge flags or unique objects attached to tall poles. These served as location indicators.
I really enjoyed the overall community because even if you were all alone, people were friendly and willing to speak to just about anyone. So many characters, young and old, living free, having an exhilarating time.
Regardless of what happened, everything was a part of the experience; whether it be the terrible hygiene, warm air, port-a-johns, jacked food prices, tents, drug pushers or the book peddling monks. For four days you checked out of the real world and were granted time to experience potential utopia. No online social networks, no phones, no internet, just raw human interaction and freedom. And music, you can’t forget the music. It was the main factor that brought us all together.
But when the final day came, I realized that I’d been living in a sort of time warp where time was on my side because it knew that I wanted to savor the moment for as long as possible so that I could truly live with no worries, only pleasure.
That last day was dreary and damp and our camp site reflected our tiredness and past recklessness. We all experienced something special and that something special was unique to every individual. But as the vacation to a far-away beautiful land faced our backs, an overwhelming sensation smothered us. It could have been the fear of returning to a normal life or it could be the joy of realizing that you want more for your mundane existence. Whatever it was, I knew that I left that place with a new revelatory experience and great memories that I would cherish and always reflect upon.
In case you didn’t notice, Kanye West dropped an album a few days ago. And if you managed not to notice, apparently terms like “New Slaves” and “Black Skinhead”–oh, and “new Kanye album”–are commonplace in your life and don’t arouse any emotions in you whatsoever. If that’s the case, get out of my country and/or off my planet. Hate him or love him, a new Kanye album is an event, something one even remotely interested in hip-hop should become well acclimated with. And let’s be real, if you failed to notice the arrival of Yeezus, you will probably be shocked to hear that Osama bin Laden’s dead, Saddam’s dead, Milli Vanilli was lip synching the whole time and John Bobbitt got his dick reattached and did porn for a turn way back when. You’re welcome.
At any rate, a quick glance over at metacritic.com, which combines the many ratings an album, movie, etc. will get upon release and combine them into one score, will show you that critics love Kanye’s newest effort, Yeezus. That said, on the date of release, a not so quick glance over at my Facebook page would reveal that Yeezus confused the ever-loving shit out of a lot of average people. I even saw one picture of Kanye’s face Photoshopped onto the 3rd grade school picture of Kim Kardashian, or something like that. Needless to say, I don’t think that individual had the greatest opinion of the new album.
I thought the best way to go about reviewing this album was the track-by-track approach, with a final conclusion on the project as a whole. Other than that, I write what I feel like writing, which is probably why there tends to be a lot of squiggly red lines by the time I’m through. The good news is that Yeezus has but ten songs, and I suspect that even Microsoft Word wanted to underline half of the album, so it’s really not my fault at any point.
And away we go!
1. “On Sight”
Daft Punk helped produce this track? “You don’t say! I would never have guessed,” the reviewer says with great facetiousness. Anyway, while I have a tendency to love crossover collaborations, especially those with previous successes like West’s “Stronger” off of Graduation, this beat is a little noisy and disjointed for my taste. It does improve to some degree when Kanye gets into the bridge for the first time; the electro-synth snare line around the 1:10 mark gives the listener a point of reference for head-bouncing purposes.
The opening track makes up for the somewhat awkward instrumental with its strong, brash and clever lyrical content. Some highlights:
“Real nigga back in the house again / Black Timbs all on your couch again / Black dick all in your spouse again / She got more niggas off then Cochran, huh?”
Yeesh. Mince words he does not. Also, see verse #2 in its entirety, because Kanye.
Overall, it’s a strong first song, if not a classic. Also, I can’t help but think that after challenging his audience with, “How much do I not give a fuck? / Let me show you right now before you give it up,” Kanye interrupts everything with what sounds like a children’s choir belting out, “Ohhhhhh, he’ll give us what we neeeeeeeeeeed / It may not be what we waaaaaaaant.”
This beat is on point! Stark, militant, thumping, and subtly complex. The harried rhythmic breathing gets my early vote for favorite thing on the album that you don’t notice you’ve noticed. Remember the offbeat high hats on “No Church in the Wild”? Same type of shit! So subtle, and yet inexplicably dope!
Unfortunately, verse one’s lyrics are forgettable, and the flow is fairly repetitive; it kinda kills the momentum the production set up so bad-assedly. Once again however, the second verse is fantastic:
“I’m aware I’m a wolf / Soon as the moon hit / I’m aware I’m a king / Back out the tomb bitch!”
Also, may we discuss for a moment how he spits, “You niggas ain’t breathing, you gasping,” right on top of the semi-panicked breathing I mentioned earlier? Do you think Kanye West does these things by accident? I credit—along with his ever-evolving creativity—his love and appreciation for musical and rhythmic nuances with catapulting Kanye to his current level of stardom. Lyrically speaking, he’s well above average, but not among the greatest ever to grab a mic. I think it’s his attention to detail, and the intimacy he grasps with every facet of an instrumental that gives West an added edge. The man interacts with the music better than arguably any other rapper out there, and it leads to people (or at least me) having this type of experience at least a couple times each album:
“Damn, this sounds amazing. Why does this sound so amazing?”
[6 months to a year pass]
“Ohhhhh. That’s why it sounds so amazing!”
And you only have to listen to these songs a dozen or fifty or one hundred times before you get there. That’s the depth that Kanye West can bring to a song.
3. “I Am a God”
This is far from my favorite track on Yeezus, but if Kanye gave it this title so that, at the very least, some nobody internet writer whom he’ll never hear of mentions it, his plan worked.
One thing I’d like to point out is that Kanye is not saying that he is God, just that he’s “a god.” “A,” as in one of multiple. Lower-cased “god.” A god of what? Hip hop? Anybody feel like denying that? Remembering his ability as a producer on other albums before he broke out with College Dropout, think about this man’s run from 2004 onward. Any chance he’s not on hip-hop’s Mount Olympus? Maybe he’s not holding Zeus’ lightning bolt, but you at least have to give him Dionysus. I mean, the man said the President of the United States doesn’t care about black people on national television and suffered less for it than Mike Myers did standing next to Kanye in the twenty seconds immediately after the fact.
Also, if this doesn’t make you smile I don’t know what to do with you:
“I just talked to Jesus / He said, ‘what up, Yeezus?’ / I said, ‘shit, I’m chilling’ / ‘Tryna stack these millions.'”
If Jesus asked me what I was doing, I would probably have to clear my history and burn my computer before responding. Apparently Kanye is a bit more confident than I. At any rate, throw in Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and some of Kanye’s quintessential, fantastic choir samples, and you have, at the very least, a song worth the listen as you run through the album.
4. “New Slaves”
This is a grim, determined look at what society expects of a black individual after he or she achieves great fame or recognition. It’s as if Kanye sees himself in a new realm, one that’s unfathomably high considering where he began in life, and sees “old money” looking at this nouveau riche black man and saying, “Kanye, you’re rich, you’re loved, you have all of the attention in the world—be happy! Don’t worry about all of the shit you and your ancestors have had to put up with. It’s fine now, because we’ve chosen to accept you.”
Yet at the same time, these people look down on him because he’s a rapper, not an oil tycoon or whatever rich white people do these days. He got famous and wealthy by excelling at a form of music foreign to them. He spends money in strange ways (or doesn’t buy expensive shit at a breakneck speed as expected). He’s outspoken. He’s got a thing or two to say about the White Man, the Establishment. Worst, he interrupted Taylor Swift that one time.
Their point: “You’re too much like us to raise a stink, Kanye, but you’re not one of us. You’re mainstream, but you’re still below us.”
“New Slaves” serves as a direct message to that class of people, alerting them that Kanye, umm, believes this is all utter bullshit, and that he is quite emphatic in this belief:
“They prolly all in the Hamptons / Bragging ’bout what they made / Fuck you and your Hampton house / I’ll fuck your Hampton spouse / Came on her Hampton blouse / And in her Hampton mouth / Y’all ’bout to turn shit up / I’m ’bout to tear shit down / I’m ’bout to air shit out / Now what the fuck they gon’ say now?”
Well, they probably won’t say much, but everybody in the Hamptons sure as shit just locked their doors.
5. “Hold My Liquor”
At the halfway mark of Yeezus, Kanye has made it fairly clear that he doesn’t really care if any of these songs make it onto the Billboard 100. He has largely shunned the structures of typical hip-hop songs, especially when it comes to hooks.
Q. What’s the chorus to “On Sight”?
A. “On sight! On sight!”
Q. What’s the chorus to “New Slaves”?
A. There… isn’t one. Not really, at least.
Yes, that’s only 2/5, but that’s definitely not normal as rap albums go. Oh, and “New Slaves” is one of his leading singles.
“Hold My Liquor” features a chorus handled by the walking, talking and allegedly human vegetable known as Chief Keef, so suffice it to say that I wish we could have gone back to the “New Slaves” approach to hooks. Still, I try not to judge a song by a less meaningful feature, so let Chief Keef have his moment, even if said moment would fall under the category of “Shit I Don’t Like.”
Aside from that, Justin Vernon reprises his “I Am A God” role in a beautiful intro. Through slurred words, the narrator seems to be a man who is in denial over his alcohol use. He states that he “can hold his liquor,” but “this man can’t handle me.” He hits the road, presumably drunk, headed south but with no stated end goal. Hauntingly beautiful, Vernon nails this cameo and sets the mood beautifully for Kanye’s verse.
That’s “verse” in its singular form, by the way. It’s a fairly long one, but it stands alone in between the aforementioned chorus and Vernon intros and outros, which almost makes it feel like a mid-album interlude of sorts. Think “Bring Me Down (ft. Brandy)” from Late Registration, but chilling, somber and dreamlike—though not in a Mary-Kate-and-Ashley-Olsen-are-trying-to-seduce-me-at-the-same-time kind of way.
I didn’t really appreciate this song until I got a grasp of the words amid the noise. Now that I’ve actually paid the proper amount of attention to it, it’s one of my favorites thus far. Definitely worth giving a few extra listens.
6. “I’m In It”
I dug this song within the first five seconds of the first time I heard it. A heavy synth bass put down the basis for a methodical, lean-the-driver’s-seat-back-grab-your-dick-and-roll-slow tempo, and the intermittent, rising “oooOOH!” and “aaaAAH!” let me know that I was in for some shit.
The first verse features normal Kanye layered with chopped ‘n screwed Kanye, the latter of which matches perfectly with the bass while the former keeps the sound away from James Earl Jones sippin’ hella sizzurp territory. The topic? Sex. Lusty, sweaty, interracial, middle of the day, name-a-part-of-the-body-and-it’s-mentioned sex.
The second verse features a Jamaican deejay who goes by the name of Assassin. Here’s the one thing you need to know about this guy: Assassin.Works. Fucking. Perfectly. On. This. Song.
I don’t know who he is, but that unique rasta flow and voice was made for this song, even if we Americans aren’t always sure of what they’re saying, just like in [name any ragga song ever created ever]. Assassin springs into his verse just as the beat picks up, the electro siren-like stuff going nuts in an upper octave, making you think that maybe there really is something to worry about here.
Kanye’s next verse doesn’t alleviate any concern, as he drops grimace-inducing bombs like: “Black girl sippin’ white wine / Put my fist in her like a civil rights sign / And grabbed it with a slight grind / And held it ‘til the right time / Then she came like AAAAAHHH!”
7. “Blood on the Leaves”
SONG OF THE ALBUM. I’m calling it right here. It starts off fittingly if we consider Kanye’s love for samples and Nina Simone, with Simone’s iconic voice-over simple piano chords:
“Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees / Blood on the leaves.”
Something about Simone’s voice makes me fall in love with the given song. Kanye has sampled Simone plenty of times. In this song it’s “Strange Fruit,” and others included are 808s & Heartbreak’s “Bad News” as well as Talib Kweli’s “Get By”; suffice it to say, West does it very, very well. I find it hard to believe that anybody could truly do bad with Nina Simone, but I wonder if Kanye can really be fucked with in the sampling game (good or bad, I don’t really care to argue the point here).
“Blood on the Leaves” is very reminiscent of 808’s at first, as West’s voice features the now overly familiar autotune sound we’ve all come to know/love/hate/despise/ignore while his lyrics detail a time of internal struggle, loss of love and an overall sense of discontent in his life.
“We could have been somebody / Thought you’d be different ‘bout it / Now I know you not it / So let’s get on it with it”
Those last lines of verse one bring us to the 1:06 mark. When 1:11 happens, shit is on and/or popping for good. How do I know?
Those are arch villain horns. Those are Tony Montana blasting from the top of his marble staircase. Those are Denzel Washington blowing up that one douche bag cop’s car in American Gangster. Those horns signify every available middle finger on the planet Earth, to borrow a term from Eminem: “stuck on fuck.”
It quiets down momentarily after that, but after those horns come in the first time, you know they’re coming back to wreck shit again, and they’re not going to be leaving again. And when they do come back right alongside a lyrical tribute to 90’s Snoop (“FUCK THEM OTHER NIGGAS CUZ I’M DOWN FOR MY NIGGAS”), I can’t help but stop analyzing and come to the understanding that Kanye has done it again and it doesn’t matter what he says to the POTUS or Taylor Swift or Jesus himself, because his music is the shit. He’s holding Zeus’ lightning bolt, galloping around with it between his legs like he’s got a massive cock of lightning. And you really can’t say much about it.
8. “Guilt Trip”
“Guilt Trip” seems to serve as a coming down from “Blood on the Leaves,” and I think it’s a good move. Every album needs balance, and I enjoy how this track calms things down without coming off flat. The first verse starts off with classic Kanye thoughts, specifically: “She’s into Leos / And I was into trios / Plus all the trips to Rio.” Such rhymes bring me back to, once again, “Bring Me Down (ft. Brandy),” with observations along the lines of, “And get some leeway on the he-say, she say / Your girl don’t like me? How long as she been gay? / Spanish girls say, ‘no hable Ingles’ / And everybody want to run to me for their singl-ay.”
It’s a nice track, but it seems to me that it doesn’t move the album along much. Still, at the eighth track of ten, this is the first time I’m coming to the conclusion of “meh.” Not bad, even for Kanye.
9. “Send It Up”
The first verse is courtesy of an up-and-coming Chicago MC, King Louie. Apparently Kanye shouted him out on a song a year or so ago, which caught King L by complete surprise. That’s some endearing shit; rappers are hardly ever entirely honest and damn near never modest. Suddenly, King L finds himself with a verse on Kanye’s “Look at Me I’m a Fucking Messiah” album, which has to be a tremendous feeling. Thankfully, this relative unknown doesn’t disappoint in his brief stint (to date) in the spotlight:
“Last night my bitches came in twos / And they both suck like they came to lose.”
Not a terribly complex rhyme, and yet I’ve never heard that line before. Fuckin’ A. Get ‘em, Louie! Looking forward to hearing more from this guy.
Kanye chips in a swag-filled second verse, spouting off with “When I wake up, I like to go again / When I go to work, she gotta call it in / She can’t go to work, same clothes again.” If this album has a club song—and Kanye asserts that “Send It Up” is the best club since 50 Cent’s… well, predictably titled “In Da Club”—this is it. And let’s be real, we shouldn’t count any Kanye song out. I mean, “Good Life” was a smash hit, and I didn’t realize why until it was already happening. “Send It Up” is simple, direct, but also kind of a banger. I think both ‘Ye and King Louie are high though. I say both in the sense that both sound tremendously high in their raps and, well, I don’t imagine this bumping through the stereo system of Rick’s American Café on a Friday night (which, as far as a song/artist’s credibility goes, is probably a good thing).
10. “Bound 2”
This is a good joint. I need to preface with that, because I’m going to be a bit of a downer here.
Early in this song, Kanye rhymes “bad reputation” with “mad reputation” with “sad reputation” with “Brad reputation.” I’m sorry, I just… that’s just not good on any level. Later, he does the same with “prom shit,” “mom shit” and “lawn shit.” Maybe that’s clever, but even for a big Kanye fan it’s a bit of a stretch. Even for a Pand-ay ban it’s a bit of a wretch. Even for a Shantay clan it’s a bit of a catch. Okay, I realize that my example didn’t make much sense, but it’s not much worse, and I make $30,000/year without rapping.
I think my main issue with this song is that I always thought it was a bonus addition to the album, like I bought the deluxe version or something. Sadly, this is not the case. This is 10% of a forty minute album. I just don’t think it’s good enough to make that kind of cut, especially for the likes of Kanye! Put this on a mixtape, put it as the third extra song on a deluxe version, release it for free a few months before or after the main album, and I like it. And I do like it! But not a half hour prior to this, we were talking about new slaves. How did we get to Charlie Wilson features? Yeesh-us!
For once in my life, I have to side with the critics on this one. They don’t take kindly to movies in which Jason Biggs has sex with baked goods, a fact I still hold against them, but I think they’ve done Kanye West justice when it comes to Yeezus. Not that Kanye cares, of course.
1. “Blood on the Leaves”
2. “Black Skinhead”
3. “I’m In It.”
In comparison to his earlier albums, Yeezus doesn’t have too many tracks that stand alone as pure singles—which goes along with what Kanye’s been saying about not wanting to be played on the radio–but as a comprehensive album, this is a fine, fine effort. Time will only tell where it stand among his earlier work, but I think this newest album will only strengthen his claim as an all-time great when he drops the mic one final time.
I may never fully understand Kanye, but that might be a good thing. Perhaps one has to have a massive ego, endless funds and the desire to name children after, you know, directions and shit, to fully comprehend everything Mr. West does in the booth. That said, I am sure that he’s one of—if not the—most culturally significant rappers around these days. If you counter that statement with “Lil’ Wayne,” please comment so I can remember to slap the shit out of you the next time I see you.
 Along with every other massively popular artist who takes him or herself a bit too seriously. Whatever.
Jedi Mind Tricks Violent by Design
Superegular Records, 2000
The first thing you hear on Violent by Design’s first full-length track, “Retalitation”, is a rolling bass backdrop, stern percussion and contained scratches that surface throughout the song. On the next track “Contra,” the production takes a turn with quick-clicking piano swells, a much skinnier percussion drop, and a bass line that holds whole notes like a foul-mouthed idiot with a dropping jaw. Layered in the background are samples ranging from Gang Starr to Nancy Sinatra, and by the end of the song, the reverberating beat halts and hesitates as if egging the listener on from the production studio.
It’s here where Violent by Design truly shines. Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind is the cohesive force that holds everything together, and by delivering a fresh range of complex and artistic production he at the same time manages to keep everything in the same spectrum. Stoupe’s scratching brings in a wave of barren yet fulfilling beats, and songs like “Speech Cobra” and “Heavenly Divine” fill the speakers like haunting cuts from a membrane dislodging horror film.
To simplify this record to a Stoupe cut would be to ignore the well-versed lyricism spread throughout. Most of Violent by Design contains sociopolitical aberration disguised in fancy wordplay, but it’s the approach and technique that Vinnie Paz and Jus Allah, along with about a million add-ons, bring to the record. Most of the AOTP collective sound similar to moderate Wu-Tang hooks, but these MCs supply a unique sound and cadence that only they can claim.
As an underground hip-hop record, Violent by Design stands both entertaining and influential on its musical throne. The production is deep and complex with swirling backgrounds and stern sounds that slap the back of the listener’s neck hairs, while at the same time staying constructed in a conceptual box. The lyricism walks a fine line between rugged and politically fueled, but it’s here where some of the best bars are spit. In all, Jedi Mind Tricks feels like underground gangsta rap without the gangsta image, and the songs stretch over dark and political themes while retaining a humorous cusp that adds to the album’s variation (“Ya’ll got fucked up like sex on an airplane”).
Released in 2000, Violent by Design, the second LP from Jedi Mind Tricks, came out along with heavyweight records such as Let’s Get Free, Like Water For Chocolate, Train Of Thought, The Marshall Mathers LP, and Stankonia. All of these albums were an important contribution to the ever-changing sound of hip-hop as we entered the 21st century. While not as well known by mainstream fans, the Philadelphian group consisting of Vinne Paz, Jus Allah and ex-producer Stoupe, Jedi Mind Tricks stands as a force to be reckoned in the underground hip-hop scene.
In its essence, Violent by Design is a tour de force of hard-hitting lyricism from Jus Allah and Vinne Paz, along with a bevy of heavy-weight underground MCs, namely Esoteric and Virtuoso. As the album transitions from track to track the aggressive approach from the group is fully exhibited as each MC raps about the streets, metaphysical ideologies and Islam in their own, unique style. Beyond that, Violent by Design is a great example of the artistry of using words to tell stories that illicit a response from the listener and smack people across the face with their content. It is easy to put words on a page or in a verse. However, it is extremely difficult to use these words in such a way that is provoking and brash, yet poetically stunning. Tracks such as “Retaliation,” “Contra,” and “Blood Reign” are perfect examples of how this can be done. Take B.A. Barakus’ line in “Blood Reign,” “Eat MCs like Chupacabra was eating cattle/ Defeat diseases with palabras, frequently in battle.” Chief Kamachi’s description of his very own rhyming skills accentuates the degree to which stunning lyricism exists in this album, “I’m the best to finesse textures/ My rhyme fabric is elaborate, scrolls kept in a gold cabinet/ Open the book to the chapter of this old soul magic/ Juju tongue to voodoo come, behold this untold havoc.” While almost every line on this record will leave your mouth wide open and hitting the repeat button, they would not sound nearly as provocative without the brilliance of Stoupe’s production.
The genius of Stoupe is in his ability to craft beats that are intricate, but not over the top. There are times when producers can have too much going on and overshadow everything else that is happening on the track. With Stoupe this is not the case as he sets the tone with kicks, snares and samples for each MC and provides the perfect accompaniment to what is happening lyrically. Using samples from films such as Antz and Apocalypse Now, Stoupe is able to create the forceful percussive sounds that are needed for the intensity of the material rapped about on Violent By Design. Tracks such as “Sacrifice,” “The Deer Hunter,” “I Against I,” and “Ghengis Khan” would be best listened to while walking the streets of your city on a brisk winter evening, feeling the chill of the icy air as the beats and lyrics take you to another level of consciousness.
Y2K was a big year for music as Dead Prez, Common, Reflection Eternal, Outkast, Eminem, Wu-Tang Clan, Deltron 3030, Ludacris and countless others all released albums that are regarded as hip-hop classics. These artists are some of the best out there and they deserve all the credit in the world for the work they put in and the impact they had on hip-hop. That being said, a group such as Jedi Mind Tricks deserves much more recognition as Violent by Design showcases a myriad of underground talent and a frame of mind not commonly found in hip-hop.
Must-Listen (apologies for the “babygrandrecords” intro and shout-outs in each song clip. They own JMT videos on Youtube)
Chris Orrick (aka Red Pill) of BLAT! Pack is a rapper from Detroit, Michigan who is emerging as a positive voice in hip-hop. Pill’s delivery is both sophisticated and to-the-point as it treads on parallels to the likes of Blu and Atmosphere. Red Pill’s releases Please Tip Your Driver and The Kick (with Hir-O) helped formulate a monstrous repertoire, and his recent project with Apollo Brown and Verbal Kent called Ugly Heroeshas further backed his immaculate career in hip-hop. In a day and age where people are still struggling to find consistent artists in an ever-expanding culture, Red Pill brings content that hip-hop truly needs.
Red Pill recently sat down with Bonus Cut to discuss issues within hip-hop, the art of writing, his influences, South by Southwest (SXSW), the status of hip-hop today and his Ugly Heroes project.
(Excerpts taken from an interview with Chris Orrick on June 3rd, 2013…)
Bonus Cut (BC): How do you view MCing? What does it take to be an MC?
Red Pill (RP): For me it’s just being yourself. The cover is so big now. You got every different kind of person in the world writing or trying to be a rapper and it’s being reflected in who’s actually making it. So you have Mac Miller’s and Schoolboy Q’s and they’re hanging out together. I don’t really listen to Mac Miller, but there’s a place for it because everyone comes from different places and hip-hop is so wide-reaching. I don’t know what it means to be an MC or rapper anymore, in fact I think that idea (has been) sort of overdone for a long time. In my stalling last night of the show somebody was like “freestyle” and I don’t freestyle. My writing all started as this loser kid in his bedroom writing. I wasn’t banging on tables in the lunchroom and hanging out and rapping; none of my friends rapped. I was the only one that rapped, so I wasn’t doing all that shit. So I don’t freestyle. And there are probably some older people and some younger people too that would say, “if you can’t freestyle then you’re not an MC.” To me I don’t understand, you put definitions on something like that and it doesn’t matter. To me I’m more interested in songwriting. I love when rappers are sweet at the skill of rapping. I try to do that sometimes and I pride myself at attempting to do that and hopefully be good at that. At the same time, if you say shit that doesn’t relate to me, then I don’t care. Some people just like hearing rappers be sweet at rapping. For me I’m going to put on something that feels real to me, that connects with my life, something personal and that doesn’t even have to be deep and heartfelt, it can be anything relating to your life. Writing can be anything.
BC: Who are some of those artists that you find relatable?
RP: In terms of hip-hop, the rappers that I’ve found the most relatable to me have been Blu. I mean, I grew up watching Atmosphere and Rhymesayers and what they did. Kendrick to me is another guy that came up. If I had to pick my favorites: Blu, older Atmosphere, Kendrick, Ab-Soul. Outside of hip-hop I’m into this band right now called Andrew Jackson Jihad, they’re like a folk-punk band from the Southwest. Dude’s writing is some of the best Americana folk writing I’ve ever heard. It speaks to this generation. It’s something that to me, I’m trying to steal whatever I can from him and put that into my music. He’s a genius for how he’s writing, and it goes back to this: are you saying something that I can feel? I don’t care what it is. I mean, he has songs that talk about what people get off on, and I think the chorus is “whatever gets your dick hard” or something like that, and it’s funny and it relates to me, because there are a lot of people like that. So it’s funny, it’s relatable, and shit like that is important to me, and that’s what I’m trying to do with my newer writing. The seriousness of my writing has always been what I’ve done, but I want to put a new feel on it. I want to have something that more describes who I am. Cause it’s not like I’m this guy in this dark cellar angry, writing, drinking and dying. Sometimes it’s like that. But for the most part I have a different side of my personality that I don’t let into my music and I don’t know why, but it has to come out and for the next full-length solo shit I do I’ll try to find a way to be more relatable by showing off me as a whole verses just me as a serious therapeutic writer.
BC: What about names. Bonus Cut was recently at Philthy’s show where he officially transitioned from Philthy to James. So what’s in a name?
RP: As far as me, if I had a cooler name, if my actual name was cooler, maybe I would go by my real name, but it’s Chris Orrick, it’s like Scottish and it’s just not a cool name. To me there’s nothing in a name I don’t think. I mean you can have people that have cool names and make up these cool names and I thought about dropping Red Pill, but it’s already done, it’s there, that’s what I’m going to be now and it’s fine. I don’t think there’s much in a name. I picked my name, which is from TheMatrix obviously, because I was making sure I wasn’t just falling into the system and that’s a lot of what I do with music. I don’t want to be this human zombie that does the same thing with the rest of his life, and that’s fine I mean a lot of people are content with that, and that’s awesome, some people are happy with that pretty standard life, and there’s a part of me that wants part of that too, but I can’t imagine doing a 9 to 5 forever. That’s like the worst thought in the world to me. So I wanted my name to represent staying out of The Matrix, getting out of this whole thing it’s created. Looking back on it, it doesn’t even matter and that’s what I’m saying, there’s nothing in a name. I was probably 18 when I named that name. So I don’t care now, I mean I do and I have this name and I’m going to have to stay with it forever now, but it’s nothing. What I will say about a lot of rappers in general now is a lot of people are going back to just using their name and I think that’s telling of, especially in hip-hop, just being you and completely saying, in Philthy’s case, “I’m James Gardin” and J Young “I’m Jahshua Smith” and stripping that whole stage show mentality. You can’t do that anymore. You have twitter. You have facebook. There’s no allure about artists anymore. We know where they are all the time. You can’t sit and think I wonder what Jay-Z’s doing right now because he just tweeted it, so you know where people are, you know what they’re like and it’s not this big grand stage anymore of entertainers, it’s these people that are real life people that we can see and find any information about them at any point and so I think that might be something to do with it.
BC: How does Blat! PACK work exactly?
RP: It started as just a collective of artists in Lansing (Michigan). Initially it was only Lansing. Jahshua and James basically started it with Will Ketchum and everything about it was just to strengthen resources. You have this, I have this, let’s work together now we both have those things. It’s worked out. I think that part of what our success and what we’ve been able to do is based entirely on the fact that we’ve worked as a team for a long time. It goes through phases like any group of friends. Sometimes it’s stronger, sometimes you’re not even thinking about it to be honest. Some people have had ideas of it being a label in the future, and to me it’s just like: if we just help each other, I love all those guys they’re all my friends, we’ve expanded and included some people from Detroit, some people have moved away, so it’s like any group of friends and we just have a name. We wanted to work together and make sure that we looked out for each other and we could approach people with a title and it seemed like it was better and it puts the Blat! PACK logo on shit. It makes it just seem a little more professional. At this point it’s not heavily functioning as an entity that’s working together, we just tweet each other stuff and hang out. I was right in the middle of getting into it. I love all those guys, I’ve been friends with them for five years which is actually crazy to say. It’s helped us. We’ve been able to travel to South by Southwest (SXSW) three years in a row and do shows because of that, strictly because we’re able to all pull our resources together and say, “okay let’s rent a van.” There’s 12 of us we can pile into this van, it’s a horrible trip, it’s like the worst thing ever, but we can all get down there. We can go all-in on hotel rooms and when you pull resources even in that sense it helps. When you can split gas to drive to Chicago or Milwaukee and do a show that’s a huge help.
BC: So how was SXSW? How has it been?
RP: First year it was awesome. It was really good. The show that I did was not that great but it was cool because at that point it was the quality of the crowd. At that point Jake Pain (at the time the editor-in-chief of HipHopDX) who Will Ketchum knew came out to that show, and that’s how I was able to secure my HipHopDX Next feature which helped generate some good buzz for me. I got to meet him, I got to put a CD in his hand, we talked so I got to make an impression on him, and then I started getting my shit posted on that site, and it’s one of the biggest hip-hop sites in the world and it’s cool. The second year was a better show and I think it’s where Apollo Brown really backed me and solidified me doing the Ugly Heroes project. And then this year, a couple of months ago, was terrible. I had one show and no one was there, it got cut-off at the end, and all sorts of dumb shit happened. I rented a car and Hir-O just like smashed it into two cars in an alley. The worst part about what happened is that SXSW is this long party, there are plenty of shows you can go to, there’s free alcohol, there’s free food, and it’s awesome, but it’s not this independent artist thing anymore. Corporations have jumped on it really heavily. There was a Doritos stage this year. To me I’m not going back unless I have something major happening. From a fans perspective, if you can get the tickets, they’re expensive, it’s a great great time. I can’t justify spending money to go down there and not be able to get anything done. Everything’s very exclusive now. If you don’t pay the three or four hundred dollars for a damn ticket to be able to go to the shows and get a wristband it’s hard to get into things now. I was really turned off by the whole thing. The worst part for me really was that we’d get up early, try to get a whole bunch of work done, and then by 8 o’clock at night I’m dead tired, I’ve just worn myself out, so now I can’t even go party, I’m like too tired to go party and this is the worst thing ever. I felt like an old man getting to bed at like 10 o’clock in Austin, Texas.
BC: So where’s hip-hop right now?
RP: I think hip-hop is at a great place right now. There’s a ton of good shit out. I don’t stay on top of it enough honestly. I think you’ve got plenty of people doing good music. There’s an overall vibe that I’m feeling that is a changing tide to more personable and relatable and smart actual lyrics again. And not that I’m saying that this has been bad or that hip-hop sucked, I don’t believe in any of that either, I just think it’s good right now. For fans and artists that like smart hip-hop that’s saying something, I think that’s becoming trendy again. I think people want that again. It always has been what it is. It has its moments and music changes, music is always going to change, it’ll start to sound different again, it’ll continue to sound different and evolve and do different things, and you’re going to like certain eras better than others. That’s the same thing with rock, with anything. Hip-hop is old enough now that there’s the 80s, there’s the 90s, there’s the onslaught, so you can kind of pick what these things all sounded like and what you like more about every different part of it. And looking back on it you can kind of pick and choose who were the best acts of that time in hip-hop or what was special about that era. I think most people point to the 90s as the really big birth but to me that’s like talking about the classic rock era and the 60s, late 60s early 70s, where people look back to rock, and that doesn’t mean that rock just sucks or that there’s nothing good out in rock, it just means that maybe was a really interesting and innovative time in rock. And I think people are really going to look back on this era of hip-hop that people have been hating on the last five or six years as a very innovative era of underground hip-hop. I really think people are going to look back on this as a really interesting time in hip-hop where so many different influences were coming in. It wasn’t just a soul sample anymore, it wasn’t even just electronic shit, it was blending all that shit together and throwing influences in from indie rock, from punk, from everything. People are just experimenting like crazy with hip-hop right now and it’s awesome.
This past May I had the opportunity to visit London, England and multiple places in Germany. My girlfriend has been studying abroad since February and going to visit was the chance of a lifetime, as I was able to see her and also experience Europe. After visiting London, we headed to Germany and saw the cities of Hamburg, Tubingen and Frankfurt. One thing I noticed almost right away was the presence of graffiti. There was graffiti on trains, bridges, buildings and autobahn signs. It is easy to dismiss graffiti as vandalism. For example, people such as city officials typically see graffiti as something that is carried out by delinquent youth with nothing else on their mind than the defacement of public property. That being said, it is another thing altogether to consider graffiti as an artistic expression, and in the case of the German graffiti, an instance of global hip-hop.
In Black Noise (1994), Tricia Rose discusses the origins of graffiti and its place in hip-hop culture. Hip-hop was born in New York City in the late 60’s and early 70’s in the face of inherently racist development projects that were a brutal process of community destruction and relocation executed by municipal officials and under the direction of legendary planner Robert Moses (Rose, 1994, p. 30). This was a time of immense social, economic and racial oppression for those living in areas such as the Bronx, Bedford Stuyvesant and Harlem. In the name of “urban renewal,” homes were destroyed and thousands relocated. As these neighborhoods were inaccurately deemed slums, the newly “relocated” black and Hispanic residents in the South Bronx were left with few city resources, fragmented leadership and limited political power (Rose, 1994, p. 33).
Hip-hop culture began as a response to these city policies and was an outlet for people, especially the youth, in these areas to express their anger at the racially prejudiced city government. As Rose explains, “Although city leaders and the popular press had literally and figuratively condemned the South Bronx neighborhoods and their inhabitants, its youngest black and Hispanic residents answered back (p. 34).” Hip-hop is commonly thought of as a musical genre, and it is. The music is undoubtedly an important part of hip-hop culture as the words and beats provide an ideal outlet for expression. However, break dancing and graffiti were other ways for artists to participate in the process of self-naming and articulating their particular style. With graffiti, the stakes could not have been higher.
The individual credited with the beginning of the graffiti movement was a Greek teen named Demetrius; more widely known as Taki 183. While working as a messenger and traveling by subway to all five boroughs of the city, Taki wrote his name all over the subway cars and stations (Rose, 1994, 42). This was in the early 70’s and by the middle years of the decade graffiti had reached a new level of intricacy. Trains were the ideal canvas for these works of art because they traveled all over the city. It took an immense amount of planning and knowledge to execute a piece. Moreover, it took an understanding of the subway system as well as countless sketches of the desired tag design and color choices. As Rose insists, “No longer a matter of simple tagging, graffiti began to develop elaborate styles, themes, formats and techniques, most of which were designed to increase visibility, individual identity and status (p. 42).” What began as simple designs on a small part of a train car quickly blossomed into detailed works. Graffiti art made it possible for systematically underrepresented individuals to claim their identity and further the values of resistance embedded within hip-hop culture.
Similar to a work of art in a traditional setting such as a museum, it is important to take the time to study the graffiti and consider the color, design and stylistic choices made by the artist. With that also come thoughts about the process of making the piece. On the autobahn, there are works on road signs suspended over the famous highways. How in the world did the artist get up there? In Tubingen there was a piece on the canal of the river that could not be accessed unless in a boat or suspended by some sort of rope device used for mountain climbing. Each work of art had different bright colors, bubbled letters and swooping designs making them pop out, each distinctly different from the rest. The execution of a piece is the culmination of a great deal of time, labor and risk (Rose, 1994, 42). With that comes increased notoriety for the artist with complex designs and perilous locations. There is a lot that goes into each piece and it is important to consider the message the artist is trying to convey and communicate to the audience in such a public setting. What is the motivation behind each particular work? And ultimately, what is the story of the artist and their graffiti?
Ultimately, the graffiti in Germany represents the growth of the revolutionary aspects of hip-hop culture. This is true of other aspects of hip-hop culture as well. There are countless MCs and DJs the all over the world that use the music of hip-hop to tell their stories. There are also dance crews and breakers from every continent that have influenced and changed break dancing. What began as a response to the oppression of the minority communities in New York City has found its way around the world and is an avenue for addressing issues of oppression that exists in artist’s communities. With this in mind, the importance of hip-hop and in this case graffiti can never be forgotten or dismissed as vandalism. Instead, graffiti should be embraced as a form of painting that takes immense time, skill and precision and has pushed the world of art forward.
Rose, T. (1994). Black Noise. Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press.
Last week I explored music videos that went beyond the norm and extended the boundaries of a song. From Ice Cube’s feel-good video “It Was a Good Day” to the artistic turned cringe worthy “All I Know” by Rahzel, we here at Bonus Cut wanted to share a few of our favorite hip-hop music videos that stand out on a whole other level. This week I present to you the second part of that list, with music videos just as worthy as the ones mentioned last week.
The Cool Kids- “Black Mags”
A video about tricked out bikes over a song about tricked out bikes, so what’s not to love? For anyone who has an 89-90 Pistons champ flat-bill black starter cap with the hologram tags, you win the game.
Danny Brown- “Grown Up”
Over calming piano blips and a sample of Gorillaz’ “Tomorrow Comes Today,” Danny Brown talks about Captain Crunch, Newport soft packs and not doing homework all in the name of “growing up”. Last summer he released the music video and it surpasses the song on pure emotional consonance alone. Who would ever imagine little Danny Brown walking the streets with as much authority as he does now? This video is simplistic, yet it’s creative and highly addicting, so please, take a look for yourself.
Gang Starr- “Full Clip”
This video gets the nod because of everything surrounding it. Whether it’s the tribute to Big L, the combination of the late Guru and DJ Premier or the sincerity behind each scene, “Full Clip” is the definition of “timeless”.
Gorillaz- “Clint Eastwood”
Where were you when you first watched “Clint Eastwood?” It’s hard to think that this premiered 12 years ago, and it’s even harder to realize that this video pushed animated music videos greatly (I mean, look at those graphics). Nevertheless, “Clint Eastwood” will forever live in infamy for introducing 2D, Murdoc, Noodle, Russel, Damon Albarn’s post-Blur project Gorillaz, and Jamie Hewlett, the artist behind the band. It’s also natural that the blue phantom coming out of Russel’s head is the one and only Del tha Funkee Homosapien.
Also: if you want to see how far graphics in music videos have come, at least in the Gorillaz universe anyway, compare “Clint Eastwood” to this.
Pharoahe Monch- “Push”
Did he just say “runs the baseline like Ginobili?” Yes, in fact he did, and all NBA Finals allusions aside, this is the kind of music video where you’re listening to the music and watching the video and just sighing in relief because the two fit like melted butter on the perfect piece of burnt toast.
If film director Gasper Noé did hip-hop videos instead of freaky French films that disturbingly tore at the human mind, I could envision him directing “DOPE.” Here you have dizzying cameras that roll and pan around scenes, backwards time lapses and unique cut-framing, but unlike Noé’s work, there isn’t anything here that makes you want to gauge your eyes out with a fountain pen.
The Underachievers- “Gold Soul Theory”
The new-wave East Coast hip-hop scene is skyrocketing right now. I don’t know how influential these artists will be in the long-run, but as of now groups like The Underachievers, Flatbush Zombies, Pro Era, and individuals like A$AP Rocky and Harry Fraud are dominating the underground hip-hop waves. There isn’t much to “Gold Soul Theory’s” music video, but it’s transfixed as a ganj-soaked lapse that compliments the song quite well.
Y.N.RichKids- “Hot Cheetos & Takis”
Here we have a group of Minneapolis youths rapping about their two favorite snacks: Hot Cheetos and Takis. What’s even cooler is that this is a product of North Community Beats and Rhymes, a youth development program that gives kids a chance to record and create music that builds leadership skills and cultural tolerance. Programs like this are the reason why you’re reading Bonus Cut today.
The White Mandingos The Ghetto Is Tryna Kill Me
Fat Beats, 2013
If you look at The White Mandingos you will scratch your head. You will undoubtedly double-check the linear notes and re-read the names involved with the project. One-third of the group is Darryl Jenifer, the bassist for the hardcore fusion band Bad Brains; one-third is music journalist and creator of Ego Trip turned guitarist Sascha Jenkins; and one-third is MURS, the underground rap legend responsible for repping groups like FELT and Sunspot Jonz. The lineup is weird and it’s brain boggling, but the real backbone of this project is the music itself. The Ghetto is Tryna Kill Me is a record full of socially conscious knowledge-drops and well-rounded jokes, and as a whole this album is a service to critical thinking and the musical fusion of hip-hop and punk.
Hip-hop and punk fusion has happened before; think about the early Red Hot Chili Peppers records, Beastie Boys or Rage Against the Machine. However, very rarely do the hip-hop and punk mediums intertwine. It’s a shame really, because both genres possess similar stances (i.e. music representing something to fight for) and if it weren’t for a few continuing stereotypes surrounding these genres, we might have a lot more of this fusion happening. Not only do The White Mandingos continue this rarity, they attack the reasons why it’s so sparse: “Does this shit sound black? Does this shit sound white? Can’t it just be sound?”
In essence, this is what The Ghetto Is Tryna Kill Me revolves and rotates around: the pure notion of stereotypes. Yes, there are drops on politics and love, but if this record is looked at conceptually, then it is purely about racial neutrality and the surviving stereotypes of the 21st century. Even more so, this album is so self-critical and analytical concerning race it seems overdrawn at times, but that’s the whole point of The White Mandingos; this record throws these recurring topics at you from every angle so there’s no getting around the overall message.
On “Warn a Brotha,” rapper MURS talks about stereotypes over a rumbling bass that throttles the ears like a Black Flag cut: “I make big money, I drive big cars / These crackers never seen a nigga play the guitar / We selling out shows when the crew perform / They treat black rock bands like unicorns.”
Elsewhere, The White Mandingos reflect to the listener the black alternative class (“Black N White Revisited”): “I like The Cure, I like Depeche Mode / I love Big Pun and of course I respect Hov.”
The two most noticeable traits of The Ghetto Is Tryna Kill Me are that it’s a record keen on mixing the aesthetics of punk and hip-hop, and that it’s a self-reflective piece that focuses on racial stereotyping and equity. Moreover, the fact that this record is a punk/hip-hop hybrid plays right into the second trait of equity and stereotyping. By mixing these different sounds, The White Mandingos are breaking the bonds of stereotypes that limit artistic expansion. And although at times this album trudges too far off of the edge (like covering Minor Threat’s “Guilty of Being White”), the basis of this work is nothing but positive. In a way, The Ghetto Is Tryna Kill Me is an entertaining call-to-arms by a group with obvious influences and new creative outlets to unleash upon the world.
Released a little over a week ago, The Ghetto Is Tryina Kill Me (TGITKM)by The White Mandingos takes on issues of race, sex, love, politics, black culture and white culture in the best, in your face way that one would expect from such a group. On TGITKM, Murs, Sacha Jenkins SHR and Darryl Jenifer join forces combining aspects of punk, rock, reggae and hip-hop on this inventive record. TGITKM is a conceptual album depicting the experiences of Tyrone White, an aspiring musician from Harlem, New York. With the storyline of Tyrone, The White Mandingos are able to artfully transition from poignant social commentary. Given the content of this record, TGITKM could not have been released at a better time given the circumstances surrounding the Trayvon Martin case and the shooting on Mother’s Day in New Orleans. This record serves as a reminder that in our “progressive” 21st century society there is still much work to be done in the realm of social advancement and racial equity.
TGITKM begins with the title track of the album, “The Ghetto Is Tryna Kill Me,” the most “hip-hop” sounding song on the record. Moving back and forth between a phat 808 beat, live drums and explosive power chords, Murs delivers compelling lines such as, “A black President, just ain’t enough for me/ 400 years of oppression, that’s tough homie” and, “Independent, militant and I’m makin’ money/ I’m like the Panthers, but a fortune 500 company.” On the second track, “Black N White Revisited,” the group takes on our ridiculous societal needto classify and compartmentalize people based on the color of their skin. Over a heavy syncopated drum beat and guitar, Murs asserts, “They say that rock’s white, they say I walk white/ They say a lot of shit, they even say I talk white/ Cause I like to say ‘like, stoked and dude.” Murs continues his diatribe with, “I’m a walking contradiction cause I don’t speak Ebonics or some contrived diction/ I speak in sentences, I am literate/ Sorry, I don’t fit a category for you idiots/ I am just me, you should adjust you/ And if you can’t understand that, fuck you!” In their delightfully unapologetic approach, The White Mandingos are expressing their contempt for a society that pigeonholes people into biologically non-existent categories that are framed in the language of a racist past. Furthermore, they take on the devastating need for people to stereotype other people based on a socially constructed idea of race. They continue with this style of commentary as the album progresses while telling the story of a biracial couple and providing their opinion on the hot topic of abortion.
On “My First White Girl,” the group layers guitar feedback, drums and walking bass line under Murs as he speaks from Tyrone’s experience of being a black male dating a white girl. On this track, cultural differences are touched on in a truthful, humorous and melancholic manner. Lines such as “On Sunday she would make me vegan food/ Lot’s of other shit I’d probably never be into,” “When we’d travel I’d be the only black person/ Except the gay best friend, he was half Persian,” “She used the word cock, I never heard that” and “She told me, ‘Don’t believe the white lies, my dick was no bigger than a white guy’s” debunk the social norms and stigmas that allow our highly racist and divided culture to endure. This is most notably illustrated on the hook where it is explained, “And she truly was the apple of my eye, never wanted her to ever leave my side/ Miss America, American as apple pie/ My first white girl, her first black guy/ Pure love sent from the most high/ Racist bullshit came from both sides/ My homies used to say she wasn’t that fly/ My first white girl, her first black guy.” Next time you read an article questioning the validity of biracial couples and/or love, bump this.
The same should be said the next time you watch the news and they talk about abortion. The twelfth track, “I Like You” puts Tyrone in sticky situation, as his girl is now pregnant as a result of some unprotected sex. The group does a perfect job of capturing the initial fear, anger and panic of Tyrone and his girlfriend as adulthood is suddenly thrust upon them. They also do an excellent job of addressing the politics wrapped up in accidental pregnancies. It is decided that they should at least explore the option of an abortion. In the second verse, in my opinion the best verse of any released in 2013 thus far, they decide to go to a clinic where they will weigh their options. Outside the clinic, there are pro-life protestors that are jeering them as they walk up. At this point in the verse Murs describes the confrontation he has with one of the protestors and goes on to deliver the best lines of the entire album; “Now we might wanna do it just to spite you, makes me wonder if your God even likes you/ See, I might disagree with what she might do but it’s her choice and she should always have the right to/ But you never heard of women’s lib, it’s the right-wing conservative/ Bombs over the Middle East, the only time we should murder kids/ See, you can teach to protest with your picket signs and get pushy/ But honestly, your politics have no place in a woman’s pussy.” At a time when women’s bodies are as politicized as they’ve ever been, this could not be said at a better time.
With The Ghetto Is Tryna Kill Me, The White Mandingos cover a lot of ground. They provide vital social commentary regarding race, abortion, love and politics that is much needed in a society that was founded and functions on the basis of bigotry, ignorance and stereotypes. There are those that would say that since the Supreme Court ruling in Brown V. The Board of Education in 1954, Roe V. Wade in 1973 and the ratification of the Civil Rights Act of1964 that we have made leaps and bounds in the realm of equality and social justice. There has most certainly been progress as evidenced by the election of Barack Obama. However, the next time you read that racism is over or someone tells you that people don’t stereotype based on race anymore, put this album on full blast.