Fantasy sports has taken off. Due to the rise in technology and the internet, fantasy sports has not only become unbelievably popular in the United States, but also all around the world. Here at Bonus Cut, we have decided that we would take the concept of fantasy sports and apply it to hip-hop music. Instead of drafting wideouts and running backs, we’ve drafted some of our favorite MC’s and beat makers. The big winner in this situation is you. Not only do we introduce you to some of our favorite hip-hop artists and explain why they are relevant in hip-hop culture, we’ve also laced the Draft with dope tracks for your audio pleasure. With this draft, our goal is to pay tribute to some our favorite hip-hop artists and acknowledge the influence they have had on our lives.
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 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.
Throughout Pharoahe Monch’s career we as an audience have come to know some things. One, Monch is never one to settle. If anything, he’s a rare breed that exerts extreme caution to almost everything he does. After his debut album Internal Affairs and the political jargon that resulted from “Simon Says,” he left, almost seemingly quitting the rap game forever. To some this was his cop-out, but to his most dedicated fans this was him trying to re-arrange an image he so purposefully constructed to a point. Secondly, Monch isn’t one to write a song and spit it just for the sake of doing so; he always has a goal. On Desire, his second studio album—which comes almost eight years after his debut—Monch gives us a soulful work of art that lures us in with meticulous imagination.
Giving the album order and consciousness comes in the form of the title track, a flashy production by The Alchemist where Monch sets his own desire. “My book is an ovary, the pages I lust to turn/My pen’s the penis, when I write the ink’s the sperm.” And here we see Monch’s craft, where he ushers in an album that energizes the listener with meaningful bars that mix lusciously with centered production.
On “What It Is,” one of Monch’s most lyrical songs on the album, we see the MC re-work his inner thoughts into a creative canvas. “Raps like Star Wars only the stars die, no sequels/Beat three cases, see three POs/Before Morpheus and Neo was killing ‘em/We was ducking bullets in the hood like Remo Williams.” Comparatively, on “Let’s Go” Monch ducks, dips and hits quick with sick shit that the listener’s head gets stuck with. “They research my stem cells, clone ten of me/Send one of ‘em back in time just to get rid of me/Stop Pharoahe Monch from having verbal epiphanies/Now that’s new definition to ‘your own worst enemy.’”
The focus of an album like this isn’t to say something just for the sake of saying it, but rather to mold a message from an artist who has something to say. Being an experienced veteran to the game, Monch makes us focus on history and it’s ability to avoid upcoming havoc, and in a way he subtly reminds us of his history and that to mold your character, you must be aware of your past.
Most history textbooks tell us that after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech and the ratification of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the struggle against legal segregation and racial justice ended. Just like that, there was no racism anymore; everything was equal. It takes very little digging to figure out that this is not true. In fact, the struggle for racial, social, political and economic justice continues today. Pharoahe Monch is making this argument with his 2007 album, Desire. One of the most underrated MCs of the past two decades, Monch delivers a profound, revolutionary blow that challenges listeners to reflect on the violence, drugs, oppression and double standards in our society.
Desire combines gospel infused samples with modern production to create a current, yet vintage feel. For example, the intro is a gospel rendition of the legendary Civil Rights song “Oh Freedom” made famous by folk singer Odetta. The struggles of the past inform the struggles of the present day, and the album’s production reflects this. After the intro, we are launched into the song “Freedom” where Pharaohe Monch compares the corporate aspect of the music industry to slavery. “Your A&R’s a house nigga/The label’s the plantation/Now switch that advance for your emancipation.” In “Push,” Monch proposes that if we want true freedom, we have to come together as a community, inform ourselves, celebrate life and struggle together.
Pharaohe Monch is at his best in the song “When The Gun Draws” as he comments on the horror of gun violence, which, as we know is a very relevant topic. Monch rhymes from the perspective of a bullet that is locked and loaded. “Good evening, my name’s Mr. Bullet/I respond to the index when you pull it, the trigger.” Later in the song he goes, “When I kill kids they say shame on me/Who the fuck told you to put they names on me? White man made me venom to eliminate/Especially when I’m in the hood, I never discriminate.”
Desire is an important album because Pharaohe Monch is not just using his music to “complain,” but rather is proposing that we take the time to learn from history and inform ourselves on the important issues that are in our communities. When we do this, we hold each other to a higher level of understanding that is trans-formative. Oh, did I mention that Pharaohe Monch has sick lines to go with this message?