This post has been a long time coming. As something of a hip-hop fan I have latched onto many lyrics over the years which I feel neatly encapsulate my own experiences. They don’t have to be standout lines, or famous rhymes, but they are the ones which make the listener feel like he and the artist are in on the same joke that nobody else gets. Here are my proverbial inside jokes with a smattering of rappers.
“Aint no right or wrong in this game called survive”
Song: Keep Your Hands High ft. The Notorious B.I.G.
Arist: Tracey Lee
You might have missed this song when it came out. More likely you are familiar with Jay-Z’s recycling of parts of it on his song “What More Can I Say?” from 2003’s The Black Album. (Or, if you’re only the most casual of fans you likely heard T.I. sample from “What More Can I Say?” for his 2004 hit, “Bring ’em Out“)
In any event, the line dispels the notion of the duality of right & wrong, or more to the point, good and evil. These qualities are powerful myths which serve as expedient yet detrimental explanations for human behaviour. They don’t paint a true picture of why people (criminals in this case) do things. What Tray-Lee is really saying here is that people in the game don’t do dirt because they’re evil; they do it out of necessity. All of that murder, exploitation, theft and corruption, it’s all a natural outgrowth of the struggle for survival.
“And God made dirt, so this dirt won’t hurt.”
Song: Shook Ones: Part One (by: Mobb Deep)
Obviously this is closely related to the last entry but it deserves mention because of the almost throw-away manner in which it is uttered. It’s a blink-and-you-miss-it type line which bears more truth than perhaps any other part of the song. It also addresses the fallacy that certain behaviours are “unnatural” in any absolute sense; all behaviours are reinforced by the environment which the organism creates for itself. It’s like Omar says in The Wire, “All in the game, yo…”
“We all gon’ die, we bleed through similar veins.”
Song: Thug Luv (by: Bone Thugz n’ Harmony)
2-Pac really spells out the unity and sameness of all human beings here in spite of the fact that he seems to be making a threat. Still, there is profound existential awareness in his imagery; we all do, in fact, bleed through similar veins and if this shared mortality and vulnerability can’t bring us together, then what can?
“Ran through what we scared of; what was we afraid for?
Song: Awnaw (by: Nappy Roots)
Artist: Big V
I love this line because it is a an expression of that feeling you get after going through adversity. It’s like, everything you haven’t done yet seems scary and impossible, while everything you have done seems not only do-able, but rather common and passe. When it comes to the plausibility and possibility of any given endeavour, the biggest factor in determining your confidence is whether you have already done it or not. That’s it. So go out and do things. Then, doing more things will only seem more do-able.
“See things how they are, and not how you like ’em to be”
Artist: Immortal Technique
Who among us hasn’t told themselves a comforting lie at some point in their lives. I’ve been awake for five hours and I have probably already told myself ten. But Tech is saying that wish-thinking, delusion, and all other forms of self-deception will only keep you in the invisible prison of ego because you are actually only lying to protect your ego. The true self doesn’t need comfort, it doesn’t bruise and it wants the truth that will make the ego writhe and squirm. Feed the ‘self’ with truth, and starve the ego of lies.
“Can I walk a righteous path holding a beer?”
Song: Resurrection (Large Pro Remix)
This is a big one for me. After all, I know there are things/vices I shouldn’t be doing as they serve as barriers for personal growth…but they’re so much fun. Nobody seems more aware of this than Common, who, at this point in his career, was also probably puffing a blunt and grabbing an ass. But does that mean he’s a bad dude? Some would say ‘yes.’ I would say again what I said earlier, that good and bad are just myths. Still, every time I cloud my ability to think with a chemical I can’t help but think that perhaps I am mistreating my biological hardware.
“What you eat don’t make me shit.”
Song: Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)
If you’ve ever worked in a job, a blue-collar one especially, you have probably had co-workers complain about how much/little work someone else is doing. The irony is that their bitching is almost certainly taking up paid time that they should be using to work. I get it if someone’s performance is directly making yours more difficult; definitely solve the problem at the lowest level possible without making too much of a stink about it. However, live and let live; you don’t have to be the police for your co-workers, and by extension other human beings. Don’t feel the need to expose someone who is getting to the same place you’re getting by taking a different route that isn’t hurting anyone. That’s hater bullshit.
“When I catch up to these fiends, Imma knock ’em on they ass.”
Song: Can I Live? II (by: Jay-Z)
Artist: Memphis Bleek
You gotta approach this world knowing (not thinking) that you’re already a star but that nobody knows it but you. Bleek gets it, even if noone else does. And while you could make the argument that he still hasn’t caught up with these “fiends” (read: mainstream superstardom) he is still certain that he would “knock them on their asses” (read: blow them away with his lyricism) if he did. Prove him wrong!
“Too bad you couldn’t do good at marriage!”
Song: Renegades (by: Jay-Z)
Oh man, this song and this line specifically resonated with me like crazy when I was a teenager. It seemed like my parents were only too willing to point out my shortcomings and failings when they were fucking up left, right and center. Eminem cut through this bullshit in a way that struck a chord with white, teenage boys in step-families in the early 2000’s; we knew things were fucked up and that the idyllic veneer of perfection and tranquility that coated our suburban world was simply that, a veneer. We saw the cracks, the flaws, the violence, and the fights behind closed doors, and then the smiles which were plastered over faces when there was company over. We knew the truth and Em let us know we weren’t alone.