The Roots - The Other Side

Yo, we obviously need to tone it down a bit
Running round town spending time like it’s counterfeit
Everybody catching hay fever like sinuses
Step in my arena let me show y’all who the highness is
You might say I could be doing something positive
Humble head down low and broke like promises
Soaking and broken in a joke like comics is
Not enough paper to be paying folks compliments
But when that paper got low so did my tolerance
And it ain’t no truth in a dare without the consequence
Listen if it not for these hood inventions
I'd just be another kid from the block with no intentions
On the dock of that bay serving a life sentence
Even if I’m going to hell I’m gonna make an entrance
Yeah let em know I’m getting cheese like omeletes is
But I’m the toast of the town like Thomas'

We’re all on a journey
Down the hall of memories
Don’t worry bout what you ain’t got
Leave with a little bit of dignity
Never loved what I had
Always felt like I deserved more
But when I
Make it to the other side
Make it to the other side
That’s when we’ll settle up the score

Yo, we did this in remembrance of
Faces from the past we no longer have an image of
Carrying cold blood hearts that never been for love
Brothers keep going for theirs but never get enough
World travelers that seen it all and did enough
Only to return to learn the world wasn’t big enough
Damn, how long has it been? I guess the jig is up
Now all I know is I’m about to wake this nigga up
Yeah that hindsight, 20/20, now niggas dead on the money
Trying to take something from me it’s a wrap like a mummy
Undun I am becoming and when he’s tired of running
Through the layers of the onion
He’ll probably shed a tear cause they’ll be no more fast times
Just his weak mind scrolled out like a bad sign
He never had enough and got confused when they asked why
Life is only a moment in time and it passed by


I’m sitting on top of the world ready to jump off
Thinking of various ways to breaking the law
Thinking that enough is enough but still I want more
Thinking of how I’m playing with fire that burned my young boy
By any means necessary, don’t give a damn
So every night I’m on a flight that never lands
Be an asshole when the shit hits the fan
Or bet your life on a bluff and a bad hand
Can’t win, can’t lose
Get 'em gassed, leave em leaking fuel
Either way the market moves
Cash rules kings, queens, prince and princess
Every night I’m crossing a line that ain’t the finish
Every thought is dark as a glass of fucking Guinness
Too far gone to come back to my senses
Now I’m on the edge of my bed making love to my meds
Every moment's like a pistol to my head
When I’m getting mine



Kanye West - Jesus Walks

We at war
We at war with terrorism, racism
But most of all we at war with ourselves

(Jesus walks)
God show me the way because the Devil trying to break me down
(Jesus walks with me)

You know what the Midwest is? Young and restless
Where restless (niggas) might snatch your necklace
And next these (niggas) might jack your Lexus
Somebody tell these (niggas) who Kanye West is
I walk through the valley of the Chi where death is
Top floor the view alone will leave you breathless *gasps*
Try to catch it *gasps* it's kinda hard
Getting choked by detectives: yeah, yeah, now check the method
They be asking us questions, harass and arrest us
Saying "we eat pieces of shit like you for breakfast"
Huh? Y'all eat pieces of shit? What's the basis?
We ain't going nowhere but got suits and cases
A trunk full of coke rental car from Avis
My momma used to say only Jesus can save us
Well momma I know I act a fool
But I'll be gone 'til November I got packs to move I hope

(Jesus walks)
God show me the way because the Devil trying to break me down
(Jesus walks with me)
The only thing that I pray is that my feet don't fail me now
(Jesus walks)
And I don't think there is nothing I can do now to right my wrongs
(Jesus walks with me)
I want to talk to God but I'm afraid because we ain't spoke in so long

To the hustlers, killers, murderers, drug dealers, even the strippers
(Jesus walks for them)
To the victims of welfare for we living in hell here, hell yeah
(Jesus walks for them)
Now, hear ye, hear ye: want to see Thee more clearly
I know he hear me when my feet get weary
Cause we're the almost nearly extinct
We rappers is role models: we rap, we don't think
I ain't here to argue about his facial features
Or here to convert atheists into believers
I'm just trying to say the way school need teachers
The way Kathie Lee needed Regis that's the way I need Jesus
So here go my single dog radio needs this
They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus
That means guns, sex, lies, videotape
But if I talk about God my record won't get played, huh?

Well if this take away from my spins
Which will probably take away from my ends
Then I hope this take away from my sins
And bring the day that I'm dreaming about
Next time I'm in the club, everybody screaming out

(Jesus walks)
God show me the way because the Devil trying to break me down
(Jesus walks with me)
The only thing that I pray is that my feet don't fail me now


Mos Def - Priority

Top priority
Peace before everything, God before anything
Love before anything, real before everything
Home before anyplace, shoot before anything
Style and state radiate, love power slay the hate
Truth killer flaky face, players say it to they face
Ain't afraid to major straight, race at the table straight
Flow greatest like the greatest lakes
Capes all greatest states, quiet water major waves
Steer the course, make a way
And come ashore on a greater day
Home grown from the greatest grain
Full flavor in the native strain, now put that on your brainy brain
Full exposure to favorite slang
Minimal wage and major gangs
Y'all seen dog take the bait
Later night from day to day they came to play
You came to stay, get out the way
Be-otch sons buy heat rocks
Brooklyn finest, preservation to beat-box!
Front a full poison to detox
When we rock the people I respond: priority
Peace before anything, God before everything
Love before anything, real before everything
Home before anyplace, shoot before anything
Style and state radiate, love power slay the hate
Priority! Love power...


Outkast - Return of the 'G'

This one is by a great Hip-hop duo, OutKast, and is talking about being pulled into violence and gang activity unwillingly, because those involved in it won't leave you be. Though you are passionate about your music and being an artist, people don't want to hear it, and would rather be 'bouncing and shooting and killing and bouncing and shit'. People with ignorant ideas. People who have enough money to 'buy an ounce' but not to take their kids to the zoo or the park, and as a result, the kids grow up the same as them - with a twisted view of the world.

They don't want trouble, they want to live with their families, raise their children, practice their art - but good luck can't be bought, you have to fight for it sometimes. You never know when trouble could be coming, and you have to be ready for it.

Part of being ready for it is sticking together to push back, even though this kind of thing isn't what they want to do with their lives - if it comes to them or their families being threatened, they'll have each other's back.

I think this also has a more personal, metaphorical aspect to it as well - personal attacks and misunderstandings will also be shot down as needed.

[Andre 3000: Intro]
Yeah it goes like this right here
Like uh, niggas always be hollerin 'Peace'
You know what I'm saying, "Peace my brother"
Peace this, peace that, you know what I'm saying but
Everytime I uh try to get a piece of mind
Niggas try to get a piece of mine
So I gotta grab my piece

[Dre: Verse 1]
It's the return of the gangster, thanks ta'
Them niggas that's on that blow
That run up in your crib
Which contains your lady and an 8 month old
Child to raise plus you true blue 'bout this music but
They do not want to hear it
Because they'd rather be bouncing and shooting
And killing and bouncing and shit
Get down

Return of the gangster, thanks ta'
Them niggas that think you soft
And say y'all be gospel rappin'
But they be steady clappin' when you talk about
Bitches & switches & hoes & clothes & weed
Let's talk about time travelin' rhyme javelin
Somethin' mind unravelin' get down

Return of the gangsta thanks ta'
Them niggas who got them kids
Who got enough to buy an ounce
But not enough to bounce them kids to the zoo
Or to the park so they grow up in the dark never
Seein' light so they end up being like yo' sorry ass
Robbin' niggas in broad ass daylight get down

Return of the gangsta thanks ta'
Them niggas that get the wrong impression of expression
Then the question is Big Boi what's up with Andre?
Is he in a cult? Is he on drugs? Is he gay?
When y'all gon' break up? When y'all gon' wake up?
Nigga I'm feelin' better than ever what's wrong with you
You get down!

[Big Boi]
Man a nigga don't want no trouble
A playa just want to kick back with my gators off
And watch my li'l girl blow bubbles
But still ready to rhyme
Standin' my ground never back down
Willin' to rob steal & kill any thang that threatens mine
But good luck couldn't be bought see
Many a fights had to be fought G
For a nigga to ride these Vogues
Oh so close to the sidewalk to be gawked at
Watch your side my nigga cause we got gats
The first nigga to buck gon' be the first nigga we attack
Don't want that but it comes though
Most of the time when you don't know
Stickin' together like flour and water to make that
Slow dough we worked for everything we have
And gon' stick up for each other like we
Brothers from another mother
Kinda like Mel Gibson and Danny Glover
Strictly for the Caddy lovers and never the
Nut huggin' punk motherfuckers


Social Media, Journalism, Opinion.... What Is Truth?

This is something I've been thinking a lot about lately. The current state of journalism here is pretty ridiculous, and the way we communicate with each other and pass information around has also been completely changed by social media, and I think it's really changing the way we see truth. This has all given rise to sites like Snopes, which do factual research on commonly spread 'truths', and report back on whether they are likely to be true or not.

I really started thinking about this during our last presidential election, when Obama was elected. Going through the campaign process, I felt like much of the campaigns of both candidates were simply floating misinformation about the other candidates, without any basis for the truth of the information, and people just gobbled it up. So much so that McCain and Palin had people at their rallies threatening to kill Obama.

We've gotten used to receiving our information about the world in different ways as well. It started with chain emails about one thing or the other, and people would just see it, believe it, and pass it on, never stopping to wonder if it's true or not. Then Twitter happened, and now it only takes one click. You don't even have to read it first, you just have to see a title or something that you initially agree with and click. I'm guilty of having done it myself a few times.

The point is, with the rise of Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc - we've gotten used to receiving our news about the world in different ways - through what our online acquaintances are saying. Google has even added this to search results now - if you search for something on Google, and you're a member of Google+, you get results from your circles' Google+ profiles, interspersed with the normal Google search results.

Digital media has played into this as well. I was watching an interview with Talib Kweli, where he was talking about the rumors of people like Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Rihanna being involved in some kind of Illuminati group trying to take over the world, and he was talking about how most of the 'proof' given for these kind of conspiracy theories is doctored up YouTube videos, where it's obvious they've been screwed around with. But people don't know, so they buy into it.

And it seems like our actual journalism organizations are following suit - much of what is written is actually just opinion articles, but presented as real journalism (that is, researched fact, or at least stories with factual basis). These stories are presented as if the journalist knows exactly what they're talking about, and are spun around the globe via the internet, only to find out that, once again, this was just their opinion, and has nothing to do with reality.

I think this is a really important thing to reign in, as our culture can be violently swayed by small un-truths, as simply as having someone famous Tweet it. Sometimes it's not even intentional - you just get ahead of yourself and say something without basis, and it's already too late before you realize it isn't true.

Anyway, I guess the main point is, when you see something, think about it. If it seems odd, or inflammatory, or derogatory or gets you excited to go badmouth someone, check it out first, please.


New Day

Just as a bit of explanation for the first verse, because I feel it makes it more potent - Kanye West has often been criticized and vilified for having a huge ego, despite, I think, being a very sensitive and caring person in reality (despite a sometimes put-on-bravado in public). He had a moment on a telethon during Hurricane Katrina, where he famously commented that George Bush didn't care about black people, and there was a major public uproar over it. You can look up more about that if you feel like it. Yeezy is one of his nicknames.

Yeah, uh
(Sun in the sky)
(You know how I feel)
Me and the RZA connect
(Breeze driftin’ on by)
Yeah, me and the RZA connect
(Breeze driftin’ on by)
(It’s a new life for me)
(For me, for me)
(Oooh, oooh)
(And I’m feelin’ good)

[Kanye West]
And I’ll never let my son have an ego
He’ll be nice to everyone, wherever we go
I mean, I might even make ‘im be Republican
So everybody know he love white people
And I’ll never let ‘im leave his college girlfriend
And get caught up with the groupies in the whirlwind
And I’ll never let ‘im ever hit the telethon
I mean even if people dyin’ and the world ends
See, I just want ‘im to have an easy life, not like Yeezy life
Just want ‘im to be someone people like
Don’t want ‘im to be hated, all the time judged
Don’t be like your daddy that would never budge
And I’ll never let ‘im ever hit a strip club
I learned the hard way, that ain’t the place to get love
And I’ll never let his mom move to L.A.
Knowin’ she couldn’t take the pressure, now we all pray

(Sun in the sky)
(You know how I feel)
(Breeze driftin’ on by)
(Breeze driftin’ on by)
(It’s a new life for me)
Me and the RZA connect
(For me, for me)
Me and the RZA connect (Oooh, oooh)
(And I’m feelin’ good)

Sorry junior, I already ruined ya
‘Cause you ain’t even alive, paparazzi pursuin’ ya
Sins of a father make yo’ life ten times harder
I just wanna take ya to a barber
Bondin’ on charters, all the shit that I never did
Teach ya good values, so you cherish it
Took me 26 years to find my path
My only job is cuttin’ the time in half
So at 13 we’ll have our first drink together
Black bar mitzvahs, mazel tov, mogul talk
Look a man dead in his eyes
So he know you talk truth when you speak it, give your word, keep it
And if the day comes I only see him on the weekend
I just pray we was in love on the night that we conceived him
Promise to never leave him even if his mama tweakin’
Cause my dad left me and I promise never repeat him
Never repeat him, never repeat him

(Sun in the sky)
(You know how I feel)
(Breeze driftin’ on by)
(Breeze driftin’ on by)

(It’s a new life for me)
(For me, for me)
(Oooh, oooh)
(And I’m feelin’ good)

(Sun in the sky, you know how I feel)
(Breeze driftin’ on by, you know how I feel)
(Breeze driftin’ on by, you know how I feel)
(It’s a new life for me)
(It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day)
(It’s a new life for me)
(Oooh, oooh)
(And I’m feelin’…)
(Birds flyin’ high, you know how I feel)

The song sampled in the background is Nina Simone's Feeling Good.


On Language

I just finished reading Jay-Z's book, "Decoded". It was a great read, very interesting and insightful. In any case, he brought up an interesting point about language in the Epilogue, quoted below:

Rap, as I said at the beginning of the book, is at heart an art form that gave voice to a specific experience, but, like every art, is ultimately about the most common human experiences: joy, pain, fear, desire, uncertainty, hope, anger, love - love of crew, love of family, even romantic love (put on "The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill" some time and tell me rap can't be romantic - or if you want to keep it street, put on Mary J. Blige and Method Man's "I'll Be There For You/You're All I Need To Get By"). Of course, in the end, it may not be the art form for you. Oprah, for instance, still can't get past the n-word issue (or the nigga issue, with all apologies to Ms. Winfrey). I can respect her position. To her, it's a matter of acknowledging the deep and painful history of the word. To me, it's just a word, a word whose power is owned by the user and his or her intention. People give words power, so banning a word is futile, really. "Nigga" becomes "porch monkey" becomes "coon" and so on if that's what's in a person's heart. The key is to change the person. And we change people through conversation, not through censorship. That's why I want people to understand what the words we use - and the stories we tell - are really about.

This reminded me of a section of George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language," in which he talks about the decay of the English language, specifically when it comes to political language, and how some believe that we cannot directly influence language to reshape words or redirect the usage of language back to a more reasonable place. Orwell believes, however, that language can be intentionally shaped, and makes the following statement:

"What is above all needed is to let the meaning choose the word, and not the other way around. In prose, the worst thing one can do with words is surrender to them.

What I believe he's getting at is this: he talks earlier in the paper about different ways in which the English language has decayed, and one of them is that of certain words or phrases coming to have implicit meaning through common usage, completely apart from the actual meaning of the word or phrase. We then simply use that word or phrase as a pre-packaged idea, without thinking about what we are really saying. Some of the examples of this idea which he gives are "toe the line", "the hammer and the anvil" (common usage being that the anvil takes a beating, but actually, the anvil always breaks the hammer), "swan song", and "ride roughshod over". The idea is that, in this case, you are choosing the words first, and the words then define the meaning - because the meaning is pre-fabricated and attached to those specific words. He lists cases in which authors using these pre-fabricated ideas often mix meanings and metaphors, showing they don't actually understand what they are saying, but are simply using a set phrase which is understood a certain way, apart from its actual meaning.

What he is advocating, is that you decide the meaning you want to convey first, and then choose the right words to flesh out that meaning; that you understand the idea you wish to convey and choose words for it, rather than allowing the pre-set arrangement of words to define your meaning.

So, how does that relate to Jay-Z? The most important part of the statement I quoted in relation to this is the following:

To me, it's just a word, a word whose power is owned by the user and his or her intention. People give words power, so banning a word is futile, really. "Nigga" becomes "porch monkey" becomes "coon" and so on if that's what's in a person's heart.

What I have seen in hip-hop music since getting into it is a very intentional usage of language, which is a big reason it is attractive to me. Good rappers use language in a way that suits their meaning, and sometimes even take advantage of pre-defined phrases or words that have certain cultural connotations to obscure their true meaning, forcing you to really give their lyrics some thought to work them out, or simply putting off people who aren't interested in taking the time to discover what they wanted to say. Much like poetry, in fact.

Specifically in terms of the word "nigga," Jay-Z says that they have taken a word which was hurtful, and turned it into a term of endearment. Rather than surrendering to the word, they made it their own. His comment that people give words power, that their ideas will come out using different words; that if we ban "nigga", we just get "coon" instead, speaks to the idea that we can, in fact, change language; that we can do what Orwell recommends, and find our meaning, and then choose the words which best express that meaning.

I think Orwell and Jay-Z also both offer an important challenge - to really think about the language we're exposed to. Don't just hear someone call something "communist" and assume it's malevolently oppressive, think about the context and whether the comparison even makes sense. Don't just hear someone use the word "freedom" and get warm fuzzies about whatever they're referring to - think about how they are using it, whether what they are using it to describe actually merits the word, and don't allow them to handcuff you with it by convincing you that you're really being "freed".

Language is incredibly important, and I think we all would do well to be intentional both about how we use language, and how we take it in.


Kanye West - Power

These are some of the lyrics from a Remix of Kanye West's song Power, on which Jay-Z appears as well. Good stuff.

Rumble, young man, rumble
Life is a trip, so sometimes, we gon’ stumble
You gotta go through pain in order to become you
But once the world numbs you, you’ll feel like it’s only one you
Now you got the power to do anything you want to
Until you ask yourself, "Is this what it’s all come to?"
Lookin’ at life through sunglasses and a sunroof
But do you have the power to get out from up under you
Fuck all these labels, fuck what everybody wants from you
They tryna Axl Rose you, welcome to the jungle
To be continued, we on that Norman Mailer shit
In search of the truth, even if it goes through Taylor Swift
Tell her this

No one man should have all that power

Now when I walk in, everybody do the “Power” clap
Clap, clap, clap
Fresh for the club, I just took a half an hour nap
Clap, clap, clap
I seen people go crazy when the whole world in our lap
Clap, clap, clap
My socket was out the plug, now it’s time to get the power back
Clap, clap
I seen people abuse power, use power, misuse and then lose power
Power to the people at last, it’s a new hour
Now we all ain’t gon’ be American Idols
But you can least grab a camera, shoot a viral
Huh? Take the power in your own hands
I’m a grown man, doin’ my grown dance
I don’t stop until I see the end, my vision clear, bitch
I’m on my Van Gogh, I don’t hear shit

Now everything I’m rhymin’ on cause a Ramadan
Been a don, prayin’ for the families lost in the storm
Bring our troops back from Iraq, keep our troops out of Iran
So the next couple bars, I’ma drop them in Islam
They say as-salamu alaykum, say wa alaykum as-salaam
That’s no Oscar Mayer bacon, you should run and tell your moms
Now the question is, how we gon’ stop the next Vietnam?
Keep Flex out of Korea, ’cause you know he drop bombs


On Drug Addiction and Criminalization

"[T]he truth is that drug addicts have a disease. It only takes a short time in the streets to realize that out-of-control addiction is a medical problem, not a form of recreational or criminal behavior. And the more society treats drug addiction as a crime, the more money drug dealers will make "relieving" the suffering of the addicts."