Saturday, March 1, 2014

The ILLEST lyrical genius

As much as I dislike the idea of NYC being so full of itself, one of my favorite things comes from New York: Mos Def. Luckily he uses the references to make a point. He doesn't just name drop ala Jay-Z, 'New York! The greatest!'

Mos Def is tight because he's incredibly intelligent, really down-to-earth, and talented enough to make a successful breakthrough to Hollywood films (and Dexter!), in a similar vein to Eminem. Except I don't think he'd pull a shotgun on his fans.

In 1999, he put out an album called Black on Both Sides My brother always listened to this, and at the time, my 15-year-old self was into the beats. It even features a really dope instrumental track, which is the sign of a classy producer, and artist who's willing not to talk about himself or herself for at least one track.

Ms Fat Booty is probably not about a girl like this :)
There is good music throughout the album, which was always my main beef with East-coast hip-hop. I preferred the bass-heavy, DJ-produced dance-able beats of West Coast hip-hop to the themes of slower jazz or snatches from older music in East-coast. But the deep, intricate lyrics are what typically separates it from other genres and even it's West-coast alternative. The songs give you advice to take your time (Speed Law), advice not to be naive (Got), and make observations on social issues (Mathematics).

One song, Ms. Fat Booty, is my third favorite. This woman is apparently so fine, and she has an 'ass so fat you can see it from the front.' It's about a woman Mos meets in a club who blows him off initially. After finally meeting her, he plays it cool and eventually hooks up. He fast-forwards the year of the relationship with a short 3-line verse of key events, which is particularly cool. Eventually, he tries to marry her, and she says she can't commit to it. The song abruptly ends when after all this, he finds her dancing to a nasty song at a strip club with a rich dude.

Mathematics wins for my second favorite because of the cleverness. He uses numbers and statistics to contrast philosophy with reality, the legal system, and talk about children in the ghetto.

It's one universal law but 2 sides to every story
3 strikes and you be in for life, mandatory
4 MC's murdered in the last 4 years
I ain't trying to be the fifth one, the millennium is here
Yo it's 6 Million Ways to Die, from the 7 deadly thrills
8-year olds getting found with 9mils

That last one is about kids holding guns (9mm), not lottery-winning tots.

My absolute favorite would have to be Mr. Nigga. The name tells you everything: despite your success, hard work, and seeming amount of respect you get, you're still black at the end of the day. He talks about having your rich neighbors hope you're not the new guy, getting questioned if your seat-2-C (first class) is your real seat, and getting seized when he goes overseas to name a few of the wealthy-but-black experiences.

Yes, he married the one on the right.
  Race motivates the Jake to give chase. Jake means cops, a common rap reference to Jake and the Fat Man

Mos later pulls attention to how everyone hated on Michael Jackson so strongly, but Woody Allen got a slap on the wrists for molesting and marrying his step daughter. 

The best lyric in that song goes:
When white boys doin' it well, it's suc-cess / 
When I start doin' it well, it's sus-pect.

Just at the most intense part, he backs off and says he'll get over it by focusing on the successes, and leaves you kinda relaxed.

Hip-hop can have a message as simple as 'enjoy the party' ala Black Eyed Peas, or 'kill people and get rich' via 50 Cent, or you can have an epic space opera themed album about the dystopian future in the year 3030, like another favorite, Deltron. You can also be completely confused and non-sensical, like Lil Wayne and Kanye West. Mos Def lays down his themes over smooth beats, making metaphors and parallels to culture, past and present, all while rhyming cleverly. He also comes off as a decent guy who I would really like to give dap to some day.

Grey Friday: Know your brands