Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Nas's Debut Album: Illmatic

Nas's debut album is largely considered THE greatest album of all time... and with good reason. Released in 1994, Illmatic expresses Nas's personal lifestyle and culture with themes and narratives which come from one of the harshest projects in New York; Queensbridge

Although only ten tracks in the entire compilation, every rap song has a solid delivery with a lyrical complexity that still rivals contemporary artists. Nas's multi-syllabic rhyme patterns illuminate the socially-charged cultural content without compromising his internal rhyming patterns and vocal aesthetic. 
Queensbridge (Source)
The album is seen as a landmark in East Coast hip-hop contributing to an artistic renascence in New York while starting a stylistic change in hip-hop rhyme and lyrics.

Illmatic starts with The Genesis which features (the under-rated Brooklyn lyrical genius) AZ talk'n about represent'n (for Queensbridge) and remarking about songs on the radio saying "Yo Nas, what is this shit on the radio?" Then exclaiming that "we gone keep it real regardless how it go down..." with or without a record deal.

Track two, N.Y. State of Mind is  the 'official' start of the album--i.e. the first track Nas raps on. Nasir Jones (Nas's real name) says "I don't know how to start this shit" as he proceeds to eloquently recognize musical composition, enunciating his ruthless style, and illuminating the cultural setting. Poetic but with a conversational clarity this classic track tells the listener that Nas's rapping and life experiences--coupled with his lyrical ability--was born from the competition, crime, and hustle of (a) New York (State of Mind)!

Life's a Bitch, track three, focuses on obtaining and maintaining material wealth with "the ghetto essence inside us... with the proper insight to guide us." "
Fuck who's the baddest a person's status depends on salary and my mentality is money orientated. I'm destined to live the dream for all my peeps who never made it - Life's a Bitch, Nas 
Track four, The World is Yours is a rap song about self-empowerment. Although Nas is saying "the world is yours" he returns to the focus of the album in the verses raping about how he's out for "dead presidents (i.e. U.S. currency) to represent me." The next track Halftime is a fun, upbeat song that shows Nas's cunning and presence as an MCEE. Memory Lane, track 6, is more relaxed, explores why Nas rhymes, and is about who he is and where he's from. 

One Love explains why Nas has love regardless of all the stress, shootings, and "shit that's go'n on" in his area and the culture he's immersed in. Track 8, One Time 4 Your Mind is chill and were Nas kicks some street wisdom. Represent, is for you mind, goes out to everybody in New York's projects "that's livin' a real... life," and brings a clearer picture of Nas's life hanging on the corner, doing deals, and surviving as a school drop-out. The album finishes with It Ain't Hard to Tell (Track 10) which display's Nas's incredible lyrical ability and vocal style--which is still above and beyond most artists. 
Nas is like the Afrocentric Asian, half-man, half-amazin Cause in my physical, I can express through song delete stress like Motrin, then extend strong - It Ain't Hard To Tell, Nas
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Monday, May 21, 2012

Notorious B.I.G.'s Debut Album: Ready to Die

Ready to Die is The Notorious B.I.G.'s debut album. Born Christopher Wallace, Biggie Smalls (a pseudo name) rose to fame after releasing this album in 1992. The album would end up going quadrupedal platinum and then certified diamond in 2000.

The Intro track of the album starts with a heart beat and Biggie being born, transitions into him growing up with abusive parents, and then winding up come'n out of jail after serving his sentence for robing a train in 1987. The intro ends with Biggie say'n "I got big plans nigga... big plans" as Things Done Changed, track two, comes in. In the first two tracks you can hear a lot of samples of "classic" hip-hop. The whole premise and point of the first two songs is to tell the listener that the happy-go-lucky days of hip-hop that used to be, and Biggie used to listen to, is either over or never existed. You also get the very real sense that Christopher Wallace is a "bad bad..." man because of the situation he was placed.
"Motherfuckers was all friendly Loungin at the barbeques, drinkin brews with the neighborhood crews, hangin on the avenues. Turn your pagers, to nineteen ninety three Niggaz is gettin smoked G, believe me... all of this to me, is a mystery I hear you motherfuckers talk about it But I stay seein bodies with the motherfuckin chalk around it... Damn, what happened to the summertime cookouts? Everytime I turn around a nigga gettin took out... Either you're slingin crack rock or you got a wicked jump-shot Shit, it's hard being young from the slums eatin five cent gums not knowin where your meals comin from" - Things Done ChangedNotorious B.I.G
On track three, Gimme The Loot the listener starts to understand why his name is Notorious. Biggie talks about being a thief, stealing, and robbing for loot. I imagine that Biggie, as the name implies, was not only a lyrically imposing but physically as well. Standing at six foot three inches it is estimated Chris Wallace weighted over 300 lbs. This track was one of Biggie's more popular songs which is probably attributed to his crazy flow and hilarious antics.
So go get your man bitch he can get robbed too! Tell him Biggie took it, what the fuck he gonna do? - Gimme The Loot, Notorious B.I.G
Gimmie The Loot ends with a shoot-out with the cops as it transitions into Machine Gun Funk. Track five, Warning talks about how "nigga's" from Biggie's neighborhood are after his "paper." Like Wu-Tang, it's clear that Biggie ain't nuttin' to fuck wit. "What'cha gonna do when Big Poppa comes for you? I'm not run'n, nigga I bust my gun in, hold'on I hear somebody come'n" is how Biggie ends his rap. However the song ends after Biggie kills two guys try'na 'run up' on his house.

In the kind of environment Biggie was involved with, (unfortunately) vigilante justice was the way many disputes were solved. So track six, Ready to Die, informs the listener that Biggie will do whatever it takes to get his money. Track seven signifies a change in the album's focus. Between One More Chance and Fuck Me the listener starts to understand why girls call Chris, "B.I.G."

Track nine features Method Man, one of only two features. Of course, everybody knows Juicy, track 10. In Everyday Struggle Biggie raps about why he doesn't want to live anymore. Then, Notorious expands on his gross and back-handed love-approach toward women in Me & My Bitch (featuring Sybil Pennix). Track 13 is another classic with Big Poppa.

Respect, track 14, is basically an autobiography of Biggie, again highlighting the environment he has been surrounded in. Friend of Mine divulges why Notorious calls women bitches and hoes. (It's because they sleep around with his friends and they "know that ain't right.")
She's sayin' I dissed her 'cause I'm fuckin' her sister. A message to the fellas, that really gets'em pissed, uh. But she started that fuckin' family, She fucked my man Dee, so why she mad at me? - Friend of Mine, Notorious B.I.G
By the time you get to track 16, Unbelievable the listener will notice two things. First, Biggie doesn't like to do his own hooks... and what's unbelievable is Biggie's skill. The album ends with Suicidal Thoughts, track 17 which explains why Chris is so eager to kill himself. He's never been anything to anyone but a 'fuck up;' he raps about his criminal record, and (in his own way) apologizes to his mother for everything he put her through.

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Thursday, May 3, 2012

2pac's Debut Album: 2pacalypse Now

This post is about 2pac's first studio album 2pacalypse Now which is named in reference to the movie Apocalypse Now. The post was too big to discuss everything here so there are subsequent posts that further explore individual songs.

This debut release is less polished and overly political. From the very first few seconds you can tell who 2pac is talking to, and representing, with Young Black Male. Then, Trapped presents the main topic of discussion and gives the listener a perspective of Pac's life, environment, and philosophy.
You know they got me trapped in this prison of seclusion
Happiness, living on tha streets is a delusion...
Too many brothers daily heading for tha big penn
Niggas commin' out worse offthan when they went in...
Tired of being trapped in this vicious cycle
If one more cop harrasses me I just might go psycho...
One day i'm gonna bust, Blow up on this society
Why did ya lie to me? I couldn't find a trace of equality
- 2pac, Trapped

Track three is a Soulja's Story and about how Soulja (played by Pac) has a brother who got locked up. Next, Pac let's the world know why he's fed up in I Don't Give a Fuck by illuminating the social stigma and antagonism black's face in America (see 'Keeping the Black Man Down' is why 2pac says "I Don't Give a Fuck" for more).

In Track five, Violent 2pac tells a story about how he was innocently driving, get's pulled over, and ends up being harassed and abused by the police (after not having his I.D.) until the point of retaliation, which eventually leads to a gun fight (see "Black Violence": 2pac's Violent Track(s) for more).

In track six, Words of Wisdom Pac gives inspiration to his audience by explaining the righteous indignation of those trapped in the ghetto. (See the Words of Wisdom (Track) blog post for more). In this track he explores the definition of 'nigga' exclaiming that he is refering to it meaning "Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished" and "not the 'nigga' we say as if it has no meaning."

Track 7, Something Wicked is a break from the 'real' content and is more of a display of vocal and verbal ability. The next track (8) shows the rough, underground feel of the album while Pac raps about having his finger on the trigger for "crooked ass niggas." Track 9, If My Homie Call, has a break-style beat with an upbeat vibe while Pac flows over about have'n love for his homie/borther(s):
And I, hear that you made a few enemies
But when you need a friend you can depend on me, call
If you need my assistance there'll be no resistance
I'll be there in an instant... I'm down for y'all, when my homies call 

The album continues with Brenda's Got A Baby where Pac explains that single motherhood is a community problem just as much a family problem. (See 2pac and Women to further explore Brenda's Got a Baby and Part-time MothaTrack 11, Tha' Lunatic is an obvious display of lyrical talent, ability, and creation with witty metaphors and punch-lines (pun intended). Timeless lyrics:

See somethin you want, why don't you come and get it
And then get waxed and taxed, like the government
Then I leave you sittin there, wonder where your money went
While your bitch is callin me, tellin me to come again
On the next track the 'lyrical lunatic' explains why he is the Rebel Of Underground:
They won't be happy till I'm banned
The most dangerous weapon: an educated black man...
they tryin to keep me out, try to censor what I say
cause they don't like what I'm talkin bout...

The album finishes with Part Time Mutha where 2pac explains how his "dope feen" mom was (force to be) a part-time mother. He finishes the song taking the roll of a part-time mother. After he sends his girl off, she comes back with a child that he takes care of.

2pac's Words of Wisdom (Track)
2pac and Women

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2pac and Women

From the very beginning of 2pac's career one can see why he is just as popular with men as he is with women. Although he liked to dabble in the art's of 'macing,' instead of objectivying, neglecting and blaming women for his/their problems, Pac shows his maturity and understanding of women's issues by sympathizing and putting himself in their shoes. This is clearly shown in one of the more popular songs from his debut album 2pacalpse Now. In track ten Brenda's Got A Baby Pac explains that single motherhood is a community problem just as much a family problem. 
I hear Brenda's got a baby
But Brenda's barely got a brain
A damn shame, the girl can hardly spell her name...
She's 12 years old and she's having a baby
In love with tha molester, whos sexin' her crazy
And yet she thinks that he'll be with her forever
And dreams of a world with tha two of them together...

Those lyrics actually perfectly encapsulate the though pattern/mental framework of a young victimized woman/prostitute. The goal of a pimp is to get his victim young and make her believe that he loves her. After she is convinced and is having "dreams of a world with the two of (us) together" the (older) man delineates the relationship into abuse asking her to sleep with other men for money. The naive young girl(s) consent and head down a path that could have been avoided if the family cared about the girl--and/or society cared about black people...
He left her and she had tha baby solo...
Momma say, you makin' me lose pay, and social work is here everyday
Now Brenda's gotta make her own way
Can't go to her family, they won't let her stay
No money no babysitter, she couldn't keep a job
She tried ta sell crack, but ended up getting robbed
So now what's next, there ain't nothin left ta sell
So she sees sex as a way of leavin hell
It's payin tha rent, so she really can't complain
Prostitute found slain, and Brenda's her name...

The 2pacalypse album finishes on track 13 were pac explains how his "dope feen" mom is a  Part Time Mutha 

Cindi loved to get buckwild
Fuck with a smile single file she'll bust nuff styles
That would be cool, if she was your lover
But fuck that, Cindi was my dope fiend mother...
Here, in this song, we see the empathy Pac has for women and the struggles they face in life when he takes the role of a "part-time motha." When his girl comes back with a baby he takes the responsibility of caring for it: 

Cuz she came back with the kid and yo
I been payin ever since
The clothes the food the cars and oh the rent
All of my time gets spent...
And I, change the diapers and clean the shit
The tables are turned I can't take this
Oh no... now I'm a part time mutha

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2pac's Words of Wisdom (Track)

Track six, Words of Wisdom of 2pac's 2pacalypse Now debut release is one of my favorite tracks of all time and probably why this release is considered "overly political." In this track Pac gives inspiration to his audience by explaining the righteous indignation of those trapped in the ghetto.    
In one way or another American will find a way to eliminate the problem
The problem is the troubles in the black youth of the ghettos
And one by one we are being wiped off the face of this earth
at an extremely alarming rate
And even more alarming is the fact that we are not fighting back
Pac then explores the definition of 'nigga' exclaiming that he is refering to it meaning "Never Ignorant Getting Goals Accomplished" and "not the 'nigga' we say as if it has no meaning." He explains how those in the ghetto where left out of society through mental, historical, and educational manipulation. He incites instances of history including the fact that the Civil War was not about slavery and the Emancipation Proclamation was instituted to preserve the union. 

Pledge a legiance to a flag that neglects us 
Honour a man that that refuse to respect us
Emancipation, proclamation, Please! 
Nigga just said that to save the nation 

It seems Pac understood the resistance he would see in life. He knew the establishment didn't want to see him educating the masses and black youth about life, society, and and the situations and conditions created by poverty in the ghetto.     
Steady strong nobody's gonna like what I pumpin'
But its wrong to keeping someone from learning something
So get up, its time to start nation building 
I'm fed up, we gotta start teaching children 
That they can be all that they wanna to be 
There's much more to life than just poverty... 

He continues to amaze the listener by referring to the historical controversy between peaceful and violent resistance/revolution. 
No Malcolm X in my history text; Why is that? 
Cause he tried to educate and liberate all blacks 
Why is Martin Luther King in my book each week? 
He told blacks, if they get smacked, turn the other cheek 

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"Black Violence": 2pac's Violent Track(s)

In Track six, Violent 2pac tells a story about how he was innocently driving, get's pulled over, and ends up being harassed and abused by the police (after not having his I.D.) until the point of retaliation, which eventually leads to a gun fight. 

They claim that I'm violent, just cause I refuse to be silent...
Don't look confused, the truth is so plain to see
Cause I'm the nigga that you sell-outs are ashamed to be

This is one of my favorite 2pac songs because it illuminates his thankless, noble pursuit of disseminating the truth, compounded by the reason for his aggression, discontent, and attitude.

I told em fight back, attack on society
If this is violence, then violent's what I gotta be
If you investigate you'll find out where it's comin from
Look through our history, America's the violent one...
The album was released in November of 2011 which was six months after the Rodney King beating. With the injustice of the Troy Davis trial and Travon Martin being killing because he was black, it seems Pac was right, and (unfortunately) nothing has really changed....

Unlock my brain, break the chains of your misery
This time the payback for evil shit you did to me...
My words are weapons, and I'm steppin to the silence 
Wakin up the masses, but you, claim that I'm violent
- 2pac, Violent 

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'Keeping the Black Man Down' is why 2pac says "I Don't Give a Fuck"

In track four of 2pacalypse Now, Pac let's the world know why he's fed up in I Don't Give a Fuck by illuminating the social stigma and antagonism black's face in America.
Now I'm in the back of the paddy wagon
While this cops bragging about the nigga he's jackin...
The Grammy's and the American music shows pimp us like hoes
They got dough but they hate us though...
Besides police brutality of blacks like the Rodney King beating, blacks were/are stigmatized by thinking they are only criminals and drug dealers (e.g. Bill O'Reily accuses a black Doctor of looking "like a drug dealer.")  
The way they see it, we was meant to be kept down
Just can't understand why we getting respect now
Mama told me they're be days like this
But I'm pissed cause it stays like this...

This realization is also illuminated in the hilarious movie Don't Be a Menace to South Central through the Hurry Up and Buy scene were the Lawrence brothers walk into a  shop and are hounded by the Asian owners to "hurry up and buy"--while a white guy steals a bunch of merchandise and goes unnoticed. 

Walked in the store. What's everybody staring at?
They act like they never seen a mother fucker wearing black
Following a nigga and shit, Ain't this a bitch
All I wanted was some chips...
They wanna jack me like some kind of crack fiend...
They know we fed up, But they just don't give a fuck

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