Check out this guest blog post by Jason Fonseca, with it’s multi-faceted analysis of rap music. I found it fascinating and am delighted to share it with you.
I’ve aimed this post to deliver some value, some insight, and some fresh perspectives to you guys. I’ve been on a hip-hop kick lately, and this is a very personal post for me, show-casing some lyrics that really resonate with me personally. Not only that, this is often a controversial discussion starter. There are some very passionate literary folk who I’ve found are a tad sensitive if you suggest that… heaven forbid… times change and things evolve.
Mercutio: If love be rough with you, be rough with love;
Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down.
If applauding hip-hop in the same breath as a nod to Shakespeare bothers you, I really recommend you just skip this post, but I really feel there’s a lot of good in the words that follow.
I won’t make many direct comparisons, but they’re there if you want to find them.
Rap Is The New Shakespeare
…or at least very similar, serving a similar purpose.
They both use meter, are based on rhyme, and blend music and language to create unique narratives.
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it’s all in your perspective. Allow me to offer you a valuable, fresh perspective The world’s artists, musicians, and writers offer us incredibly powerful insight, often way ahead of it’s time.
Some of life’s best insights come from the world’s poets. Shakespeare, Elliot, and… Jay-Z.
Huh? Did I dare just compare a ‘baller like Jay-Z to iconic historical wordsmiths? Yes, I did. And with good reason. For their time and their generation, Shakespeare and Elliot moved the people, evolved society, added words to dictionaries, and more.
Rappers have done the same thing.
Jay-Z has more records sold than Elvis, California passed the “Donda West Law,” as a tribute to Kanye West’s mother. Oxford has added ‘bling-bling’ and ‘jiggy’ to it’s pages.
Not only that, but over the years, hip-hop has taken a generally frowned-upon art and elevated it to a big part of what got Obama elected. This is not some useless artform to write-off as ‘trash’ or ‘noise’ or ‘not for me.’
Because it could be for you. If you can imagine living through 10 more years of life, it may surprise you what changes can occur and where you end up finding value. I’d love to think that I had a part in encouraging you towards something beautiful.
What do you think literary historians and archaeologists of the future will dig up and find, copies of whoever the latest and greatest poet is of our generation, or Eminem’s incredibly moving “Not Afraid” ?
The easiest way to see the beauty in hip-hop is to treat it more like a sonnet; like poetry. Write it down, break down a line or two, like way back in English class, but cooler. Let’s jump right in to one of the biggest releases in hip-hop to date…
Jay-Z And Kanye West – Watch The Throne [wiki link]
Jay-Z And Kanye West working together, (if you’re not aware, these are two of hip-hop’s greats) have just last month, released their first collaboration album: “Watch The Throne”, and it is expressive, deep, and powerfully moving. These two are shining examples of artists who understand the DNA of art, audience, and success. To me, they exemplify clear examples public, symbolic, leading-edges of hip-hop, and I`d love to do for other artforms something like they`ve done for hip-hop, maybe you would too.
If you want to hear these tracks, they are all available on youtube, last I checked. If you’ve ever wondered what hip-hop lyrics actually mean, and you’d like to go a little deeper than RapGenius.com`s explanations, follow along.
Excerpt – Lift Off feat. Beyonce – An uplifting track of praise, applauding Jay-Z, Kanye, Beyonce and any movers-and-shakers in the world who are like them.
“When you earn hard(t) as me, eventually you hit a big wall.
5-4-3-2 we need fuel.
Here Jay-Z is talking about a Law Of Attraction concept that most artists end up facing. By succeeding in life, moving at a fast pace and focusing on ‘more’ for oneself, obstacles & anything that doesn’t suit / benefit can feel like a powerful crash or a ‘big wall’. There’s also a play on earn-hard and Dale Earnhardt, a nascar racer. Basically, the more success you have, the more any kind of resistance or obstacles can ‘bother’ you when they occur. Many people prefer to live a ‘slower’ life, specifically because of this principle. Are you one of them?
The amount of word-play, layers and the pacing, flow and rhythm of the words is extremely artful.
Excerpt – Made It In America – A topical, relevant, current look at business gimmicks and attempting to manipulate a result, as opposed to focusing on a foundational artistic principle.
“Started a little blog just to get some traffic
Old folks’ll tell you not to play in traffic
A million hits and the web crashes – damn!”
Kanye West started a blog, and tells us his motivation for doing so was “to get some traffic.” He then goes on to reference the wisdom of the ages, which says something like ‘contribute value and people will come,’ an agenda of simply manipulating results will cause a ‘crash’. These lines work on another level as well, that of drug-trafficking, which Kanye recommends against here. The crash aspect also leads back to Jay-Z’s Dale Earnhardt wordplay. Brilliant.
Rap is sometimes labelled as lowest-common-denominator stuff, but this top-selling album delivers smart commentary after smart commentary.
Excerpt – Who Gon’ Stop Me – Focuses on how someone coming from nothing, through the application of self-mastery, inner-growth, and flat-out belief can achieve and succeed in their dreams..
“Pabalo Picasso, Rothkos, Rilkes
Graduated to the MOMA
And I did all of this, Without a diploma
Graduated from the corner.”
Jay-Z is demonstrating how he came from a ghetto, crack-dealing background, and through his focus on growth and belief in himself, he graduated to a high-rolling musician/business mogul himself, as well as an art-appreciator, who owns some of the world’s greatest masterpieces. Many who looked down upon him wish they can be in his shoes now.
Some of Shakespeare’s greatest tales can’t match the pathos in Jay-Z’s life.
Excerpt – Why I Love You -This song is powerful self-expression how Jay + Kanye feel they’ve poured their hearts out, gone beyond the call of duty, and metaphorically crucified themselves financially and emotionally for their people (their teams, friends, families, or audiences). This Similar to biblical tales, Jay + ‘Ye were greeted with betrayal and people jumping ship when the going got a bit rough. Regardless of all this, they come up roses, reputations looking great and money flowing well, as they forgive those who “know not what they do.”
“Same people that I fought for
That I fight for, that I ride for
That I live for, that I die for
Be the reason that these niggas is alive for
and they want me dead
But I’m so sorry but I just can’t die for you
But I can make em put their hands in the sky for you.” – Jay-Z
The same audience and friends Jay-Z intend to uplift, those he feels it’s his life purpose to provide value, entertainment, and education to, seem to want him to make choices that will hurt him, or they actively intend to hurt him. Jay`s response? [I love you. I’ll sing your praises, my haters, and send fans your way…]
“I tried to teach niggas how to be kings
And all they ever wanted to be was soldiers
So the love is gone, Til blood is drawn
So we no longer wear the same uniform
Fu*k you squares, The circle got smaller
The castle got bigger, The walls got taller
And truth be told after all that said
Niggas still got love for you.” – Jay-Z
He invests in people, and he intends for them to rise up and become kings of their own domains along side him, as equals, but they all seem determined to embrace a slow pace of settling and remaining soldiers. This touches me personally as it connects very strongly to my upcoming Rise Of The Artist Success Principles!
The amount of biblical references in Why I Love You is pretty substantial, and although some may label it presumptuous, I feel strongly that many artists (these two rappers in particular) have an incredible grasp on Law Of Attraction and divine inspiration. I even wrote a 9 part series on this.
Excerpt – New Day – A deeply personal, deeply expressive song about how Jay + ‘Ye see the future for their children. (At the time, Beyonce was pregnant with Jay-Z’s child.) – This song gets me teary every time.
“See, I just want ‘im to have an easy life, not like Yeezy’s life (Yeezy = Kanye’s nickname)
Just want him to be someone people like
Don’t want him to be hated, all the time judged
Don’t be like your daddy that would never budge
And I’ll never let him 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.” – Kanye
Kanye West is one of the most controversial, and alternately hated and loved celebrities. He intends a much different life for his child. He renounces his overly hedonistic days and hopes for better.
“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…
Look a man dead in his eyes
So he know you talk truth when you speak it, give your word, keep it ” – Jay-Z
Jay-Z is coming to terms with what’s it like to live a life so much in the public eye, like any of Shakespeare’s kings, and then to add a child to the mix. Not only that — Jay’s father left him and Jay feels he had to learn lessons the slow way, with no direction from his Dad, and he intends to prepare his kid with more knowledge, earlier, and give him a true leg up. In these lines he talks about one of the most powerful father-son lessons: A man’s word.
How much father and son drama did Shakespeare give us?
Excerpt – Welcome To The Jungle – About the jungle of life, and how we all make our way through it our own way.
“My faith in God, Every day is hard
Every night is worse, That’s why I pray so hard” – Kanye
“My dreams is big, Reality set in
Let off a clip from a automatic weapon,
Through shots in the door, it died in Vegas
Though it fought so hard, I knew it wouldn’t make it.” – Jay-Z
Celebrities, though they hold and direct massive amounts of power and attention, are human just like all of us. Most believe in powers greater than themselves, and have good times and hard. This is expressed powerfully here.
Jay-Z started a club in Vegas, called the 40/40 Club, a twin to his successful New York location, but eventually he felt he had to let go of his investment and‘let it die’ despite his deepest preferences, trusting that the loss would work out somehow. He mourns the loss of his dream..
Excerpt – Murder To Excellence – A powerful call to stop the black-on-black violence. Less philosophical, and more political or social commentary, and excellent nevertheless.
“Only spot a few blacks the higher I go
What’s up to Will, Shoutout to O ” – Jay-Z
Jay draws our attention to the fact that there could be way more black celebrities of his caliber, and that he, Will Smith, and Oprah are leading the way (not to mention Barack Obama, who was apparently heavily supported by Jay.).
David Amidon of PopMatters had this to say about the album, which I felt was very fitting: “[Watch The Throne] “succeeds in giving us both sides of both artists—the braggadocio and the social consciousness—in nearly equal measure.” This is the kind of paradox Shakespeare could craft. Things that were simultaneously epic and inappropriate.
So there we have it, fantastic
Jay & ‘Yè so climactic
Rhymes cuttin’ all the static
Automatic, gotta have it
And if you read every word
Yo’ mind soars like a bird
Jason works with creative entrepreneurs who feel talented but not-yet-successful, helping them live wealthier lives. He speaks, writes, and blogs 300+ posts at SpiritSentient.com and offers depth-based art + success-coaching. He’s been featured on TodaysToronto.com, Building Digital Empires, and IntuitiveSoul Radio. Follow him at @jasonfonceca.