Posts Tagged ‘overanalyzation of hip hop’

Here at Tiny Capers, we advocate hip hop.  Especially hip hop performed by dudes who seem like they’d be fun to drink beer with.  Nobody wants to hang out with Lil’ Wayne.  Dude is crazy.  Eminem is probably a bummer.  Chuck D is going to talk your ear off about sociology while you’re just trying to kick it.

The Wu-Tang clan were essentially raised on a strict diet of blunts, 40s and kung fu movies.  In addition to talking about the requisite gangster shit, their lyrics are also laced with references to comic books, food, soul music, and general pop culture.  There is a general vibe that they’d be fun to have over, put on a Marvin Gaye record, smoke some weed and eat a big dinner with.  Ghostface seems to best exemplify this style.

Pretty Tony’s initial offering is legendary.  Nearly flawless from beginning to end, it showcased the holy trinity of Ghost, Rae and Cappadona, in addition to allowing Ghost to come into his own.  Though the foundation for his style had already been established, he was able to build on it in new ways.  Most notably, he delves into his soul, bearing struggles that most rappers chose to avoid mentioning.

The album largely deals with his signature subject matter (selling crack, wallabees, getting his dick sucked, pasta, etc,) there is a distinct vulnerability involved as well.  ‘All that I got is you,’ a tribute to his mother is the low hanging fruit.  As does the vivid-but-bleak portraiture of street kids on ‘Motherless Child,” but the greatest glimpse into Tony’s arc reactor is at the end.

‘The Soul Controller’ , The last song on the album (depending on whether your cd/tape/record/illegally downloaded MP3s have it or not**), shows our hero displaying a bit of a cognitive dissonance.  Having largely spent the album glorifying selling coke and the riches of doing so, the last track more or less slams on the brakes and heads in the other direction.

The usual deification of the players on the streets is abandoned, instead highlighting the paranoia, stress, and ever-coming generations of new heads.  Lamenting over ‘being watched all day like enemy’s prey’ and over homies growing old and soft, he sets a realistic and gritty scene, detached from the hair metal decadence of modern coke rap.  As he says in the first two lines though, ‘these streets got me backed down, how can I escape?  How can I survive without bubblin’ weight?”

Finally, he ends the verse with ‘time to motor, travel like a foul odor.  Clear my head, stay sober, the soul controller.’  He is very aware of a transitional point in his life, leaving behind a life on the streets to deal with the cutthroat music industry.  In The Tao of Wu, RZA surmised that the use of the Ironman theme in the album was also due to his diagnosis with diabetes, and there may be hints of acknowledgment of his disease and continuing to move on.

Sam Cooke’s vocals in the chorus are almost unrecognizable.  Stripped of the orchestra, optimism and horns, his voice is haunting.  Rather than instilling hope, his words seem to be a desperate cry for an escape.  Cooke’s song pertains to civil rights, but few could argue against parallels being drawn between the America in the early 60s and a black man being raised in Staten Island projects in the late 80s.

The second verse descends further into Ghost’s psyche, beginning with ‘sink deep into the fog, big buffalo large.’  Scholars for centuries will hope for some sort of modern rosetta stone (possibly made of purple suede or gold, or just a big chunk of crack) to decipher his slang, so we’ll just take it at face value and assume that he’s trying to say something about his desire to disappear (possibly in a cloud of smoke) and his inability to do so.  As a prominent rapper/trapper, he may just be looking for a way to walk down the street without having to watch his back.  He continues as he laments how difficult it is to ‘keep up with these keons who smoke dust.’  Though the second half of the verse is lost in a convoluted rant that seemingly pertains to the rich staying rich, he reminds us that even the crackheads weren’t always crackheads with ‘vaseline lips is cracked cuz they all had dreams.’

The third verse is kind of just crazy people talk, including a Gilligans Island reference,proclaiming that he ‘loves his car, it’s near choppy’ and that he has a plate of some kind in his head.  The beat also takes a weird turn with some sort of harpsichord type bridge.

Cooke returns at the end, proclaiming that he’s ‘so tired of living, but [he’s] afraid to die.’  Following it is an edited version of the monologue from the end of ‘Carlito’s Way’ with any of the positivity removed.  This could be Ghost wondering if he too is going to go soft and get lit up on a subway platform, or be able to successfully walk the straight and narrow without the game.  The final quote, from ‘The Usual Suspects’ pertains not to the movie, but rather that evil exists.

Bad situations are ever-present in rap/hip hop.  They are almost invariably paired with the artist’s braggadocious claims of conquering their situation and buying a twelve bedroom house on easy street.  Rather than gloating about success, ‘The Soul Controller’ seems to be an internal monologue questioning his trajectory up to that point.  There is an understanding that his life is at a pivotal point, and that there are no clear answers as to where to head.  Cooke’s sample blends into the song perfectly, echoing the fear of the future.  Despite being released 14 years ago next week, it is nowhere near dated.  Rather, the song maintains relevancy despite his success, which speaks volumes to his talent.

**Sam Cooke (or his family, or whoever owns his music these days,) was pretty bummed that Rza sampled his song in a song about being a coke dealer.


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