Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"Knock That Shit Down" (With Footnotes)

Here is the first in my series of lyrical examinations of the songs of my latest mixtape, "The 40-Year-Old Virgin, The 41-Year-Old Version."

As I say in the song Liquid Thunder, "My rhymes are so dense you're gonna need footnotes." Here they are...

This time, for the song "Knock That Shit Down." This song didn't really have an overall theme beyond being a typical "I'm a good rapper, you're a bad rapper" type of thing. My approach with these songs is to try to do them in ways that bring in references that aren't usually in such songs AND to avoid actual appeals to violence.

Drivin through the mall like I'ma Blues Brother

I frequently do exercises where I pick a theme and write a set number of metaphors/similies/rhymes related to that theme. This one came from such an exercise about my favorite movies. One of the best scenes in "The Blues Brothers" involves the titular characters driving inside a mall.

I'ma drop a hit for your brother and your mother
Grab the mic and become your sister's lover
Not doing that shit for revenge

These lines were specifically set up to flip around a common rap trope, "I'll take your woman," suggesting that my music alone can make women fall in love with me, BUT in a different vein than these references usually take, I wasn't doing it as a way to get back at the theoretical opponent in the song, but because I was interested in the woman. The lines inherently contradict each other, which was done on purpose, leading into...

Stackin up blocks like I was Stonehenge

This line, which has nothing to do with anything. It would be a good metaphor if "stacking up blocks" had any meaning outside of the literal. It sounds like it should, but it doesn't as far as I know. The idea was to continue the nonsense of the previous line, leading into...

I know that shit doesn't make sense
What you think I'm the fuckin Fresh Prince?

This part establishes that I'm different from a clean, straight-forward rapper like Fresh Prince. I love his work, but I don't write like he does.

This shit ain't literal, you ain't literate

From that it was natural to combine "literal" and "literate" and bring it to the main thrust of the song, the attack on the fictional whack rapper.

The crowd is indifferent, you are ignorant
In you I got no interest, like recipes on Pinterest

I really liked the repetition of the initial "I" sound here. Pinterest is a visual social network and people share a lot of recipes on the site, which is dominated by women. I like it for other reasons, but I have no interest, whatsoever, in recipes.

Can I get a witness, I got lyrical fitness
You ain't nothing but lyrically witless

The first line is a Marvin Gaye shout-out followed by a rhyme I really like "lyrical fitness" with "lyrically witless."

You wanna-be AK strappers, Paduan rappers

Followed by one of my favorite rhymes ever. I'm really clearly separating myself here as a nerdcore rapper who doesn't like the guns and violence of gangsta rap. Paduans are the apprentice jedis from Star Wars and I'm saying here that if all a rapper can talk about is guns and violence, they're not that advanced.

Little big men, weak old lady slappers

Another condemnation of violence and the fact that the guys who revel in it think they are big men, when, in reality, they're more likely to be filled with enough weakness they might even strike a relatively defenseless person.

You are not a rapper, more like a present wrapper
You ain't lookin dapper, your career's in the crapper (shitty)

There are two things I really like in this couplet. The contrast of "rapper" and "present wrapper," and the SHITTY that comes in after I say "crapper." The recording isn't altered, I was just able to do a really deep voice there and it worked on the first take.

Shut the fuck up, get the fuck out
Turn that shit off, take that shit down
Shut the fuck up, get the fuck out
Turn that shit off, knock that shit down

The hook came quickly and easily and was the first part I wrote to this song. It instantly gave me the title, too.

Never had a crowd not love me on stage

A little bit of exaggeration, but not a lot. Of all the times I've done original songs on stage, people have been really into them except for one or two. Even those two times were more indifferent than dislike.

Out of my book you need to take a page
Have something to say, say it well
Conjure an image, cast a spell

My theory on that crowd response phenomenon is that my lyrics are much more interesting than many performers, so I'm suggesting that others could do the same if they wrote better lyrics, with a message of some sort (ironic since this song doesn't have a message) and came up with better imagery.

Who only gets just one shot?
If I flop, you know I won't stop

This is an Eminem reference, to the song "Lose Yourself" and the movie "8 Mile." It's not at all a diss, though, it's just a rejection of the concept that someone with talent only gets one shot. I don't think it mattered how many times Eminem failed, he was still going to succeed. I'm suggesting I have the same future (of success despite failure, NOT of being as successful or as good at rap as Eminem).

There's a lyrical technician who came to flex
Number one b-boy, Professor Rex

I loved this line when I wrote it long before this song. I used to cover LL Cool J's "My Rhyme Ain't Done," but there were a couple of lines I felt I had to change when I did it live. This one was because I didn't want to call myself LL on stage. The original lines went: "There's a lyrical technician who came to play/Number one b-boy LL Cool J." "Flex" and "Rex" fit very well.

Man outta time, man outta place
Feel like I'm from fuckin outer space

There are two references here. The first is from "Edison's Medicine," by Tesla. I can't remember the second one, but there is a song, rap I think, where the artist talks about feeling like he's from outer space.

Crab rappers don't feel the words I'm sayin
They can't understand the jams I'm playin

Crab rapper was always my favorite old-school hip hop insult.

Y'all can't break me, you cant fake me
Y'all motherfuckers can't take me
Y'all better thank me, you better bank me
Y'all motherfuckers better rank me (number one)

This is one of my favorite passages in the song, I love this type of rapid-fire spitting.

Shut the fuck up, get the fuck out
Turn that shit off, take that shit down
Shut the fuck up, get the fuck out
Turn that shit off, knock that shit down

The hook comes back.

I come in like a lion
Go out like a bigger lion

The second I wrote this I was super happy about it. "I come in like a lion" came to me and then I took the standard rap construction "in like a bad thing, out like a bigger badder thing," and asked myself what's bigger and badder than a lion? A bigger lion.

You come across my path, I'ma leave your girl crying
I'ma leave your mama crying, gonna leave your kids crying

All of whom will be crying from embarrassment, NOT violence.

Sneakin in my lab and you're always spyin
The stuff of your dreams, you know I'm supplyin
You keep tryin and tryin, and dyin and dyin
Your universal lameness, is the fact underlyin

This one is a shout-out to rappers who have really strong references to their success on their FIRST song or album. It's a optimistic concept and I've always liked it, so I used it here and elsewhere.

Faster than a pussycat, kill, kill

A reference to the Russ Meyer film, the title of which I always loved, by way of a shoutout to the B-52's song "Funplex."

Don't touch my drink, no spill, spill
Stormin the club like it's the Bastille

This one only works if I mispronounce the word Bastille, which I do on purpose. Another ironic comment about bad rappers who have no worldly knowledge.

Invading the stage like Bunker Hill

A reference to the Revolutionary War battle. Not sure if that technically counts as an "invasion," but I liked the image.

You're a mouse, I can walk out my door
Protest the White House

This is true. My work office is a block or two away from the White House and I have walked out of my office to join in protests over there, most recently after Sandy Hook, making it a subtle call back to the anti-violence portion at the beginning of the song.

I make shit happen, my name was on wikipedia before you started rapping

This is also another true reference. I've been writing online since 1998, and early on I was cited in several articles. Since then, several jobs I've had and activities I've engaged in have gotten me minor references on the online encyclopedia.

I was the shit before you started crapping (oh no!!!)

The shit/crap reference worked so well in verse one, I brought it back, with an additional immaturity reference. That works on two levels since making shit references is ironic as an immaturity reference.

Shut the fuck up, get the fuck out
Turn that shit off, take that shit down
Shut the fuck up, get the fuck out
Turn that shit off, knock that shit down

One more hook for the road.

Upsetter (With Footnotes)

Here is the last in my series of lyrical examinations of the songs of my debut mixtape, "Core Nerd!"

As I say in the song Liquid Thunder, "My rhymes are so dense you're gonna need footnotes." Here they are...

This time, for the song "Upsetter."

The last song on my first mixtape was also the last one written. I was listening to a Lee "Scratch" Perry compilation one day, and an instrumental dub of "War in Babylon" by Max Romeo & the Upsetters came on. I loved the beat with a passion. I had been thinking that it was pretty common for rappers to compose songs to existing beats and put them on mixtapes or online releases. I had been wanting to do something like that, since all my previous songs had been using original beats that I made. So I decided to try this one.

Because this beat was a reggae beat, I decided to make a song that was in the spirit of that music, with themes of empowerment, unity, and revolution. Since it was a cross-genre song, I also wanted it to embrace that, and get to the heart of the idea that there are more of us than there are the people in power and that together, united, we can defeat them.

(War ina) Yes Yes
(War ina) People get ready
Feel the pressure drop
Make your body pop
(War ina) Yes Yes
(War ina) People get ready
Feel the pressure drop
Make your body pop

I love the snippets of dialog that made it into the dub from the original and I decided to work with them on these lyrics. There were also the specific references to other reggae songs here in the hook, "One Love/People Get Ready," from Bob Marley & the Wailers, and "Pressure Drop," by Toots & the Maytals. Make your body pop was a reference to the danceworthiness of most reggae and the obvious rhyme.

There's a war on the streets
A war for these beats
A war for some food
A war for some crude
The powers that be
Try to divide us
But they won't stop us
They can't deny us

The war theme here came out of two things, "War in Babylon" and the snippets from the original song, and the overall theme of this song about how we have to unify in the face of those who are trying to divide us.

Get up off your couch
And just do something
The power is within you
You'll be stopped by nothing
Do it yourself
DIY
Then we get together
And we're all gonna fly

It's very common for people to get discouraged in the face of big challenges and obstacles, the idea here was to turn that around and tell the individual that if they get up and do something, particularly if they team up with like-minded others, a lot can be accomplished.

No matter how hard they try
They can't stop us now
There's too many of us
They can't make us all bow
The harder they come
The harder they'll fall
A storm is coming
It's much bigger than a squall

Nothing particularly complicated in continuing the empowerment metaphors here. A lot of the revolutionary reggae I've heard had very simple empowering lyrics, so I went with that.

The thunder is coming
And so is the rain
Keep oppressing us
We're gonna bring the pain
We're gonna stand up
And shout out our names
The time has ended
For playing your games

Much of that revolutionary reggae also has simple metaphors, like those about thunder and rain and storms. There's also a Public Enemy "Bring the Pain" reference here. Lots and lots of PE references in my songs.

(Welcome)
I wanna welcome all the people
From all around the world
From the old men and women
To the little boys and girls
We're gonna have a party
And it's never gonna stop
We're gonna rise up
And we're never gonna drop

This verse owes its inspiration to Bob Marley and to the PE again, specifically the title of the song "Party for Your Right to Fight" and the concept that we need to celebrate and have fun, not just fight, or we'll lose our determination.

Spreading knowledge and facts
While having a good time
This time is yours
This time is mine
From street to street
And block to block
Punk, reggae, indie
And hip hop

I've long been convinced that spreading knowledge is one of the most important revolutionary acts one can engage in. I also think that the root impulses of punk, reggae, indie rock, and hip hop are all revolutionary and opposed to a system that oppresses people.

They control the TV
And the radio
Tell us what to think
Tell us what to know
Tell us who to love
Tell us who to hate
But we won't listen
Tearin down that gate

This section simply enumerates the forms of control the system tries to use on us.

I hate you for your dollars
You hate me for my color
I hate you for your splendor
You hate me for my gender
I hate you for your country
You hate me cuz you're hungry
I hate where you're from
You hate that we're numb
I hate that you're unbridled
You hate that I'm entitled
I hate who you love
You hate all of the above
We're gonna stop this hate
Before it gets too late

And this one lays out the specific things they use to divide us.

Rump barump barumpbabump
Rump barump barumpbabump
(It's sipple out deh) Be careful
(We slide out deh) Get a grip
(Oh yeah)

This section was in the original song and I like the idea of me copying the nonsensical sound and tying into the hook of the original. "Sipple" is Jamaican slang for slippery or slimy, so with that and the language about sliding, I thought that warning to be careful and get a grip would work well here.

When come pride
Then cometh shame
Honour shall uphold
The humble in name

This is the one passage that is from the Max Romeo version of the song. It fit well with the rest of the ideas I had been working with here and I wanted to give a shout-out to Romeo's lyrics, so I grabbed these four bars.

It's not about me
It's not about you
Lift us all up
Is what we gotta do

An explicit call for unity.

I'll never get tired
Of fighting your lies
We won't quit
Till we grasp the prize
Day after day
I spread the word
My speech is always clear
And never slurred

This section is about leading by example. I'm not just telling you what you should do, I'm telling you that I'm in the fight, too, and I won't ever get tired of fighting it.

(War ina) Yes Yes
(War ina) People get ready
Feel the pressure drop
Make your body pop

The hook returns.

There's a war on the streets
A war for these beats
A war for some food
A war for some crude
The powers that be
Try to divide us
But they won't stop us
They can't deny us
(A, oh yeah)
No matter how hard they try
They can't stop us now
There's too many of us
They can't make us all bow
The harder they come
The harder they'll fall
A storm is coming
It's much bigger than a squall
The thunder is coming
And so is the rain
Keep oppressing us
We're gonna bring the pain
We're gonna stand up
And shout out our names
The time has ended
For playing your games
I wanna welcome all the people
From all around the world
From the old men and women
To the little boys and girls
We're gonna have a party
And it's never gonna stop
We're gonna rise up
And we're never gonna drop
Spreading knowledge and facts
While having a good time
This time is yours
This time is mine
From street to street
And block to block
Punk, reggae, indie
And hip hop

This was a tactic I haven't used in other songs, the repetition of already sung verses. A lot of songs throughout history have used it and since the beat was so long compared to my usual songs, I decided this was the way to go.

Rump barump barumpbabump
Rump barump barumpbabump
(It's sipple out deh) Be careful
(We slide out deh) Get a grip
(Oh yeah)
Rump barump barumpbabump
Rump barump barumpbabump
(It's sipple out deh) Be careful
(We slide out deh) Get a grip
(Oh yeah)

I still love the snippets of the original dialog that made it into this beat.