Tuesday, July 29, 2014

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.

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