Saturday, January 16, 2010

Jay-Z Radio

Jay-Z Radio isn't bad. Mostly he, Kanye West and Tupac played. I was expecting it to be the perfect gym mix, hype and upbeat, but it was mostly very mellow and included atrack from Jay-Z's MTV Unplugged album, "Can't Knock the Hustle." The Roots and Mary J. Blige give this song more life, and thus it was a good choice because it makes the song easy to link to other artists. Unfortunately, no Roots songs played, but it was an decent mix.

Another Jay-Z song chosen by the Genome Project was "Black Republican," featuring Nas. As I've mentioned before, something about listening to music at the gym while working out allows me to focus more clearly on the lyrics and the meaning behind them than if I were in a car, for instance. I think it's because I'm trying not to dwell on the pain and discomfort of the exercise I'm doing, so I concentrate on the music. (This is big for me, because growing up, I focused MUCH more on the music and missed or misinterpreted a great deal of what the singers were talking about. "Black Republican" is a good example.) This song was important to hip-hop fans because it was the first song Jay-Z and Nas had ever recorded together, and it was coming off the heated beef between the two which lasted over a year. I was doing a row exercise when this song cam on. The first lines, uttered by Jay-Z, are:

I feel like a...
Black republican, money I got coming in
Can't turn my back on the hood I got love for them
Can't claim my act has been good, too much thug in him
I'll probably end up back in the hood like f**k it then.

It was then that I realized the true meaning of the song. "Black republican" is an oxymoron. You can't be black, republican, and still say you stand strong for civil rights, affirmative action and overall reform--at least it would be very difficult to convince somebody you did. Jay-Z and Nas feel like black republicans because they care about their roots in impoverished, black New York neighborhoods but know that they stand far apart from their old friends because of one thing: money. Dave Chappelle illustrated this paradox comically in skits called, "When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong," in which black professionals reaped dire consequences of staying too true to their roots. The catch-22, for Nas and Jay-Z, is that if they did not live their lives unrestrained and continue to create music, they and the people they love would be underrepresented, and be marginalized like the poor bastards in Dave Chappelle's skits. Still, the feeling that they are selling out in some way is painful to them, and the metaphor of a black republican is quite clever, I think, even though there is less redeemable in a republican politician than a hip-hop artist, if only because someone like Michael Steele would never admit to having doubts about being black and representing the right.

Speaking of the right, "Jesus Walks" played while I was on the treadmill. I hadn't heard this song in a while, and a similar thing happened which did with "Black Republican." The lines,

So here go my single dog radio needs this
They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus
That means guns, sex, lies, video tapes
But if I talk about God my record won't get played Huh?
Well let this take away from my spins
Which will probably take away from my ends
Then I hope this take away from my sins

struck me, especially. These lines are the core of the song. This is before Kanye blew up. Despite how popular this song became, he does a pretty good job of making you believe that he really was taking a risk when he wrote it. The daring can be heard in the pounding music itself, too. I felt in sync with Kanye's creative process. When the lightning bulb turned on in his head, I can be certain he followed the idea ruthlessly. The song is thus alive in a way that few pop songs are.

One other Kanye song that I completely forgot about was "Get 'em High" featuring Common and Talib Kweli. I didn't like this song when I first heard it because I thought the beat was monotonous and I thought Kweli and Common were trying to be hard and thuggish. I enjoyed it this time around for a few reasons. First of all, I liked the lines,

And I will, cut your girl like Pastor Tro
And I don't, usually smoke but pass the 'dro
And I won't, give you that money that you askin fo'
Why you think, me and Dame cool, we ask hoes
That's why we here your music in fast fo'
Cuz we don't wanna here that weak xxxx no mo'

just because they are funny. I can personally relate to, "I don't usually smoke but..." Also, picturing Kanye and Dame Dash listening to demos in fast forward while high is hilarious. Moving on,

N-n-n-n-n-now who the hell is this
E-mailin me at 11:26, tellin me that she 36-26, plus double-d

is a reference to Biggie's song "Warning," which, believe it or not, played later:

Who the fuck is this, pagin me at 5:46 in the mornin
Crack of dawn and now I'm yawnin
Wipe the cold out my eyes
See who's this pagin me, and why

It was fantastic to complete the circle. Also, it was great to listen to Biggie's drawn-out, story-telling style while working out. He includes minor details of the narrative that would be boring if anyone else was telling it and somehow makes them fascinating instead with his hypnotic, lazy delivery:

Remember them niggaz from the hill up in Brownsville?
That you rolled dice wit, smoked blunts, and got nice wit

Biggie's friend asks him.

Yeah my nigga Fame up in Prospect
Nah they're my niggaz nah love wouldn't disrespect

Biggie insists, indicating his friend is fooling for even suggesting these guys would want to hurt Biggie, but no, no, no,

I didn't say them, they schooled me to some niggaz
that you knew from back when, when you was clockin minor figures
Now they heard you blowin up like nitro
And they wanna stick the knife through your windpipe slow

Oh. Those guys. Shit.

I skipped some songs from the Blueprint 3 that were really bad. Besides those, two thumbs up for Jay-Z radio. I doubt I could listen to it for too long, however, simply because it's inevitable you're going to get into the realm of the overplayed.

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