Black Thought x Rakim: “Hip-Hop, you the love of my life”

April 4th, 2011 by | Tags: , , ,

The Damon Albarn Appreciation Society is an ongoing series of observations, conversations, and thoughts about music. Here’s the fifth.

Minutes from previous meetings of the Society: The Beatles – “Eleanor Rigby”, Tupac – Makaveli, Blur – 13 (with Graeme McMillan), Blur – Think Tank (with Graeme McMillan)

Just a bit of fun.

The Roots feat. Common: “Act Too (Love of My Life)” (from Things Fall Apart)

Eric B. & Rakim – “I Know You Got Soul” (from Paid In Full)

Compare Thought, a top 5 dead or alive emcee and one of precious few in the running for GOAT lyricist:
“The anticipation arose as time froze/ I stared off the stage with my eyes closed/ and dove into the deep cosmos/ The impact pushed back the first five rows”

To Rakim, similarly top 5 dead or alive, and also in the running for GOAT:
“I start to think and then I sink/ Into the paper like I was ink/ When I’m writing, I’m trapped in between the lines/ I escape when I finish the rhyme… I got soul”

I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from rap for my writing. Any glance at my posts over the years is proof positive of that, and even the name of the site (“4thletter!”) is a direct reference to Rakim, the 18th Letter. Wordplay, structure, slanguage, whatever whatever. This is where I’m my most unfiltered (in public, anyway), and it bleeds out.

Rakim’s bars from “I Know You Got Soul” are things I’ve had running through my head probably ever since I first put pen to paper. The writing process there is something magical, isn’t it? Starting to think being the trigger that brings on ego death (or ego imprisonment, more properly), and then you accomplish a task (I almost said “must accomplish a task,” but that’s not what Rakim Allah is saying at all) and you escape. And then, at the end, an affirmation: “I got soul.” Soul is what makes us go. You got it or you don’t.

As a burgeoning writer, this was hugely important in how I saw the craft. It’s bigger than him, bigger than me, and the only way to do it right is to get lost in it. It happens almost on automatic, like you just can’t help it. It’s God speaking through you. You’re his bullet, he’s your gun. This quote was a source of–what, strength? That’s not quite the right word. I’d think of it when I was having trouble writing, like a mantra, until it became true for me.

I like Thought’s bars, too. It speaks to the same idea, though in this case, it’s hip-hop that’s bigger than everything. Right before the show starts, in that pregnant pause between the speakers coming to life and the emcee doing his thing, and time freezes, compresses down into one moment. And then, when he lets go, when he dives into space, the impact is huge. Metaphorically speaking, right? I love this metaphor, the idea of just completely shutting everything else out and embracing this huge, unknowable thing, and it having some type of effect.

When I think about writing, I tend to think about rap, first. As much as I enjoy books, it’s this stuff that made me want to do it. I wasn’t going to write this post, but Things Fall Apart came up on iTunes while I was thinking about starting a Stan Sakai post. The comparison shot into my head fully-formed–“This is Thought’s take on being trapped in between the lines. It’s so obvious now.”

For this post, I was trapped in between the lines for about 20 minutes, including sourcing links and chatting on Twitter. Sometimes it just spills out of you.

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One comment to “Black Thought x Rakim: “Hip-Hop, you the love of my life””

  1. A lot of younger writers, a lot of the good ones, anyway, are heavily influenced by rap, and anyone who grew up in the same era they did can tell.

    A lot of them probably wouldn’t say so, though – not because of shame, but because they’d have worries about being perceived as cynically appropriating a culture. I don’t just mean white writers, either.