I’m working on my own personal “Decoded”, where I dissect all the lyrics I’ve written through the years. Songs off ‘ninety-four’, ‘Sorry I’m Late’, ‘Elite’, ‘Rap Music’ and unreleased music. I’ll break down the lyrics and the thought process. I’ll have screenshots of the actual verses, as well as pictures of the handwritten lyrics (for the older songs). Here’s a glimpse of what to expect. This is my dissecting the first verse of “9:57 Interlude” off of ‘Sorry I’m Late’.
It’s like every other day
I see every other rapper make it every other way
Another powerful way to start a verse. It’s rare that you see a rapper just rap anymore. It’s usually about everything else, be it his MySpace page, his outfits, video blogging whatever.
But my way’s like a highway
But instead of parallel, it got me going sideways
Got me flowing odd ways – doing things that I never did
The 500 pound, pink elephant
Is a rapper’s never-ending battle to stay relevant
Doing things that normally would be out of his element – oohThings that he was never meant to
Love this. It’s showing that even the artist, who wants to stay natural, is finding himself having to conform. It’s a debate John and I had throughout the recording album. The question of do we go with a gimmick? Do we add a radio-friendly record? Beef with a rapper? All these things pop up and is what John ends up struggling with throughout the verse. Rappers are constantly trying to come up with marketing schemes. And as fans, we KNOW it’s a scheme, yet we want to see it anyway. It’s like watching wrestling.
When the rent’s due, gotta put away the pencil
Put the rhymes aside because my nine to five’ll
Feed my family faster than an instrumental
(faster than potential) – now that’s deep
But my daughter can’t sleep on these scribbled on sheets of paper
No money for a bunny but I promise that we’ll celebrate Easter later
These lyrics were written for John, but could easily be recited by almost any indie artist. This is the struggle we all go through – the music/work balance. How long can we afford to chase it? When the rent’s due, we gotta focus on our money-making tasks. It changes music into more of a hobby. And if it’s only a hobby, how can we expect to ever achieve it? John could potentially be a great rapper, but right now he has a regular job that pays his bills. Can he sacrifice that? It’s easier if he was a single man, but he has a daughter to worry about. And rapping isn’t feeding her.
No money for a bunny, but I promise that we’ll celebrate Easter later — that’s so powerful because it shows the guilt of putting music before his child.
I gotta go pay these producersWho are only hot cus of who they produced for
These days, the name and the credits of the producer is more important than the music he’s producing. YZ is one of the most talented producers in hip-hop, but people want to hear “produced by *** and ***”. We could’ve easily done the whole album with YZ, but then it wouldn’t be looked at with the same respect. We knew that going in. Luckily, we worked with some uber talented producers who were able to provide an entirely new sound for the album, while maintaining the quality.
Producers now, though, are building their reputation off of nothing. They send out a ton of beats, and if some J. Cole rapper happens to record some random, throw-away verse on it, that producer then says “Worked with J. Cole”, even tho J has NO idea who this producer is. It doesn’t matter that the song wasn’t on an album or even officially released. Their whole production reputation is built on that. I had producers who weren’t even any good trying to charge me thousands of dollars for their beats because they could list a bunch of rappers who had rapped over their stuff. Sad state of affairs.
By the way, I wasn’t taking shots at anyone with this verse. I did have certain producers in mind when I was writing – as a point of reference, at least – but it isn’t a shot. It’s how the game is played. I can’t blame them for doing it. It’s like the Yankees. There’s no salary cap in baseball, so why should they hold back just to make it fair for everyone else? It’s the rules of the game. I can’t hate, but I don’t have to agree.
Cus that’s how the game go
Me and MC Yo could have the same flow
And spit the same on a record
But if he has a big name on his record?
Then once they catch wind
DJ So-and-So gonna help him get spins
Then he starts charging for sixteens
And I’m back at the crib writing again
Maybe I’m naïve, but I do believe that fans’ll get it right in the end
So unless I have the contacts to contact an artist who already has a contract
And get him on tracks, then it really wouldn’t matter even if I was the single hottest rapper on wax
Same as with the producers. This entire industry is now based upon the name. And I understand why. A blogger is trying to raise the profile for his blog. He isn’t a charity. And if his inbox is full of hundreds of different no-name rappers sending in their music, it’s difficult to sift through it all and find the gems – especially when the blog is usually a side gig. So having that name feature stands out. The blogger listens because he’s a fan of the artist, and in turn will post the record because he knows fans of that artist will at least check it out. It isn’t the best way to do things, but I completely understand it.
Think about it this way: if John was recording “Sorry I’m Late” on his own, or with YZ, would ANYBODY have even knew it existed? It isn’t a knock on him at all, it’s the state of the industry. I happened to have some tremendous contacts in the industry. If I didn’t reach out to Marsha Ambrosius, Needlz, Nottz, 88-Keys, Skyzoo, etc., would hiphopdx have reviewed it? If I wasn’t doing interviews to build relationships with artists and blogs, if I didn’t have 5,000+ followers, who would’ve listened to SIL? It would’ve been just another spam link that some unknown rapper was sending out. And funny thing is, the music might’ve been great. But no one would’ve given in a chance. They barely gave it a chance even WITH all these features. So yes, we played the game.
I tried to fill the album with artist who had name recognition, but also FIT the album and made sense. Joell Ortiz was the first artist I targeted. He had a name, his lyrics were incredible, and he fit the theme of what we were trying to convey. We cut off a bunch of bigger named artists and producers because they didn’t fit. So, here we were, playing the same game that I was mocking in this verse. It goes to show the irony in the lyrics. We tried to balance it the best we could and not sell out. But at the end of the day, we were still conforming.
They say that time is money and money is time
If that’s true, then I do lose of mine
From hard times to paradise
It’s like I gambled life on a pair of dice – twice
Cus like even if I win
I need to double down then throw ‘em again
Dealt a two-seven – off-suit – all in
I win – then bet red – and watch the ball spin
Then I watch it all end
This, so me, is one of my favorite things that I’ve ever written. I’m talking about all the time that John – and myself – has invested in music. Time that he’ll never get back. That’ll be a recurring theme throughout the verse. “It’s like I gambled life on a pair of dice – twice” – these lines are about defeating the odds and testing the limits. Also, pushing your luck. He gambled everything on one roll of the dice – and if he wins, he’s going double or nothing.
Even after he wins all that, he goes and gambles on a hand of poker. For those who aren’t familiar, a 2-7 off-suit (meaning a 2 and a 7 that aren’t the same suit) is the single worst hand you can be dealt. It has the lowest odds of victory. Yet, even with all this stacked against him, he’s going all-in (means he’s betting everything on the worst odds).
And this is the part that hits me the most. He beats the toughest odds imaginable – AGAIN – and then bets it all on a 50/50 shot based on luck (in roulette, you can bet black or red, odds or evens, etc. for a double or nothing bet). So basically, no matter how much luck he has, he’s gonna keep pushing and pushing until his luck runs out, which if finally does.
I feel like those few lines could’ve been an entire song on it’s own. Orel Hershiser once wrote a book, and he had an entire chapter for just one pitch. The thought process that went into a single pitch. That’s what these lines are. Maybe I’m just over-thinking it because they’re my words, but to me, I could’ve written a book about just those lines.
My back’s against the wall – I hope the wall bends
Cuz now I’m in debt to the days, I regret
There’s no refund for the lost time I’ve spent
At the time, I meant to make it all better, wonder where it all went
Try to tell wifey I did it for my daughter
Keeping with the theme of lost time, the verse starts to move towards personal regrets. At the time I wrote this song, I didn’t have any children. I was able to channel John’s emotions though. All those nights he spent working on music instead of playing with his daughters, I tried to display the sadness. This whole segment is about the insecurities. Questioning himself on if he made the right move. Trying to justify in his mind that it was all for his daughters as opposed to himself.
But my life was like an ATM that’s out of order
I couldn’t get anything out after everything I put in
Two lines simply saying that it isn’t really a fair trade. It isn’t quite what he had expected.
Trying to get my foot in
Try to squeeze each limb
Just enough that my face peeked in and my arm reached in
I’m a go 100% til the clock reach 10:00
I love these few lines because they’re so visual. I took a cliche (getting my foot in the door) and made it visual. Not just getting a foot in, but trying to squeeze each part through the door. Trying so hard to get into an oversaturated industry. It’s like, he’s just close enough that he can see it, but can’t quite take that next step. Ironically, that’s exactly how it turned out. Close, but couldn’t take that last necessary step. Might’ve been subconscious foreshadowing, on my part.
But you can see in those last two lines that he’s getting tired. Tired of chasing. Chasing the dream is becoming overwhelming. He has a little bit more left in him, but obviously the journey has left him tired. This is his story of how taxing it can all be.
I can feel my daughter’s heart beatin’
I’m the captain of the ship, but when the water leaks in
I gotta change course cus the sea is deep
And I can’t wait until it sinks to see if she swims
I can’t wait til game over to see if we win
Not he really begins to wonder if he’s making the right decision. He’s putting all his time, all his money, into music. But what if he’s wrong? He looks at his daughter and realizes it might be too large of a risk to take. If he bets everything on music and then realizes it was the wrong choice, he may have already lost the one unreplaceable thing in this world – time. Time that he can’t get back. Time with his daughter. Raising his daughter is something he can never do again. Does he have the patience to wait it out or is he ready to change course and focus on his job and being a parent? An incredibly deep ending to a verse that could be the basis of a biography.