LIL’ FLIP / “Sunny Day”
Kalamu is always after me to do more hip-hop, and I’d like to, but unfortunately all my records and CDs are still in New Orleans. As a result, the music I usually talk about on Breath of Life is whatever I happen to be listening to at the moment. And as I may have mentioned before, I don’t listen to much hip-hop these days. That said, when I do listen to current hip-hop, it’s usually some ignorant-ass Southern rap stuff—probably not the sort of thing Kalamu has in mind. I’ve tried to figure out why I still like Southern rap while I find the glitzy East Coast stuff unlistenable and the gangsterish West Coast styles unforgivable. Maybe it’s because I’m from the South. Maybe it’s because these Southern cats, for all their sexism and materialism and machoism, are still doing what hip-hop did back when it was uniformly good—speaking to a local audience. Most of them aren’t trying to appeal to national audiences because they don’t have illusions of national success. Like Lil’ Wayne said once, he’s one sell-out record away from being famous…but unless and until that happens, he and his fellow Southerners are going to keep putting it down for New Orleans or Memphis or Houston or Baton Rouge or whatever other city they may represent. There’s something beautiful about listening to a rapper make references to things that only people from his city (or even his area of the city) really understand. As for me, I don’t have to understand to feel it. Sometimes, just knowing that there’s something there that means something to him and his people is enough to make me appreciate what a rapper is saying. There’s this other thing too. For me, a quality Southern rap record can be the gateway to existentialism. I know a statement like that requires explanation, so allow me to explain. Southern rap records seem to work on dual planes. The first is the obvious surface level. If the rapper is bragging about his cars and his women, then the meaning is, the rapper is proud of his cars and his women. Simple. But then there’s the tendency of Southern rappers to consistently drop non sequiturs. (A statement or inference that doesn’t logically follow its own premise.) It happens so often that a good Southern rap record sometimes seems like nothing but a string of words designed to connect one non sequitur to the next. Check it. One of my favorite rap songs right now is “Should I,” by Project Pat of Three Six Mafia fame (or infamy, depending on your viewpoint). The chorus goes:
Should I stay? Should I go? Or should I leave her? You ‘bout to turn this into some Ike and TinaThere’s so much incongruity and sophism in these two brief lines that it’s hard to know where to begin. First, Pat asks, “Should I stay” or “should I go?” A fair enough set of questions—over the course of time, legions of men have wrestled with the very same. But Pat follows up with, “Or should I leave her?” Thus creating a conclusion which—remember our definition—doesn’t logically follow its own premise. It’s a textbook non sequitur: Should I do ‘A,’ should I do ‘B’ or should I do ‘B’? In other words, it makes no sense at all. It also presents a question of significant existential complexity. That being, can one ‘go’ without leaving? Discuss amongst yourselves. Moving on to the second line of Pat’s couplet. I won’t address Pat’s sudden shift from the first person (“should I leave her”) to the second person (“you ‘bout to turn this…”)…rappers do it all the time and while it amuses me to no end, it isn’t directly relevant to the issue at hand. Said relevant issue being, how the hell can a woman confronted by her pissed off man be accused of creating a physically abusive situation? One wonders if Pat saw the same movie the rest of us saw. I’ve spent quite a few days driving around San Diego pondering the existentialist issue at the heart of this line. The question is: can a woman effectively beat her own ass? No matter how I approach the issue, I always come back to the same answer. That being, no. What does this mean? It means, in only twenty words Pat somehow manages to introduce not one but two wholly-formed and thoroughly entertaining non sequiturs. Even if the rest of the song was as dull as your average Top Five rap hit, those two lines from the chorus would be well worth the price of admission. But trust me, the rest of the record is just as perplexing…and for the same reasons. I love it.
We ball everyday like Cuttino [pause] Mobley I got a Cartier, but have you seen my [pause] Rollie?First, the pauses are brilliant. If you, like me, have only the vaguest idea of what a ‘Cuttino’ might be, the oddly-timed pause gives you an extra fraction of a second of time to consider the possibilities. Imported rims? Some new designer drug? A fashion line? You admit to yourself that you don’t know and right then Flip says, “Mobley.” Which clears up nothing. Now you have two words you don’t recognize instead of one.* The matching pause Flip throws in before Rollie is nice for symmetry, but also misleads you into thinking he’s about to say something of particular interest. I happen to know that Cartier is one of the world’s more expensive and exclusive brands, mainly because every time I hesitate near the entrance of the Cartier store at the Fashion Valley Mall, the suits who work in there look at me with the white male equivalent of “Negro, please.” (And given the state of my finances, they’re right. They’re so right.) So, as I wait for Flip to finish his rhyme, I’m wondering what magical item he might have in store for us. Some previously-unknown and highly esoteric luxury brand, no doubt. I’m sitting there ready to fire up Google to see exactly how many zeroes our corn-rowed hero dropped on his latest piece of shiny exotica and he says…Rolex. Rolex?! Jeez. Everybody has a Rolex. So the line makes no sense. There’s a theme emerging here.
I stay high, like a telephone pole** And I roll on Vogues and pimp yellow-bone ho’sI roll on Vogues and pimp yellow-bone ho’s? Good Lord. That’s so goddamn ignorant it’s funny. I’m sorry, you can call me what you want, you can force-cancel my subscription to Utne Reader and ban me from Whole Foods, but that’s funny stuff. It just is. Not that I don’t have a problem with it. I just happen to be the multi-faceted sort of individual who can find something funny and morally reprehensible at the same time. The layers of ignorance in that one line run so deep, you have to peel at the thing like an onion just to get to a decent starting point. Let’s give it a shot anyway. I get the feeling that Flip, if pressed, would accept that ‘ho’ is a generally unacceptable way to refer to a young lady that he, um, dates. But as we’ve already established, he is Really Truly Not Giving A Fuck and therefore doesn’t care whether his preferred terminology is acceptable or isn’t. Along the same lines, I get the feeling that Flip views ‘yellow-bone’ as simply an adjective, no more no less. Trying to explain to him why that particular choice of words is pretty much just as offensive as ‘ho,’ would probably get me nowhere. Then there’s the whole thing about making a list that includes drugs, wheels and women…as if all three are of equal importance. (Actually, I know lots of guys of various socio-ethnic backgrounds who wouldn’t quibble with that list. Maybe it’s not just a Southern rapper thing.) And I won’t even get into the history of color consciousness in Black America or into what Flip’s preferred type of [cough] ‘ho’ might mean for him, for rappers, for our society, blahblahblah. Those are my objections. I’m still laughing though.
Whatever, my nigga ‘Cause young niggas still dyin’ Hollerin’ ‘bout, “Hanh? Nigga, what? “Hanh? Give a fuck / Nigga, what?”Only on a Southern rap song could something like that actually be considered a lyric. And I’m still trying to figure out what Bleed is getting at. My best guess is the whole thing is intended to communicate the attitude of the young niggas who are still dying. The “hollerin’ ‘bout” would be a colloquialism communicating that what follows will be a quote and the “give a fuck” is probably a truncation of, “I don’t give a fuck.” In the King’s English:
It’s hard to care, my friend Because so many kids are still being killed And their attitude is, “What did you say? What? “I don’t care about you or anything else”If that’s not it, I give up. Trying to figure out Bleed is enough to give you a headache. This is, after all, the same dude who describes himself (in the same song) as “a funkadelic, psychedelic reinterpretation of the third kind walking around the world blind trying to touch something.” Now if that’s not a ‘Hanh? Nigga what?’ moment, I don’t know what is. —Mtume ya Salaam * I’m just kidding about the Cuttino thing. He is, or was, the starting two-guard for the Houston Rockets. I say ‘was’ because he got traded to Orlando. And then to Sacramento. And then he signed a big free-agency deal with the Clippers. ** Now I don’t mean to nitpick, but the only part of a telephone pole that actually is high is the top of it. I guess Flip could’ve said, “I stay high like telephone wires,” but that wouldn’t have rhymed. Result? Non sequitur #4,080. I rest my case Exhibit A (read Mtume’s brief above). And, though this case is without any redeeming social value, nevertheless, dear members of the jury, in your deliberations please consider how funny and fascinating are Mtume’s descriptions of the intellectual wizardry and wordplay of Southern rap, thereby directly illustrating why I want Mtume to write about rap more often. If he can make an existential argument for this shit, imagine what he could do with some real music. I rest my case. —Kalamu ya Salaam P.S. Mtume, you ever consider that my man might have been (subconsciously or, more likely, accidentally) using a double entendre with the telephone pole image: 1. As a simile to denote how much intoxicants, stimulants, or hallucinogens (or combination thereof) he uses (and probably was using at the time of the recording). 2. As a phallic symbol to denote the size and firmness of his physical endowment. I only think that way because I’m a poet and therefore can make a case for almost anything, no matter how trifling! ;->)
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