Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Juice WRLD Speaks by Juice WRLD (2021)

The cover art to Juice WRLD's 2021 posthumous album, Fighting Demons

I remember back in the elementary school days, I had this Latino classmate named Phil.  Back then it was like all Latinos were referred to as Puerto Ricans, but now thinking back on his physical features, Phil may have well been Dominican.  Anyway his family lived on the first floor of the one of the buildings in the projects.  And on one particular day his father snapped and decided to mercilessly beat the sh*t out of him.

Now child abuse is, of course, common in the 'hoods of America.  But this was a real spectacle because, again, the family lived on the first floor, and Phil was running around screaming and pulling down curtains and all types of stuff, really and truly afraid for his life.  And who knows - maybe his father would have eventually killed him if the cops didn't eventually show up and take the dad away.

What people were saying is that his father suffered from "shell shock", which to my understanding is a slang term for post-war PTSD.  That is to say that, once again according to the 'hood, Phil's dad fought in Vietnam and came home mentally f*cked up as a result.  In the ghetto, even back in those days, there were a lot of gunshots.  So it's like a loud noise or something may have set Phil's dad off, making him think his son was a Vietcong or some sh*t.  And I don't know exactly what it is that Phil may have done, but I doubt it warranted a life-threatening beating and being embarrassed in front of the whole community.

His mother was also there and visibly afraid of intervening.  That's the thing about living in the 'hood, that when someone is committing a violent crime, even against their own child, if you then try to intervene they could rather turn their wrath on you.  And for those of you who are sitting there thinking 'well Philip must've been a bad boy' or something insensitive like that, let me reiterate that these days some ghetto parents are so deranged that they could even end up kill their own child for breaking an egg.

Mental issues are so rampant in the African-American community
that they're often ignored until too late.

So you may be saying to yourself, what does all of this have to do with Juice WRLD?  Well recently I was peeping out a track he dropped entitled Juice WRLD Speaks.  Of course Jared Higgins, aka Juice WRLD, died a couple of years ago in what is arguably the most nonsensical death in hip-hop history.  And on that note let me say that if you are dependent on drugs and prone to travel, it's best to just get your product wherever you land as opposed to actually traveling with it.

Personally I've always liked Juice WRLD, on top of having a general appreciation for emo rappers.  But what really caught my ear on Juice WRLD Speaks is where Juice basically says that the reason he's always harping on depression is because mental illness is not respected sickness in the African-American community.  He says so specifically in the context of "African-American males", but it's really African-Americans in general.  And that's part of the reason why it's so common for mentally-plagued people, like Phil's dad and Zarah Coombs, to be walking around undiagnosed in the 'hood, because Black people don't even have time to really think about mental illness.

Now this isn't something I'm just saying off the top of my head.  For instance, imagine this - you're a slave back in the day, and massa comes and tells you that he's selling your wife, child(ren) or moms away.  Of course any normal human being, even if they were socialized to believe that they are inferior, is going to spaz under such circumstances.

So in the evening you, the slave that has been offended, are chillin' with your other slave homeys and is like, 'man f*ck that - I'm about to get in massa's ass'.  Then what are your homeys going say?  'No, you need to relax.  There's really nothing you can do about it anyway.'  And in a way that kind of advice was actually true; even if you did kill massa for instance, given the system you still wouldn't be reunited with your loved one anyway.  And that, I believe, is the genesis of ignoring mental sickness in the African-American community.

Black people have had to endure so much psychological and emotional pain while being told 'to just deal with it' that eventually holding all of that stuff in and snapping accordingly became the norm.  And when you're a victim of oppression, you're not in a position to readily take out your anger against your oppressor but rather those who are equal or under you, such as your children or fellow oppressed brethren.


And I know I may have read a lot more into Juice WRLD Speaks than even Juice WRLD himself intended.  But in an age of seemingly neverending frivolity in hip-hop, it was refreshing to come across a track, even if a non-musical one, where an artist is speaking on a serious issue that isn't like Black Live Matters or a cause that's currently trending.  

And I do believe that Juice WRLD had a mission.  But I also believe that a lot of rappers start off or are convinced that they're fighting for some type of worthy cause besides getting rich.  But once the music industry gets through with them whatever meaningful messages, if any, will for the most part be buried underneath all of the commercial bullsh*t.  Or let's look at it like this - if Juice WRLD were still alive, then Juice WRLD Speaks probably never would have been released as part of one of his albums.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

"New World Water" by Mos Def (1999)

Mos Def (aka Yasiin Bey) is one of the more interesting personalities in the history of hip-hop music for a number of reasons.  For instance he had a pretty notable acting career before blowing up as a rapper, having even worked directly with Bill Cosby for a spell.  So even though he may not on par with the likes of fellow rapper/actors Will Smith and Ice Cube, Mos has had a respectable Hollywood career nonetheless, with one of my personal favorites being 2003's The Italian Job - a heist film that served as sort of a prototype for what the Fast & Furious franchise would become.  Then of course there's the fact that he legally changed his name to the Quran-inspired Yasiin Bey over 10 years ago.  So it's obvious that Yasiin isn't conventional as far as rap stars go.  Like if he possessed the disposition of a gangsta rapper, he probably never would have had the opportunity to act alongside the family-friendly Coz to begin with.

Black on Both Sides, the 1999 Mos Def album that
features New World Water.

But honestly, I've never been a diehard Mos Def fan.  I remember when first he came out as part of Blackstar back in the day, that for some inexplicable reason their songs used to irritate me.  However I was heavily into Black on Both Sides (1999), his debut and signature album.  Well, I used to at least put a couple of songs from it on repeat, one of them being New World Water, which I would argue is not only Yasiin's best track but also one that is semi-prophetic.

This song came out in late-1999, a moment in history in which the Western consciousness was grappling with concepts like Armageddon, Y2K and similar types of global catastrophes perhaps moreso than any other time in history.  And it wasn't unusual for all sorts of people to chime in on such matters.  Well Mos Def, being one of the more intellectually-inclined rappers, decided to do so by focusing on water, a most-fundamental and undeniably-necessary aspect of our everyday lives.  And considering some of the things that's been going on as of late in places like the western United States, again, some of his words seem prophetic.

For instance Yasiin sets off the first verse alluding to flooding, which has been a major problem in America and other parts of the world this year.  And the reason Mos Def comes off as a prophet isn't necessarily because he foresaw such events.  But more importantly, he implies that they are being caused by karma, if you want to call it that, as in nature being upset as a result of the atrocities of the Middle Passage.  The Middle Passage was the era in transatlantic history in which millions of Africans were forcibly transported across the ocean as slaves, many of them being lost to the sea.  But it can also be said that, by extension, the rapper is talking about all human rights' atrocities but especially those that involved like water transport.

Later, he flips the topic from flooding to drought.  Even back then, in 1999, Yasiin was noting how some summers seemed particularly hot, as in experiencing a lack of rainfall.  The rapper believes that the situation will get even worse as time progresses, so he's like be wise and prepare now.  In fact Mos Def sounds a lot like an African or other Third World resident, talking about buying a personal water-storage unit, which is a common practice in places like the Motherland though not so much in the United States.  But there really isn't any such thing as a tank that will hold a "20 year" supply of water.  That'd be more along the lines of a personal lake.  And even then, if there's a really severe drought it would probably dry up anyhow.  Also, you wouldn't want to leave water stored in a tank for too long anyway.  But, I digress.  And ultimately the point Mos Def seems to be making is that in this materialistic world we live in, people's mind are more caught up on frivolous matters than what's truly important, such as water.

Another point he's obviously trying to make, as introduced in the chorus, is that the water which is given to the public is heavily imbued with chemicals.  We all know that the government tends to add different manmade substances to the public water supply in the name of making it safer for consumption.  But in this respect Mos sounds like a conspiracy theorist, i.e. claiming that there's no so many chemicals in the water that it is becoming unsafe.  But taking into account that he mentions "the water table", Yasiin is also speaking to more general environmental abuse and how such negatively affects the world's natural water supplies.

The first hook also touches upon the concept of water being sold.  To put this viewpoint into its proper perspective, let's speculate that maybe some 50 years ago, the idea of selling drinking water en masse may have seemed incredulous.  But instead in places like America, where Mos Def comes from, bottled water is a major, increasingly-growing business.  And so it is, honestly speaking, in many parts of the Third World also.  And what Yasiin is saying is that such is necessitated by the fact that natural water supplies have become too polluted to drink.

Then, the bulk of the second verse is dedicated to illustrating various ways in which water is vital to human existence, especially in the areas of health.  It's almost like Yasiin is arguing that people tend to forget just how valuable water actually is, which is why they misuse it.  And he is most directly making this statement against "Americans" and similar nations that have it in abundance.  And another way in which their lack of respect for water is manifest is by how greedy, capitalist countries can go about destroying waterbodies in other parts of the world in the name of profit.  But of course as illustrated above, they tend f*ck up their own waterways also.

Mos Def is right; sometimes big business be straight
fukin the water up.

In fact as detailed in the second chorus, the situation has now reached a point where we can't avoid water pollution even if we wanted to.  So on one hand it's like the government may be putting all types of chemicals into the water supply.  And on the other, there are the multitude of pollutants that find their way into waterbodies through various other human activities.  And the way Mos Def sees it, at the heart of the problem would be greed of the corporate variety.  As a matter of fact one of the big stories in the news as I'm writing this post is this major oil spill that recently happened off the coast of California.  But of course this is the same oil that is used to power our cars.  So instead of putting the onus on big business, if Bey wanted to be more realistic he would have included the consumer in this equation also.


One of the big headlines in American entertainment at the moment centers on Dave Chapelle's latest Netflix special, The Closer.  Well if you happen to watch the show and are familiar with Mos Def's voice/style, you will notice that he's the one who's rapping at the beginning the special.  The name of that track is Tribute, and officially it is a collaboration between Yasiin Bey and Talib Kweli, aka Blackstar.  Even though the pair have only released one album together under the Blackstar moniker in 1998 and only one single thus far during the entire 21st century, it would seem that they have never officially broken up.  So it may be that the release of this track marks a new album Blackstar has coming out.  But under any circumstances Mos Def ripped it and apparently can still light up the mic, at the age of 47, if need be.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

"Weed Is My Best Friend" by Popcaan (2015)

I still remember the first time I smoked weed.  It was many moons ago on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, during the pre-gentrification era, in one of those deep New York City snows.  Sucking on a blunt proved to be not only one of the most-memorable but also, in hindsight, consequential things I ever did.  Indeed if I could go back in time to that very day... I wouldn't change a thing.  But at the same time, I'm not one of those types of people who tries to convince others who don't smoke ganja to do so.  My final conclusion concerning the whole matter is that there's nothing intrinsically wrong with smoking natural weed, but at the same time not having any dependency on it whatsoever is even better.

But as for those of us who may smoke, damn did Popcaan speak true in this one.  Marijuana is a strange drug.  Weed, I believe, is what they refer to as a social addiction.  In other words if a ganja addict is separated from the substance for an extended period of time, going into withdrawal he's not going to get physically sick like a crack addict, etc.  But maybe, like a nigga can't enjoy movies or sports anymore.

On top of that marijuana is a major form stress/pain relief, which is perhaps the most widely-recognized property of the plant when used as a drug.  Also, smoking a good strain when you're alone can make you feel like someone else is in the room , kinda like watching Friends.

And it is actually that latter aspect I think of the most as far as a social addiction goes.  Newbie smokers almost invariably blaze alongside others.  But if the habit persists throughout the years, one will also learn how to do so on his or her own.

Also keep in mind that we tend to become less friend-dependent as we age.  So it wouldn't be overly surprising if a tenured smoker does find weed to be his "best friend", or at least the herb maintaining a more constant presence in his life than homies or perhaps even family.

But Weed Is My Best Friend isn't based on that kind of a premise.  As a matter of fact as far as the different parts of this song go, it's only the first verse that is actually about weed.  The bridge and especially chorus rather focus more on how Popcaan isn't really into friendships.  He doesn't trust people, and relatedly he's not going to d*ckride anybody in the name of forming a relationship with them.  Also for good measure, he injects a bit of "real gangsta" ideology into the bridge by noting that true niggas, like himself, actually purchase the skunk rather than 'begging' for it.  Or maybe what Popcaan is trying to say is that he doesn't like dudes coming around him looking for free weed.

Then, as already noted, it is the first verse where he's really talking about the blaze being his "best pardie", with pardie, as far as I know, being a Patois way of saying homie (as is "chargie").  And since weed was decriminalized in Jamaica shortly prior to this song's release, now smokers like himself no longer have to worry about getting locked up for it.  Thus Popcaan is able to freely boast of riding around with a solid six pounds on him daily, which would actually be above the legal threshold, but still.

Later he sorta speaks to that social addiction I was talking about earlier, when Popcaan asserts that he's simply not happy without smoking.  And see how he's doesn't say that he feens for weed in its absence.  Rather it's like he just can't enjoy life, i.e. the true signs of a social addict.

And of course haters will label people like himself a "weed head" - a fact that the chanter recognizes in the second verse.  But as for what comes after, it would take someone more versed in Jamaican Patois than myself to really break it down.  However I do believe I get the gist of what he's saying in response to such individuals, which is that he doesn't really care what they think - a mind state which is obviously one of the benefits of being "higher than the plum tree".

And it is likely those same types of people who would read this song's title or hear its hook and instantly chastise it.  But again, I would argue that this track really isn't about weed per se.  That's not to say that this song isn't pro-marijuana, which it is.  But its main subject is actually Popcaan's distrust of people.  Then, the secondary topic would be how he personally doesn't feel right unless he's able smoke.  And lastly comes the weed, which the singer never really goes into detail about in terms of delineating its characteristics besides noting that it gets him high.



I remember reading a book some time ago that said the oldest evidence of marijuana being smoked was found in West Africa and dates back 5,000 years.  According to Google, "the first evidence of smoking pot" was found in China and goes back 2,500 years.  I also know as a student of anthropology that some Native Americans and other people of old freely used it, back in the days before blazing hemp was criminalized.  But it would also seem that even in past cultures where weed was smoked, people who did enjoy blazing herb didn't do it nearly as much as the likes of Popcaan.  Or the way I see it they weren't tasked, as we are, with dealing with the BS of living in the modern world.