28 May 2024

"Black Republican" (2006) by Nas ft. Jay-Z

I had already (ghost)written about Black Republican (2006) a year and a half ago, while working for Song Meanings + Facts.  Since then, I discovered that historically, there was such a thing as a "Black Republican".  So I decided to reexamine the track to see if there was any connection between its lyrics and the historical term "Black Republican".

INTRODUCTION

Nas's debut joint, Illmatic (1993), is the best pure-rap album I ever had the pleasure of listening to.  There's no R&B singing, no gimmicks and only one guest star.  Yet every track manages to keep the listener's attention throughout, which is the most difficult task that rappers, if not musicians in general, are faced with.

I haven't really been much of a Nas fan since.  He suffered from a professional malady that's common to rappers.  That's being a young, hungry artist with an amazing product at the beginning of their career but, once fame and riches are achieved, the impetus to generate quality output falling off.  But that's just my opinion.  I had a homey back in the day who would always argue that musically, Nas could do no wrong.

In any event, I haven't been compelled to listen to any of his albums since 2001's Stillmatic.  By the time that project was dropped, being Nas's fourth studio project, his music career was noticeably trending downwards.  However, the rapper remains a regular recipicient of Grammy nominations, including winning one for Best Rap Album for 2020's King's Disease.

WHAT WAS A "BLACK REPUBLICAN"?

Back during the days of American slavery, African-Americans could not vote.  Technically, most Blacks in the United States weren't even "African-Americans" per se, as it wasn't until 1870 that they became "equal citizens under the law".

That was right after the American Civil War, during a period known as Reconstruction.  That was also when African-Americans were first granted the right to vote.

It wasn't really like now, where voting advocates had to go out of their way to convince African-Americans to exercise that right.  Back then there were some Black people who were reluctant to vote, though apparently out of fear more so than simply not caring.

But by the looks of things, most were eager to participate.  These were people who experienced slavery firsthand and thus were well aware of the dangers associated with political power falling into the wrong hands.  So they knew what time it was.  In fact, African-Americans were so eager to vote during Reconstruction that militant racists committed murders or even massacres to dissuade them from doing so.

A group of prominent "Black Republicans" from the Reconstruction Era.

These days, Barack Obama, Joe Biden and co., i.e. the Democrats, are generally viewed as the political party sympathetic to the Black cause.  But that wasn't the case during Reconstruction.  It was rather the Republicans who embraced the African-American cause in the South, while the Democrats sought to retain White power.  So on one hand, you had "Black Republicans".  And on the other, there was the "Southern Democrats".

To reiterate, being a Black Republican in the South was extremely dangerous.  White vigilantes were still powerful enough to not only systematically intimidate Black voters in general but Black Republicans in particular, including those who were voted into office.

THE LYRICS

That's an interesting history lesson, but it doesn't appear that the song Black Republican is that deep.  Nas has always been known as an intellectual rapper, and Jay-Z's lyrics have become more profound as he's aged.  But most hip-hop artists don't appear as if they're adept in history.  And most hip-hop fans aren't looking for that type of content anyway.

It becomes more or less clear from the chorus that the homeys aren't referring to a "Black Republican" in the historical sense of the word.  For instance, the typical Black Republican of the Reconstruction era was not rich.  Most of them were akin to slaves who had just been freed after the Civil War.  So it wasn't like they had a bunch of "money... coming in".

Rather, Nas and Jigga refer to themselves that way as an analogy pointing to their wealth within the context of the present-day Republican Party.  Republican Presidents, like Geroge W. Bush and Donald Trump, are known for being from the upper, richer echelons of American society.  But to note, this track was dropped in 2006, before Trump became a Republican.  It also came out a couple of year before Barack Obama, a Democrat and friend of Jay-Z, became US President.

But that said, there obvously isn't anything serious going on in these lyrics, at least not from a political standpoint.  The hook isn't so much about the artists' wealth as it is their commitment to the 'hood.  The rappers set out to prove that even though they have made it, they haven't lost touch with their street roots.

The most-interesting passage is arguably Jay-Z's verse, because he uses the opportunity to poetically expound on a real-life fractured relationship with a close friend.  When I first heard this song back in the day, I thought that he may have been talking about his friendship with Nas.

Remember that at the turn of the century, shortly before this track was released, Jigga and Nas were engaged in a serious rap beef against each other.  Earlier, when I said that Nas's career was losing steam, what helped him gain some much-needed momentum was Ether, his classic diss track aimed at Jay-Z.  That's something I always like to point out when it comes to these rap beefs, which is that they tend to sell songs.

So when Black Republican came out, it was like a surprise release.  This was back in the days before internet usage became as ubiquitous as it is now.  So many of us didn't even know that they had squashed their beef circa the end of 2005.  It was the dropping of Black Republican, their first collaboration, which made that fact known to the world.

But the issue with that theory, believing that the first verse is about the relationship between the two rappers, is Jigga and Nas are from two different parts of NYC and did not grow up slingin' together, as put forth in the lyrics.  Both started their music careers circa the early 1990s.  And I would venture to say that both indirectly benefitted from the death of Tupac, who was a mutual enemy.  But there was never any indication during the 1990s that Jay-Z and Nas were actually friends.

Through the power of Genius, what has rather been concluded is that Jigga is rapping about an old homey of his named DeHaven Irby.  According to the lyrics, this is someone whom he profitably sold drugs with when they were teenagers.  But unfortunately, they were so successful that the likes of wealth and women destroyed their relationship.

Jigga never mentions DeHaven by name, but their former friendship has helped propel Irby into semi-celebrity status.  In other words, even though he and Jay-Z never buried the hatchet, DeHaven proceeded to make a name for himself by talking about their relationship and Sean Carter's pre-fame life.

In one of those interviews, he stated that Jigga has the tendency to 'overexaggerate' when it comes to his drug-dealing past.  That's an interesting observation within the context of Black Republican because, unlike Jigga, Nas isn't necessarily known as a hustler-turned-rapper.  But in his verse, Jones does imply at least once that he's moving weight (i.e. 'slinging pies').

Maybe, if that was in fact the case, Nas was referring to having gotten into the game after he blew up as a musician.  Rap is a genre which celebrates certain forms of criminal activity, including drug dealing.  It's a line of work that's extremely dangerous and therefore, in the eyes of many disenfranchised people, illustrates a willingness to put one's life on the line in hopes of making it big.  So it's pretty well known that most rappers like to come off as if they are or were street-wise criminals.

But Nas has never really been on it like that.  The narco implications aren't as strong in his verse as that of Jay-Z.  Nasir presents himself more as a survivalist and someone who is cognizant of the setbacks of coming up in the ghetto.

The cover art to Hip Hop Is Dead (200d), Nas's eighth-studio album.

THE INSTRUMENTAL

What really makes this track outstanding is its instrumental.  The lyrical presentation is exceptional, harping back to the era when Jigga was at his lyrical peak.  But the instrumental is one of those types that only the most-skilled rappers dare approach.

Black Republican is from Nas's 2006 studio album, Hip Hop Is Dead.  The track was co-produced by L.E.S., a musician who had been working with Nasir since Illmatic.  The other producer is Wyldfyer, who was one of the rapper's regular collaborators circa the late-aughts.

The instrumental of Black Republican is highlighted by a sample from The Godfather Part II (1974).  It slaps so hard that when Nas heard it, he knew Jay-Z would be down to jump on the track.

CONCLUSION

Nas and Jigga went on to collaborate on a few other tracks, though seemingly none as memorable as Black Republican.  The genesis of their previous beef dates back to Nasir failing to show up, as scheduled, to participate on Jay-Z's debut album, Reasonable Doubt (1996).  In more recent times, since 2005 and the subsequent dropping of Black Republican, they have become cool, even if not besties.

For instance, I still believe that Jay-Z may have been referring to Nas on the third verse of Thank You (2009).  By then, Nas had become known more as a rap legend than someone who was still dropping hot tracks.  And that's more or less how he's perceived to this day, besides being a successful businessman, though not on the same level as his fellow "Black Republican".

10 May 2024

KDP Store (Online Black-Owned Business)

KDP Store is an online shop hosted by Etsy, a reliable internet-based shopping platform.  Ken Divine, the proprietor of KDP Store, is someone I've literally known my entire life.  So once I saw that his new business was going strong and getting rave reviews, I offered to advertise some of his goods on Black Arts Review

BLACK-ORIENTED CLOTHING

Ken Divine is a longtime resident of New York City, and the majority of items in his shop are of a Black, Latino or American theme.  For example, here's the RGB (Red, Black & Green) Africa Reversible Bucket Hat.  It comes with matching socks, belt and necklace, the latter of which is available in two varieties.


Then we have the Puerto Rican version...

... as well as its Dominican...

...and American counterparts.

My personal favorite, which Ken just got into stock earlier this week, is the Ghana Flag Designed Bucket Hat.

In fact, I've been noticing that bucket hats are becoming increasingly popular here in GH.  It now appears that they may even be as ubiquitous as baseball caps.  So I'm hoping to get my hands on a few of these bad boys myself.

KDP Store has socks and different types of hats fashioned after the flags of a variety of countries.  At the moment, most of those countries are found in the Caribbean, as there are many people from the islands living in NYC.

RELIGIOUS THEME SHIRTS

I also wanted to highlight a couple of the clothing items big bro is selling, starting with the Religious Theme Shirts, which are inscribed with biblical passages, references or inspirations:


Currently, there are only different four types in stock, but I'm hoping that he gets more soon.

ANIMAL PRINT HOODIES

Another item I singled out to display are the Animal Print Pullover Hoodies with Ears,,,

...which are really cute, especially for females or children.

Presently, they come with a free downloadable photonovel which, besides clothing, is the second classification of items KDP Store specializes in.  I'm not going to delve into the photonovels at the moment, but Black Arts Review will be taking an in depth look at one of them in the near future.

DISCOUNT CODE

When I told Ken I intended to feature some of his products on this blog, he created a special discount code visitors could use to get 15% off.  That's extra cool, considering that the items are already moderately priced.  For instance, none of those highlighted above are over $20 (excluding shipping).

The coupon code made available to readers of Black Arts Review is MALSALE150.  That will get you 15% off most of the items in KDP Store.  However, it does not work on products that are already on sale, clearance or thrift at over 15% of their original price.

INTERNATIONAL SHIPPING

Ken has enlightened me to the fact that besides the US, he already has customers from "all over Europe, Canada and Australia".  To my knowledge, buttressed by Etsy, he's able to ship products to just about any part of the world.  For instance, I told him that lately Black Arts Review has been getting quite a few views from Singapore, China and Hong Kong, so maybe someone from those localities will be interested in making a purchase.  And he was like, 'no problem'.

I also informed him I wanted a few items sent to Ghana.  He told me doing so would be 'riskier' and obviously costlier but not impossible.

CONCLUSION

I advise interested readers to visit KDP Store, as the items featured on this post are just a scant preview of all that's available.  For instance, there's also women's wear and posters with original NYC-based photography in stock.  And if you do decide to make a purchase, don't forget to use the coupon code "MALSALE150" where applicable.

19 March 2024

"Carvinal" by ¥$ ft. Rich the Kid & Playboi Carti (2024)

Even if you aren't fond of Kanye West as a person, you have to give him props for being a prolific musician, as he's now been hard in the game for over two decades.  Yeezy is currently approaching 47 years of age, which is considered to be pretty old as far as rappers are concerned.  But you don't notice it with him as much as other aged emcees, because Ye makes more headlines for what he does outside of music.  Also, in recent times he has come to regularly work with younger artists, as he did throughout Donda (2021).

The cover art to Carnival (2024), the first song Kanye West
has dropped 
since 2011 to reach number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 .

That said, I was a bit shocked upon first hearing that Kanye intended to drop an entire album with Ty Dolla Sign (with the pair being collectively monikered ¥$).  One reason was because, even though Ty isn't that much younger than Ye, they do come from two different generations of rap.  Besides that, heading into this decade, it was as if West had more or less transitioned into a gospel hip-hop, with isn't Dolla Sign's forte.

I studied most of the songs on Donda pretty extensively and, all things considered, was never convinced that Ye had truly dedicated his life to Jesus.  But what I did respect him for was actually having enough clout to get a bunch of gangsta rappers to participate on what was, to a large degree, a gospel album.  I doubt if there's anyone else in the music industry who could've pulled that feat off.

In all honesty, I wasn't really expecting Vultures 1 (2024) to do well.  For a spell there, I didn't even think that Kanye would get around to finishing it.  But not only did he complete and release the project.  It instantly proved to be a major streaming success, "despite [being] independently produced and... initially unavailable on Spotify and YouTube" and with limited support from Apple. It also proceeded to secure first place upon debuting on the Billboard 200.  So by the time all is said and done, Vultures 1 may even end up outperforming Donda commercially.

KANYE GOIN' GANGSTA

Another reason you may forget Kanye's age, that he's nearly 50 years old, is because some of his raps of late, such as those apparently found throughout Vultures 1, sport the same type motifs and terminology that younger industry rappers rely on.  On Donda, due to the nature of the album and the fact that Yeezus was hosting it, it was as if the rappers he featured were challenged with dropping lyrics that were more meaningful than their braggadocious norm.  But more recently, it appears that West has rather opted to stoop down to their level, so to speak.

I believe that Kanye's divorce from Kim Kardashian forced him over the edge.  I know how emotionally devastating, world-shattering and embarrassing it is to be dumped by someone you actually love.  So imagine how Yeezy must've felt when that happened to him in front of the entire world.  Circa the Donda era, when it appeared that the marriage may still be salvageable, he was dropping songs about family and being a good husband and things of the sort.  But now, post-divorce and with tracks like Carnival, it's as if Ye has totally flipped the switch.

THE LYRICS

The nature of this song is what I like to refer to as lyrical pornography, even though the wording of Carnival is not as graphic as some of other raps which fall into that category.   Perhaps the fact that the rappers aren't, relatively speaking, going crazy with the sexual references is due to the Yeezus factor.  For instance in his verse, Kanye does make a profound observation in noting that "they served us the porn since the day we was born".  But he doesn't proceed to expound on the effects of that type of socialization, such as how it has led to a proliferation of songs such as Carnival which are replete with NSFW sexual references.

The title of the track is derived from a line found in the chorus which reads "she'll ride my d*ck like carnival".  That's a blatant sexual metaphor, albeit one which requires a bit of imagination to decipher.

My initial theory, since Playboi Carti and co. use the term "like carnival" instead of 'like a carnival', was that they're referring to the carnival celebrations held in places like the West Indies and Latin America.  To us horny dudes, those events are known for featuring scantily-clad women who basically twerk in public.  There's also this prevailing stereotype that the likes of West Indian women are better at 'whining' than their American counterparts.

That understanding of the title has been buttressed by Genius scholars, though they more so speculate that the rappers are be referring to 'a carnival', in the sense of the rides that are found in amusement parks.  And that may well be the case, since at the beginning of the second verse Dolla Sign notes that "she ride it like Six Flags", with Six Flags being a chain of amusement parks found in the United States.

From the intro, which is held down by a choir composed of European soccer fans backed by Playboi Carti, it is firmly established that this is an adult-oriented song, highlighted by metaphors pointing to gratifying sexual experiences.  There are other topics that are also explored along the way.  For instance, in the first verse, Rich the Kid drops a reference to cocaine, as well as the rapper alluding to himself being a gunslinger.  The second verse, as rendered by Ty Dolla Sign, focuses largely on the vocalist's wealth and fame.  But the permeating theme throughout the track centers on the sexual exploitation of women, not in a rapey sort of way, but rather how the emcees takes advantage of their groupies, if you will.  And it's Playboi Carti who manages to best stick to that topic during the fourth verse.

Even though Yeezy has more or less decided to take the gangsta route, his verse is still quite different - let's say more intellectual - than the rest.  Yes, he does make a couple of references to being the recipient of fellatio, while also alluding to his wherewithal to practice anal sex.  But the bulk of West's verse revolves around the troubled A-lister comparing himself to R. Kelly, Bill Cosby, Diddy and Chris Brown.

The interesting thing about Yeezy likening himself to Kells, the Cos and Puff is that all three of them have experienced or are currently facing a downfall due to, most simply put, being sexual deviants.  Meanwhile, Kanye himself has engaged in many questionable acts, but I can't say that I ever heard of any woman accusing him of sexual assault, as with those individuals.  So he sorta references the "Me Too" movement out of the context.

But in also namedropping Breezy, who's rather faced cancel culture more along the lines of being an impenitent gangsta, it becomes more obvious that what West is doing is likewise presenting himself as a famous Blackman, a once well-received celebrity whom the system has decided to persecute, i.e. blackball or what have you.  For example, according to MediaTakeOut, Kanye was recently banned from performing a free concert in Brazil due to "controversial statements he made about Adolf Hitler and Jesus".  Also to note, an earlier version of Carnival featured a sample of a Black Sabbath track.  But the band's frontman, Ozzy Osbourne, shut that down due to Yeezy having developed the reputation of being an antisemite (though he still got away with using the sample indirectly).

But again, unlike the celebrities he mentions in the verse, West isn't catching hell due to the way he treats women or as a result of criminal behavior.  To the contrary, when Kanye was married, he appeared to be a pretty faithful husband, especially for someone of his standing.  And he has never been arrested for anything really serious or sexual.  West has developed the tendency to rather face criticism for things he intentionally says or does in full view of the public.  But judging by the success of Vultures 1 and Carnival, he may well be "uncancellable", as some have argued.

THE VISUALS

One compelling observation concerning this track is that its cover art "depicts a closeup of a screaming and bloodied skinhead".  And the reason that's intriguing is because the song itself doesn't appear to have anything whatsoever to do with skinheads nor fighting per se.

The cover art is actually an image derived from the music video to Carnival, as assembled by a Jon Rafman, a Canadian artist and generated using artificial intelligence.  For the most part, the clip depicts what appears to be skinheads and rabid soccer fans, the overwhelming majority of whom are Caucasian, engaged in rioting.  Contrastingly, the rappers themselves are all Black, and the lyrics center primarily on the concept of sexual gratification.  So it's difficult, if not impossible to make a connection between what's being said on the track and what's being displayed in the video. 

THE AUDIO

Carnival has been singled out as one of the standout tracks on Vultures 1.  The instrumental, with the chanting in the background, is pretty unique.  Also, I would say the lyrical flow of the first two verses, as respectively held down by Rich the Kid and Ty Dolla Sign, is damn near perfect.  But as for Kanye's vocal contribution, even though his verse is the most-compelling lyrically, it sounds almost as if he's trying to imitate the rappers who preceded him.  In fact, if I didn't know beforehand that it was West rapping, I never would have figured that out based on the way he actually sounds.

Meanwhile, Playboi Carti's verse is more along the lines of what some people refer to as mumble rap.  That means for individuals such as myself, I wouldn't be able to make out all that he's saying without reading the lyrics. 

CONCLUSION

Some rappers evolve over time.  This is often necessary in the name of prolonging their relevancy in a musical genre where trends change perhaps more regularly than any other.  Relatedly, on this track Kanye doesn't sound like his usual self.  And whereas Carnival does have its moments, it isn't nearly as impressive or memorable as the hit songs from West's heyday.