Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Things Come Alive- A Personification Playlist

Personification is a technique that has given hip hop some of its most inventive, intelligent songs. (Wikipedia: “a figure of speech that gives an inanimate object or abstract idea human traits and qualities, such as emotions, desires, sensations, physical gestures and speech.”) You could damn near make an entire outstanding mixtape out of songs that took aspects of the urban experience and literally gave them a voice, so that is precisely what I have put together for you, the customer. Enjoy.

1. Common Sense- I Used to Love H.E.R.: From what I could find and recall, Personification Rap was introduced in 1994 through a trio of brilliant, classic songs. Common’s “I Used to love H.E.R.” (The strained acronym stands for Hip Hop in its Essence and Real) off Resurrection was the most famous, imagining Hip Hop as a woman gone astray. The song was a hit single that introduced Common into the collective national consciousness and started a beef with West Coast gangsta rapper Ice Cube. This song has inspired several shitty retreads of the conceit that aren’t worth posting here, not to mention the film Brown Sugar, the worst thing ever made in relation to Hip Hop.

2. Jeru The Damaja- Can’t Stop the Prophet: East New York’s own superhero the Prophet chronicles his battles with former Oh Word interviewee Ignorance, as he runs around New York spreading mayhem. The Sun Rises in the East highlight ends on a dark note, with a climactic showdown at the Brooklyn Public Library. The Prophet walks into a trap, and we fade out to the sound of Ignorance’s gleeful, nihilistic laughter. Some men just want to watch the world burn.

3. Organized Konfusion- Stray Bullet: This song off Prince Po and Pharoah Monch’s 94 classic Stress: The Extinction Agenda is “I Used to Love H.E.R.”s gangster, less famous cousin. But as far as Personification Rap is concerned, “Stray Bullet” was more influential. The beat sounds familiar because it samples Donald Byrd’s “Wind Parade”, (with glimpses of “Nautilus”) which was also used by Black Moon to make “Buck ‘em Down”, a pretty good song you may have heard before. Told from the point of view of a bullet, the song would go on to inspire two better known hip hop gunplay classics.

4. Nas- I Gave You Power: Call me a tasteless 80s baby raised on Scorsese and Rap City, but while acknowledging the fact that this song wouldn’t exist without “Stray Bullet”, I prefer it over the original. Nas brings a big cinematic vision to this big cinematic beat on this big cinematic album. It’s melodramatic and self serious, but what can I say, I will always have a soft spot for all things It Was Written.

5. 2pac- Me and My Girlfriend: The contrarian internet dickhead labeled rapper of average intelligence takes a concept to its sick, twisted, over the top conclusion. Combining the concepts of “Stray Bullet” and “I Used to Love H.E.R.”, this NRA anthem is a song Hillary Clinton can get behind. Let’s just say 2pac really, really likes his gun. As an unfortunate aside, this song would be reincarnated as “03 Bonnie and Clyde”, a Beyonce collaboration that is hands down the worst Jay-Z song ever made on the worst Jay-Z album ever made. It actually might be the worst song ever made. It actually might be worse than “Brown Sugar”.

6. Mobb Deep- Drink Away the Pain (Situations): In a lot of ways, this is my favorite song off “The Infamous”. While the rest of the album is exclusively bleak tough talk and gunplay, this song gives us a look at the young thugs during some much needed down time, which as it turns out is pretty much as fucked up and desperate as the rest of their dark existences. But Havoc, Snarky Nickname P and Q Tip take an interesting approach to substance dependency and materialism. The Hav and Tip production is sad and beautiful thanks to the Pete Rockish horn snippet taken from the Headhunters “I Remember I Made you Cry”.

7. Cam’ron- D’Rugs: Confessions Of Fire has a lot of great moments, but this might be the best. Cam’ron depicts his mother’s drug addiction as a shitty boyfriend, from Cam’s point of view as a child, eventually ending with Cam as another locked up dealer and his mother as a ravaged user. The hook is “Pusherman”, but kind of sucks thanks to some guy named Brotha who can’t sing.

8. Sticky Fingaz- Money Talks: Onyx alum Sticky Fingaz dropped his debut Blacktrash: The Autobiography of Kirk Jones in 2001. Full of interesting concepts, this was probably my favorite with all due respect to "What if he was White", featuring a geeked up Eminem at the height of his white guilt phase. Over what sounds like a beat made in someone's basement, Sticky puts himself in the shoes of the root of all evil, with Raekwon along for a little light hook work.

9. Styles P- Nobody Believes Me: In this age of comprehensive reviews of every last new release and wistful throwback essays of any even remotely noteworthy album, Styles P’s Gangsta and a Gentleman remains a slept on hood classic. DJ Shok provides one of said album’s better beats here as Styles converses with his knife, gun, weed and money en route to a homicide.

10. 50 Cent- Baltimore Love Thing: One of The Massacres few redeeming moments, “Baltimore Love Thing” is proof that when he’s not trying to round out his albums with pleasing pop pellets for every demographic, Curtis can still write a motherfuckin song. There is some truly sick word play on display here. This song is also notable because it discusses heroin, provoking the question “why does crack get all the drug rap love?”

11. Freeway- Goodbye (My Block): “Goodbye” would have been the finest moment on “Philadelphia Freeway” an album that boasted many. (Though some argue not enough) It was scrapped due to sample clearances, but presumably Kanye West tweaked Shirley Bassey’s rendition of “I wish you love” into a gorgeous space for Freeway to compare his block to a scandalous lover he has outgrown. (Kanye split the album’s production with Just Blaze. It’s impossible to locate an officially listed producer but this track boasts a quiet beauty that is definitely not Just Blaze’s big, orchestral sound. Plus, Kanye would later use Ms. Bassey for Late Registration’s lead single “Diamonds are Forever”) Over a somber harp and sped up vocal sample, Freeway’s three clever verses are perfectly paired as he bids a sentimental farewell to a part of him that clearly meant a lot at some point in his life. This song and “Baltimore Love Thing” suggest this genre is gradually becoming more clever and complex, who will deliver the next Personification Rap classic?

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