Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Poetic Analysis of a Hip-Hop Song



Sorry I couldn't find a better, or official, video of this song, but for some silly reason, Lupe Fiasco doesn't have an official Youtube channel.

Anyway, people really seemed to like it when I did a Poetic Analysis of a Pop Song, and some even said they hoped I'd do it again, so here it is, with another song I like.

I love this song, but it's an excellent one to breakdown with a literary analysis, because it's full of subtext, symbolism, and metaphor. Keep in mind, that any analytic reading of any kind of literature is going to be highly subjective, so these opinions are heavily based on who I am. Here are the lyrics:

[Lupe Fiasco]
Uh.. yeah
He just sits, and watches the people in the boxes
Everything he sees he absorbs and adopts it
He mimics and he mocks it
Really hates the box but he can't remember how to stop, it
Uh, so he continues to watch it
Hoping that it'll give him something that he can box with
Or how the locksmith, see the box as, locked in the box
Ain't got the combination to unlock, it
That's why he watch-es, scared to look away
Cause at that moment, it might show him
What to take off the locks with
So he chained himself to the box, took a lock and then he locked it
Swallowed the combination and then forgot, it
As the doctors jot it all down, with they pens and pencils
The same ones that took away his voice
And just left this instrumental, like what

Okay, so on the simplest level, and this might seem obvious, but it's deeper than it first appears, the box is television, or the internet. If you didn't notice that at first, I'm sure you see it now. But on a more fundamental level, beneath the foundation, if you will, this song is about consumerism, media, marketing, and propaganda. It's about the standardization of our youth, and how we are telling them who to be, what to wear, and what to buy.

He sits, and he watches the box (media in any format), and anything he sees he adopts it. He is a consumer, especially a young, impressionable consumer, and he is aware he is being manipulated (he mocks it), and he hates that he's being manipulated, but he's chained to the box. This is an essay on that fact that the messages are all around us. Billboards, airbrushed magazine covers, blinged out pro-athletes and rock-stars. It's everywhere.

He's scared to look away, because he's convinced that he can discover a way to transcend the box, from within the box. This is the paradox of media and control. Because, realistically, you can buck the trend, be a creative artist or musician, not fall into the hole of a number two pencil multiple choice bubble test, make something new and unique, but then you need the box to be able make any money doing it. It's a necessary evil. Or is it?

The doctors are us. The parents, the teachers, the ad execs, the CEOs, the politicians. Everyone who is telling him what he needs to do, what he needs to buy, and who he needs to be. We are taking away their voices.

[Chorus: Jonah Matranga + (Lupe)]
And he never lies (he never lies, he never lies, uh)
And he never lies (uh, he never lies, he never lies, no)
And he never lies (he never lies)
Cause he never said anything at all

When I first heard this song, I thought the chorus said "daddy never lies," and I was all prepared to go into how daddy was the media, in a kind of big brother reference, but then when I looked the lyrics up, that argument wasn't going to work anymore.

You can laugh at me now.

[Lupe Fiasco]
He just sits, and listens to the people in the boxes
Everything he hears he absorbs and adopts it
Anything not coming out the box he blocks it
See he loves the box and hope they never stop it
Anything the box tell him to do, he does it
Anything it tell him to get, he shops and he cops it
He protects the box, locks it in a box
when he goes to sleep, but he never sleeps
Cause he stays up to watch it, scared to look away
Cause at that moment, it might get stolen
And that's the last of the boxes
So he chained himself to the box, took a lock and then he locked it
Swallowed the combination and then forgot, it
As the doctors jot it all down, with they pens and pencils
The same ones that took away his voice
And just left this instrumental, like what

Much of this is repeated from the first verse, but there are some new ideas. For those who don't know, cops it is slang for buys it. But then things get worse. He locks the box inside another box (like a TV in an apartment, perhaps), and starts to get paranoid. Clearly you can't steal the media. Someone might take your TV, but the message is still out there, all you need to do is look around. So what's he afraid of? I would argue he's afraid of losing his identity. So many young people (many, but not all) identify themselves and their personalities by external, surface things like clothes and jewelry, and all their little screens. If you've ever had to take your child's iPod away so that they could consider their behavior for a while, you know what this means.

[Chorus]

[Lupe Fiasco]
(Anything at all..) He never lies
Uh, and you can't tell me just who you are
You buy new clothes just to hide those scars
You built that roof just to hide those stars
Now you can't take it back to the start
And you can't tell me just who you are
You buy new clothes just to hide those scars
You built that roof just to hide those stars
Now you can't take it back to the start

This chorus gets a bit more overt. You don't have to have physical scars to want to hide something that's on the inside. We all had identities when we were young, skaters, gangsters, nerds, band-kids, jocks. We want to fit in, it's human nature, so we find a group that we have something in common with, and we conform. But it's not that simple. We are not only what we wear, or what clique we hang out with. We can't see the stars of who we really are, because we build so many barriers to keep that person hidden.

[Chorus]

[Lupe Fiasco]
(Anything at all.. anything at all..)
Uh, and you can't tell me just who you are
You buy new clothes just to hide those scars
You built that roof just to hide those stars
Now you can't take it back to the start
And you can't tell me just who you are
You buy new clothes just to hide those scars
You built that roof just to hide those stars
Now you can't take it back to the start

You can't take it back to the start, because you're only born once. You only get one chance to define yourself, obtain knowledge of self, and make that first impression on people.

What I think Lupe's trying to say in this song, is that we need to be ourselves. We need to stop telling everyone that white and skinny is the only kind of beautiful, that expensive cars and diamond earrings are the only proof of success, and that everyone should want to be just like everyone else.

At least, that's one man's interpretation.

27 comments:

Francesca said...

We sure need to be ourselves, people nowadays hide their true self just to please others, so much phoneyness around. I am following you from Rome, Italy but I am actually from Sicily.

farawayeyes said...

Love this one. It's what I 'preach' continually to the kids I work with. Lead don't follow. They got a kick out of your last analysis, can't wait to show them this one. I'll see if I can record some of their responses and send it to you.

welcome to my world of poetry said...

A very creative way of intertpreting a song, must have a go at that when I have the time, I love music so I'm sure it would be something extra I can do.

Well done most enjoyable.
Yvonne.

maine character said...

Cool song, like that Bradbury bit on TVs, and you read it righteous.

P.S. Glad to say I stepped out last night and checked out the stars.

Creepy Query Girl said...

it's amazing how much truth hides in some hip hop songs behind the back beat. Really liked your break down. I remember in highschool we used to study pink floyd lyrics as modern poetry.

Jessica Bell said...

Brilliant breakdown, Matt. Yes, we do need to be ourselves and I think artists of all sorts try to be, but get gobbled up by the media. Another idea (this is the way I interpreted it, in ADDITION, to what you're saying) is that musicians fall into a trap by signing record deals, and then they are molded by the media and the music industry into something that makes money, whether it's WHO they are or not. And then they can't escape what they have become, and they lose sight of the real reason they write music. Ya know? I'm not disagreeing with your analysis. I'm just opening your eyes to another possibility. Read the lyrics again, with this in mind, and let me know what you think!

Michael G-G said...

I keep saying to myself: "There's no end to that man's talent." May have to write a song about you.

If you've ever had to take your child's iPod away so that they could consider their behavior for a while, you know what this means. Been there, done that!! The screen is a mighty beast--and now taking it away is the ultimate behavioral modification tactic.

Candyland said...

I have to agree with both you and Jess. To me it's simple. He doesn't want to conform. Funny how songs mean different things to different people. I'm waiting on a Bieber song next. Those are DEEEEEEEPPP.

Emily White said...

I'm glad you're doing these posts because I always thought I hated this type of music. It seemed meaningless (or in some cases, offensive) to me.

But these are songs I really like. So thank you!

Johanna Garth said...

Oh I loved that analysis. We were just talking at my bookgroup last night about the way US media influence transforms culture around the world and how sad it is when people adopt our voice instead of their own.

Laura Marcella said...

Sounds like a good, positive interpretation to me!

Donna K. Weaver said...

Nice job, Matt.

"Someone might take your TV, but the message is still out there, all you need to do is look around."

So true! And it's been the message in books and films. It's actually what's interesting in places like China where they try and shut out the message, but it has a way of getting through anyway. The Internet has probably done more for the future of rights in China than anything else.

" You only get one chance to define yourself, obtain knowledge of self, and make that first impression on people."

I agree with the last part of your statement there, but not the first two. I think we CAN redefine ourselves. It just takes a life-changing event to trigger it once we're adults. That's the beauty of youth--they're so much more open to everything. As for knowledge of self, I'm not the person I was 20 years ago or even 40 years ago. I sure better not be the same in 20 years (if I live that much longer). =D

Carolyn Abiad said...

So hard to stand up to the system, especially since diamond earrings are sooo lovely. ;) lol.

But I really do agree with you, and I'm very glad kids are hearing this message from someone other than their parents/teachers.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I never realized you were such a hip-hop dude!

Sub-Radar-Mike said...

See now this is a series I can really sink my teeth into, that was a really interesting read. Have you ever used RapGenius? It's a similar (albeit less formal) version of this kind of thing.

L.G.Smith said...

This is what I used to love about my English Lit. classes. I love breaking this stuff down and interpreting an author's meaning. Nice job.

Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

I like your taste in music, man. And this is quite the cerebral analysis. You should be a professor in a music program.

Kelly Polark said...

This is quite a thorough analysis!

And yes, everyone should be free to be themselves, yo!!

Angela Brown said...

Wow, Matt. Once again you've done a wonderful job taking lyrics from the "dance jam" to apply it to the mind.

Excellent job.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

It's amazing how much sense the songs make when someone analyzes them for me. :D

I really do need to listen to lyrics more often. It's a great opportunity to study subtext, metaphor, and symbolism and then apply it to my own writing.

Clarissa Draper said...

I have never broken apart a song in so much detail. What a great job and how much we learn.

Arlee Bird said...

Your excellent analysis gave me a better appreciation for a song that I would have otherwise immediately turned off. I'm not a fan of this style of music, but the message here is a good one and you caught it. Good job. I still probably won't be listening to it again. It just doesn't match up to Schubert or Mahler or any of those dudes.

Lee
See my guest post at Breakthrough Blogs

Nancy Thompson said...

That's a remarkable observation. I would never even be able to pick up on the lyrics myself. And I don't care for hip-hop/rap. But it's nice to know there are examples of this type of music that promote individual thinking and question consumerism which I think will one day be our downfall if we're not more careful. Thanks for sharing! It was very interesting.

Kristen Pelfrey said...

I'm going to share this with my students.

Donna Hole said...

I mis-hear lyrics all the time :) I have to read the lyrics to actually "get" the songs.

This was cool. I enjoyed your interpretation. Pop is a hard genre to figure out - at least to this old country-heavy metal fogey.

But I love the rhythm of pop.

.........dhole

Dreadnaught said...

Lupe is a beast on a whole other level. Glad to see a fellow lupe fan. Followed.

tombelfort said...

Good post,I am beginner in music and like very much.I also concern on hip hop instrumental music