“C.R.E.A.M.” (Wu-Tang Clan)

C.R.E.A.M.: “cash rules everything around me.” Laid back, groovy sample goes round and round, demonstrating no exit from the money nexus. All sides of town the “New York Times-side” or, better, the Wall Street Journal-side. Inspector Deck: “Living in the world no different from a cell.” Late in the track, the sample pauses, opening a hole. Escape route implied but can only be conceptualized from the within (no outside position for too easy moralizations….cf. The O’Jays’ “For the Love of Money”).




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“Let’s Organize” (Organized Konfusion)

The only organization going on here is to break through the “battery” of “flattery” which promotes rap for affect-ive community building. This is “straight coffee” that can make everyone act like an “army brigade” because it only takes an “ounce” for “you to bounce.” Much too powerful for anyone, track revels in its ability to both “lynch” the listener and “jack off wack MC’s”; the less pity, the better. Theory of organizing: the bigger the game, the less we have to “toke” for our minds.


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“Shook Ones, Pt. II” (Mobb Deep)

As a remix of an earlier, forgotten single often described as “sinister” and having “stakes in the streets,” it’s the claim that the trax is an example of “rap vérité” which proves (unintentionally) helpful. From jump, Prodigy exploits this: the listener is “stuck off the realness” of affect-less characters with gang loyalties. Yet the stakes of realness aren’t in the streets; they reside in those who are slumming it, vicariously rehearsing the rags-to-riches-to-rags (-to-grave) persona (and keeping their “shook” sensibilities at bay). But there’s no “halfway” engagement when “react[ion]s” between those of “no relation” are all this world asks of you. Moments of anxiety are nested within, manifested through questions of doubt (“do I deserve to live[?]”), motive (“thirsty for recognition”), and legitimacy (“I’mma live illegal”). Read against voyeuristic tendencies, the rub: “I’m creeping” beyond the “petty thinking” and watching you watching me.


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“The Big Payback” (EPMD)

Rapping’s not a “tribe,” but even if it was, it wouldn’t be “fancy” or adorned with the lust to enforce tribalisms. Impossible, but it’s the strategic maneuver that allows for agency: claiming minimal racial identity instead of having a “Romi-et-oh or Juliette romance story” over it. “No stunts,” “sorrow,” or “pity.”


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“Amen, Brother” (The Winstons)

Urgent, celebratory, and kinetic, this trax—the second most sampled in history—is trans-temporal, extending backwards and forwards. Most known as the vessel or container for the “Amen Break,” it’s also a participant in citation as well, incorporating musical figures from previous songs. This “groove robbing,” as Kodwo Eshun deems it, runs in a deeper, more sustained way than we’re led to expect, too. It goes back to “Amen!,” the gospel tune, which can possibly be traced back to The Presbyterian Hymnal. After that, things get murky. The key is whether we dutifully follow the tendency to work against the secularization of the song. After all, it is testimony. The Winstons’ addition, however, of “brother” in the title issues a challenge: must a profession of faith be directed infinitely outward or can it be shared, agreed upon, enjoyed while avoiding a consolidation into an aspirational grouping? Yes, but only if such an agreement eschews the power to confirm or elect.


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