Archive for the 'Emancipated Etymology' Category

MixWeek – Da Gif “Classick”

Da Gif is a Harlem emcee who made his way to Delaware and then back to Brooklyn to link with my fellows from The Dugout. Gif has an amazing penchant for soulful rap songs with sewn-in storylines. “No Born ID” is his lead single and stand-out effort off his album All Hail the New Nigga Nation. The way Gif’s voice, full of urgency and bluster, match a soul track is testament to his talents as a Black musician. Rather than approach a song with dry verses for preset instrumentation, he meshes thematic concerns with the funky or soulful part of his song. J Soul, producer phenom from Flatbush, Brooklyn, defines this imprint with his jumpy piano riffs (“Peace of the Pie”) and encompassing horns come by way of Big Raim on “Oh Love”. Gif makes the careful balance between conscious emcee and prominent songwriter by avoiding moralistic leanings, sticking to his compelling ghetto allegories. This evenness is particularly pertinent on “No Born ID” which details a confused college-aged woman in the throes of racial displacement because of her mixed ancestry. “Crop Boys” also assumes this mood of part-commentary, part-irony in its shared verses between Gif and Cavalier. Both artists talk about the impropriety of the U.S. government and the field slave/house slave mentality bent on dividing blacks but with a humorous undertone, almost staring in the face of righteous rappers like NYOIL who have not often matched lyrical skill with prophetic messaging. The song starts with “Uncle Tom arm in arm with Uncle Sam” painting a rosy picture of the spoiled marriage between duped blacks and their state-sponsored shepherds.

Download Classick here

Choice Cuts: No Born ID, Peace of the Pie, Oh Love, 2 Strong


French Rap’s Cred Takes Hit

Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s newly elected conservative, has some dark secrets…darker than anyone on the political stage would ever embrace. His son Mosey is a hip-hop producer. France has a storied filial relationship with hip hop music. Like American teenagers, French kids were always apt to admire the style of hip hop artists and the verbal wizardry within the music. Moreover, the tension between North African emigres living in the depressed urban centers of France and the government’s xenophobic, anti-immigrant sentiments. Sarkozy represents the latter. He has been famously racist, conservative, chauvinist about defending his perceived ideas of French nationalism. And even though hip-hop is part of the national fabric, Sarkozy would prefer to ignore it. Too late for that, it seems.

Poison is a group from France’s banlieues (ghetto) whose anti-Sarko raps blare loudly across those locales. Mosey penned a song for Poison during Sarkozy’s election run which decries his bias, and extols youth to reject him at all costs. Talk about close to home.

And in case you weren’t sure about the power of hip-hop’s influence on French 20-somethings, peep Tony Parker’s YouTube rap video. TP is a recognized rap star near the level of his basketball fame. Not to get all profound about it, but there’s some meaty cultural implications there.

Washed Out

I am a linguist by nature, by design. When I took an unintentional trip to the bing this fall, among other things I observed was the way language kept a lot of young black men afloat and familiar. A friend and cellmate asked me aloud what the term “these shits” and “them shits” meant in reference to the frequency of it during our overnight adventure. When milk and sandwiches were delivered in bulk to the cells, one person or another would say “I hate these shits” or “You got any more of them shits?” which jogged my friend because he was unacquainted with the slanguistics of “shits.” I took it for granted that I didn’t only know the meaning but could also say that I used it more often than not. Due to a patois parentage and plenty of time playing in Brooklyn streets, I’m a code-switching dynamo. So much so that I hardly give myself time to ingest the argot that I use, dissect, decipher. I also have the privilege of working with students between 14 and 18 years old who put me on to phrases and trends I wouldn’t otherwise be able to translate. One day I heard one of them using the term “washed,” to refer to besting someone during a basketball game. He said something like: “I went one way and [he] went that way. I straight washed him up.” Another student said the term in another way, using the term “plate” as the object being washed like: “If you f*ck with me, I’ll wash your whole plate.” I found that crazy because in The Tombs I’d heard the phrase used that way.

It made me inquire with one student about when he’d started using that term or heard it used. He told me heard it in September of this year, which made me think of the time (Septemberish) when I had paid society’s debt in The Tombs.

The Tombs

Dwight or “Whitey” was a young hustler from Harlem who rattled on about his hood triumphs, finesse with women and time spent in those captive environs. He used codes and street name substitutes I never heard. Most of his vaunts were composed in an endless stream of tongue-flapping. Whitey, the flashy Harlemite, used his lingual dexterity to mesmerize (and eventually wear down) the rest of us. He kept using that term “washing plates” too but with much more visceral vigor. I suppose he had more reason to be passionate, given the need to dominate his surroundings. Whitey’s rants kept me awake in two ways: their volume made it impossible for me to sleep while he talked and their delivery employed rhythms I could not overlook.

Then, I had to conclude that the jail slang spilling from Whitey was consequently trickling into the neighborhoods. Not a far stretch of the imagination but it gets deepers. While reading Michael Eric Dyson’s latest work Know What I Mean?, it occurred to me his theory about prison being a metaphorical “home space” for black males was dead on. Not only did that ring true in The Tombs, but also on the streets of East New York, where young men could use the language infused in them by other so-called homes. Prison is a neighbor to all of us. Even if you haven’t been there, some effect of it makes it to your existence. Sagging pants from removed belts is the most obvious of  the prison style signatures but something like language — intangible, morphing — makes its way through in other ways. Plate washing reminds me of military slang like “cleaning your clock” or “mop the floor,” something that extends from an activity. Could the prison slang for besting someone or beating him up  also come from a prison detail like dish-washing? No doubt there is a connection but its etymology might remain inexact until we find a way to trace phrases from Jailhouse to SchoolHouse.