Selling Drugs In A School Zone

While we're at it, I just want to take a moment to salute the poetry of Ghostface. I really need to pick up the latest. But from his debut on 36 Chambers to Fishscale, I don't know if I ever seen MC consistently raise his game as Ghost has. (Big Boi maybe?) It wasn't like he was awfulon 36 Chambers, and by Ironman he was in the top tier of the Wu. But now he's arguably the best MC they've produced.

One of my favorite joints has to be "Shakey Dog," a kind of stream of conscious narrative about a drug stick-up on gone bad. I think, but I'm not sure, that it's a riff of off Biggie's "Niggas Bleed." But allusions aside, the chaos of the piece--the multiple voices, the wild and seemingly incongruous details, and of course's Ghost's performance--really match the chaos of the track. Here's a scene halfway in, as Ghost and his partner Frank con their way into an unsuspecting drug-dealer's apartment:

"Yo, who goes there." Tony. "Tony, one second homey,
No matter rain sleet or snow you know you spose to phone me."
Off came the latch. Frank pushed me into the door.
The door flew open. Dude had his mouth open, frozen,
Stood still with his heat bulging. Told him
"Freeze, lay the fuck down and enjoy the moment."

Again the language--the archaic "Who goes there" and the comic understated threat, "lay the fuck down and enjoy the moment" work to create this soundscape of chaos.

"Shakey Dog," like some much of Ghost's best work, is about fear and desperation. It's fear and desperation rendered through the drug game, but the emotion of the thing transcends. Before she takes a big exam, or when I'm working on an article, it's nothing for me or Kenyatta to say to, "The moment is here, take your fucking hood off," or as Ghost says in Run, "When you see me coming, get the fuck out the entrance." "Run" is another one of those anthems--all desperation and illegality. ("If you selling drugs in a school zone, run." A quick shout-out to a great line, "Took off, made track look easy\Those walkie-talkies them DTs had, black, they was Rated PG") 

Again, I think hip-hop is too often seen as literal music as opposed to an art that often employs one of the most transgressive acts of our time--drug-selling--to touch the transgressive spirit in all of us. Who can't relate to the very American hustler spirit evinced by Jada when he says, "Clear twelve twelves that look like stuffed shells\I'm cutting niggers throats on the sales, while they puff els." I guess you'd have to understand the lingo to relate, but my point is that moralizing so often misses appoint. We are not wholly moral people, nor do we really want to be. Some of us need our art to speak to that ugly, essential truth.

The audio on the second video is awful--but it made me feel like I 19 again, so it warrants a link. I might have punched some one if I was in that crowd.


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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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