Morning Coffee

I didn't sleep that well last night and woke up feeling rather fickle. Guess that's means it's time for to change my opinion on The Greatest Hip-Hop Song In History. Yesterday we went with barbarian angst and proto-feminism. Today we'll go with the distinctive irony of American imperialism and  sucker MCs.

The extended metaphor has a deep tradition in hip-hop. There's of course Common's "I Used To Love Her," as someone pointed out yesterday Nas' "I Gave You Power," and Mobb Deep's "Drink Away The Pain." I'm lukewarm to the first (too earnest) a little more enthralled by the second (hard not to love, "I see niggas bleedin runnin from me in fear\stunningly tears fall down the eyes of these so-called tough guys, for years.") and much more in love with the latter. The awkwardly awesome cameo from Q-Tip comes like a left-hook (the aim of Oswald) from the days before there was something called "backpack rap."

But my favorite invocation of the extended metaphor is easily Company Flow's "Patriotism." You really could go crazy on thickness of these lyrics:

You up against -- Jesus Freaks, formin corporations  with Young Republicans 
Indelible NATO force hidden agenda, puppet governments 
I'm lovin it. Keep the people guessin who I'm runnin with 
Control the population and hide behind sacred covenants

My usual beef with these sorts of rhymes is they actually don't go deep enough, and are little too satisfied with the device, so satisfied in fact, that the actual lyrics are bent to serve the extension of the metaphor. But El-P is never hamstrung by the technique. Many of his best lines feel like they could have fit in any other battle-rap or freestyle. ("Your bitchy little policy dogs don't even phase my basic policy to bomb smarter\My Ronald Reagans crush Carter.) The metaphor saves him--not the other way around. 

Chuck D pioneered the art of merging the battle rap and political critique. In Chuck's construction he battled the FBI the way other rappers battled MCs. It was slick statement--Chuck was so beyond the competition that he'd gone beyond meta-battles to actual ones. El-P took that concept and ran with it, inverting it so as to say that he is as ruthless on the mic, as the American state is on the world-stage:

You just stepped into the spectrum of paranoid word rainbows 
Thinkin you sick with a sihlouette, burn transit cop out his plain clothes 
I'm America. This is where the pain grows like poppies 
In a Field of Dreams I paid for, I'll burn it down if operated sloppily. Copy?

The hottest shit on Soundbombing. 

All snark aside, one of the greatest lyrical performances I've ever heard. My only regret is present it to you in this form takes something away. It should be heard sandwiched between the Beatjunkies scratching this and "1999." I keep wanting to hear Talib say "Just relax, slow down..."

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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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