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I had a guy write me to say he interpreted the lyrics from "Verbal Intercouse" as "Smoke a gold leaf, a whole heap, nonchalantly," as opposed to the interpretation I give below "Smoke a gold leaf, I hold heat, nonchalantly." There's a similar dispute about another line below. I remember quoting a line to a friend I loved to a friend:


You never had no wins, sliding in these dens,
With timbs, and broke friends with Mac Tens.
You got guns? Got guns too,
Wanna battle for cash and see who's Sun Tzu?

My buddy promptly informed me that it was "Wanna battle for cash and see who sons who." After listening a few times, I've become convinced that he's right. But again, I love that space--how the oral aspect creates room for interpretation and meaning. Literature works the same way.  Whenever I do book readings my favorite portion is when people explain to me what the text I wrote actually means. I'm not being sarcastic. I think they have the right to interpret and see things that I did not consciously intend.

I don't know enough about art, theory, and criticism to say, but I could imagine this being broadly true--that there is a space between intentions and reception. For me, so much of the grey in between is where you find the juice. Someone was noting below that Raekwon is great, but just too dense. I used to feel the same way--I found Cuban Linx utterly frustrating at first. I felt the same way about "Rebel Without A Pause." Kenyatta was just saying that she never got into Rae, but she loved Ghost. I think that's because Rae's stuff was so layered. Ghost's was too, but he had such emotion that often you didn't care.

After some years though, I've come to really respect his work. I was looking for something literal. That's not what he was doing. Gotta say though, I never completely followed the narrative on this Ghost joint--awesome as it is.

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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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