More thoughts on T.R.O.Y.


Fred asked for the lyrics so here they are. Also below is the video. Hearing this song makes me sad because it really displays the sort of humanity that, as the 90s wore on, it just became hard to get away with in hip-hop. This is more about the business than the people. Pop music is, at its core, almost always hedonistic. And hip-hop was always targeted at the hedonism of young men. As time went on, I think, the business folks just excelled at pinning down the sort of things that occupy the thoughts of boys and men in their teens and early 20s--namely sex, money and power. I'm not sure how much difference there is between say Maxim and hip-hop at this point. Hip-hop may be more profane, but that's about it.

I don't know that T.R.O.Y. is the greatest hip-hop song ever made, but it ranks in my top five. It comes from a place of pure emotion--it's an ode to Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth's friend Trouble T Roy, a dancer for Heavy D and The Boyz, who died in a complete freak accident. But the beauty of the song--the incredible horn loop aside--is that C.L. expands it beyond the sort of soppy elegies put out by rappers grappling with death (Dead Homiez, Six Feet Deep etc.) and turns it into a portrait of an American family. And there are all kinds there--his mother, who had children by C.L.'s less than ideal father, Papa Doc who stands in for C.L.'s Dad (and gives him arguably the best advice ever recorded in music--"use your condoms and take sips of the brew"), his entrepreneurial Aunt Joyce, his car-collecting Uncle Sterling.

This song always hit me hard--it gives the sort of complete portrait of the black family that I so rarely see out in the world, and always, always makes me think of my own flawed and incredibly beautiful family. T.R.O.Y. is wholly unconcerned with giving a "positive portrayal" of black people--it just lays out out the unsensational truth. I spent most of last year working the last half of my memoir, and I swear, I rocked this joint nonstop. All I wanted to do--all I've ever wanted to do--was write something that hit people the way T.R.O.Y. hit me.

This is what I mean when I say hip-hop taught me how think and how to write. It was the first poetry I ever knew, the first attempt to capture something deep and unsaid about humanity, and do it in rhythm and in a condensed powerful form, that I ever heard. The great M.C. is like the author of a great sonnet--he operates in a constricted space, and works to get as much emotional resonance as possible out of every word. I learned that basic lesson first from Rakim and later from Nas, from C.L. Smooth, from Kool G. Rap. People who think these dudes are just picking up a mic and saying whatever should give T.R.O.Y. a few sustained listens, and see if they can do the same. I've been trying it for years now. I'm trying in this post you're reading right now. I can tell you, it's not easy.