Lyrical Breakdown

Good morning! Atleast for me it is. “Cy Young” is making steady rotation, feels good to have this much done of Sunday Meds already! The full tape we drop at the end of it is going to just be that much better.

Blah, more Monday. Worst day ever to exist. Everyone knows that Monday feeling… That just waking up out of bed, realizing it’s the beginning of a ridiculously long week feeling. Oh well, atleast Thanksgiving is coming up soon! My favorite holiday making this week incredibly short. How can it not be great? All you do is eat, watch football, and hang out. Not to mention, the leftovers are incredible.

Anyways, this week I wanted to switch up a little bit and do a breakdown of a song most of you heads out there know very well. It’s my favorite verse from Nas, a perfect intro to the whole idea of Illmatic, and Nas’ life in general. The lines are incredibly written, but what really stands out about the verse is how he places the rhyme schemes.

I woke up early on my born day, I’m twenty years of blessing
The essence of adolescent leaves my body now I’m fresh in
My physical frame is celebrated cause I made it
One quarter through life some God-ly like thing created
Got rhymes 365 days annual plus some
Load up the mic and bust one, cuss while I puffs from
my skull cause it’s pain in my brain vein money maintain
Don’t go against the grain simple and plain
When I was young at this I used to do my thing hard
Robbin foreigners take they wallets they jewels and rip they green cards
Dipped to the projects flashin my quick cash
and got my first piece of ass smokin blunts with hash
Now it’s all about cash in abundance, niggaz I used to run with
is rich or doin years in the hundreds
I switched my motto — instead of sayin fuck tomorrow
That buck that bought a bottle could’ve struck the lotto
Once I stood on the block, loose cracks produce stacks
I cooked up and cut small pieces to get my loot back
Time is Illmatic keep static like wool fabric
Pack a four-matic that crack your whole cabbage

Notice the way he switches between rhyme schemes. The first one he uses, he stops the rhyme in the middle of the sentence and let’s the rest of the sentence change the rhyme scheme.

Load up the mic and bust one, cuss while I puffs from
my skull cause it’s pain in my brain vein money maintain

This was a really new-age style of rhyming at this point, something that a lot of rappers used after listening to Illmatic. This style is frequently used by rappers such as Elzhi, at least around The Preface era.

The most important thing about this rhyme scheme is that it gives the lyricist a better grip on keeping his idea moving forward, but also constantly providing new rhyme possibilities. Basically, keeping the audience guessing as to what direction he will go next.

Got rhymes 365 days annual plus some
Load up the mic and bust one, cuss while I puffs from
my skull cause it’s pain in my brain vein money maintain
Don’t go against the grain simple and plain

So after he breaks the sentence in half, into two rhyme schemes, he then continues with the following rhyme scheme for the next two lines. All while providing multisyllabic rhymes along the way, something not done frequently at the time.

This is why a lot of people compared Nas to the God MC, Rakim. In early albums such as Paid in Full, Rakim can be seen doing the exact same technique. Once again, using specifically multisyllabic lines. Back in the 1980’s, this was even more unheard of.

Search for a nine to five, if I strive
Then maybe I’ll stay alive
So I walk up the street whistlin’ this
Feelin’ out of place ‘cuz, man, do I miss
A pen and a paper, a stereo, a tape of
Me and Eric B, and a nice big plate of
Fish, which is my favorite dish

The reason why Illmatic inspired future generations of rappers is the exact same reason why Rakim inspired Nas so much. The God MC simply paved the path for rappers like Nas to use this technique and flesh out stories and personal backgrounds.

Nas gives us a look into true street life, painting pictures so vivid that can be understood and relatable to anyone in any situation. His story of moving on from his past life of crimes to making rap music is quite a noble one, especially since he was only 18 when he made the record.

I switched my motto — instead of sayin fuck tomorrow
That buck that bought a bottle could’ve struck the lotto

This one is my favorite line on the album, because honestly it’s just great advice. Simple, but yet so powerful.

Stay dope, ladies and gentlemen.

-Ronzo

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