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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Thank You Genius: Operation Project English

Posted by Tariq al Haydar

by Tariq al Hayder



"For you to write new rhymes it is a must
But I come off with rhymes old as dust
Even as a speck of dust it existed
Ya got that?
Forget it, ya missed it"

- GZA/Genius

OK, it would be cheating if I just came out and declared that GZA is my favorite rapper. I have to take it back... See, back in the day, my boys and I were Westside-for-lifers, whatever the hell that means.

In fact, let me take it back even further: to 1995. That was the year I first heard Snoop's Doggystyle. To say I was blown away is like saying pre-pregnancy Jessica Alba was not THAT ugly. I don't know if it was Dre's funky beats or Calvin Broadus's laconic flow or both, but I was transfixed. Everyday after school I would fire up my Super Nintendo and listen to Doggystyle until nightfall. Occassionally, I did homework. I pledged my alleigance henceforth to all things Death Row. I wasn't alone, either: all my boys and I greeted each other with fingers twisted into W's. Geeky, I know. What can I say...fuckin' teenagers. But it was good that others shared my nerdiness: Bashar, Rio, Firas, Ahmad (aka Batman) and especially Dodi.

See, Dodi and I were more hardcore than the rest. We bought Laker jerseys. We rooted for the Raiders. Westside, baby. Dodi would take me aside, and with a mischevious twinkle of the eye tell me about the Clubhouse. The Clubhouse was a fictional place where all true Westsiders hung out. It was basically the two of us, Tupac, the king of all music, Snoop, Kurupt, Daz, Dre, RBX, Warren G, Stretch, a young Lamar Odom and Cesar fuckin' Sampaio, for some reason (remember him, Alan? #5 with Brazil? Dodi is not mentally stable). Basically, the members of this imaginary Clubhouse (us included) spent their days smoking weed, making gangsta rap, playing dominoes and cards, "entertaining" lovely females and drinking Alize and Hennessey. And Dodi would sometimes speak of the Westsiders in mock-exasperation, like thus:

Dodi: Man, the guys are pissed at TQ!
Me: Why? Dude is cool, man.
Dodi: It's just that all he says is "Westside!" Like the other day Kurupt was preparing a DMX diss, and Snoop and Lamar Odom were playing Tekken, when Cesar Sampaio said: "Hey, senors, we need to get some grub!" and TQ said "Westside!" So Snoop suggested Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles, but 'Pac wanted In n Out. And for some reason, Omar Epps stopped by and insisted on getting take-out from the Ivy. Finally, we all settled on Arby's, and when we asked TQ what he wanted to eat, he just kept saying "Westside" like a fucking parrot. Overkill, man.
Me: I meant to tell you...we need to let Tim Brown into the Clubhouse.
Dodi: Westside.

So yeah, we were all about the Westside. And I HATED Biggie. In fact, I hated EVERYONE 2Pac ever dissed, which means I hated 93% of the population of the Earth. And then I heard "Triumph."

Thank God Pac was cool with the Wu. That song changed me, musically. The song my boys called "I Bomb Atomically". Inspectah Deck's opening verse was especially intriguing; I mean, a dude was rapping about "Socrates philosophies"? Wow. Ear-opening. And slowly, the Westside's grip on my soul began to weaken. I even liked Biggie's "You're Nobody Till Somebody Kills You", which killed my soul a little.

New rappers began to enter the Clubhouse. It wasn't just Westsiders anymore. Even Jay-Z got a pass when he dropped Blueprint. Eminem was allowed in, but both the Batman and Dodi argued that his membership be revoked after his duet with Elton John. I begged that they forgive his transgression. Batman said he didn't really care as long as we let in Bone Thugs N Harmony.

I was in love with the Wu. Method Man was my favorite. I would drive around, eat Chicken Flamers from Burger King and listen to Enter the 36 Chambers. To this day, I associate Meth's gravelly flow with grilled chicken sandwiches with extra mayo and pickles. So where does the GZA figure in? Well, to quote the man himself, I guess "with age and experience my reason ripens".

See, I realized that lyrically, GZA may or may not be the best battle-rapper out there, and he may or may not be the best story-teller out there, but he had a peculiar relationship with words. To illustrate what I mean, let me take it all the way back to pre-Islamic Arabia. The ancient Arabs had markets where poets came to perform. The really bad-ass poets became judges, and they decided which poets won and brought honor to their tribes and which ones 50-Cented up the joint.

One prominent judge was nicknamed, fittingly, the Genius. One day, two very skilled poets came to do battle in front of the Genius: a woman named Khansaa' and a man called Hassan. Both were supremely talented. When they delivered their verses, the Genius looked at them both and then turned to Khansaa', smiled, and calmly uttered: "No owner of ovaries has ever impressed like you have."

Khansaa' smiled and replied "You'd do well to find someone with only two testicles on my level!"

The Genius laughed, but Hassan saw this as an insult directed at him, so he shouted "You know what, Genius, you have no right to judge us, because I'm a better poet than YOU!"

The Genius smiled, put his arm around Hassan's shoulder, and whispered "Nephew, perhaps you CAN surpass me one day, but let me ask you this, can you match this:"

And then he dropped a single verse of poetry, off the top of his head, which only maintains a faint glimmer of its majesty in translation:

You are like the night, which will inevitably reach me/ Even if you perceive a vast schism between us

Hassan dropped his head and moved along.

This struggle for verbal beauty, for aesthetic perfection, is inextricable from the Arab psyche. In fact, when Muhammad came with the Qur'an, one of the reasons so many people eventually embraced Islam was that it was widely recognized that it was IMPOSSIBLE to produce a literary work in the Arabic language which could even rival the Qur'an aesthetically. Even Muhammad's enemies conceded this point. And they took a strange approach: they urged people to fill their ears with cotton, because Muhammad's superior words were "sorcery". How else could an ILLITERATE man produce a work of such beauty.

Poetry, the love of words, is so ingrained in Arab culture that even Osama bin Laden tries to pass himself off as a poet (He's a very bad one, incidentally).

But I digress.

Anyway, back to the GZA/Genius. He reminds me of the other Genius. I feel like he's an old man who collects words like seashells. You see him alone on the shore, and you think to yourself "What's wrong with this dude?" But if you inspect him closely, he picks up a shell, twirls it around for you, and shows you part of a living creature, when all you noticed before was a pretty rock. And he does this by structuring an entire album on a chess metaphor (Grandmasters), or by playing with words for whole songs, whether those words are the names of celebrities ("Fame"), record labels ("Labels"), animals ("Animal Planet"), NFL teams ("Queen's Gambit") or magazines ("Puplicity"). Just look at these sample lyrics:

Puplicity:


"Rap lords, swing swords, SLAM microphones, shatter BILLBOARDS" (SLAM mention!)

Animal Planet:

"The owls are private eyes that watch from the bark
Black panthers are the militant who strike in the dark
Porcupines had a rep' for sticking everything that moved
In areas that the rhinos and hippos approved
And the giraffe was a look-out for gorillas in the mist"

Fame:

"Paul +Pierce+d in the heart as the crowd pushed
Acting alone... Drew +Buried More+ bones
of the victims, three blocks from Jim's +Brownstone+

Queen's Gambit:

"Her ancestors were CHIEFS, who ran with running deer
On the sail with the SEAHAWKS, who battled the BUCCANEERS
The REDSKIN garments, was suede coat liners
Held rare coins, frequently sought from gold miners
They were hard working warriors, we call over timers
Shot plenty arrows at COWBOYS and 49ERS
Her interesting background, but quite unusual
great for a script, but out of bounds for a musical
She told me to call her, if I came to town
I started TEXAN her, soon as my plane had touchdown"

And sometimes it's not even that complex. The Genius himself recognizes that "the significance was not the vulgar applause on entrance, but the feeling at exit: COMPLETION OF A SENTENCE". Sometimes it's simple; just raw metaphors and similes:

"My enemies get cooked like eggs when they scramble"

"I slash like a hyphen"

"Lyrics are weak like clock-radio speakers"

"They're stingy, like they got short arms and deep pockets"

"Unbalanced like elephants and ants on seesaws"

"It's a wide entrance, small exit like a funnel/ So deep it's picked up on radios in tunnels"

So when it comes to wordplay, GZA describes it best; he's an athlete:

"Run on the track like Jesse Owens
Broke the record flowin, without any knowin
That my wordplay run the 400 meter relay
It's on once I grab the baton from the DJ
A athlete wit his iron cleat in the ground
Wildest nigga who sprint off the gun sound
The best time yet still 7.0
Swift flow made the cameramen clothes blow"



Thank you, Genius.

36 comments:

AR said...

Cesar Sampaio brings back memories,his goal against Scotland flooded into my mind the minute ai read.That was a special tournament,because it was the first World Cup in my life where I had no rooting interest.

The Blueprint made you a fan of Jay-Z?Really?

People 2-Pac had no problem with:
2-Pac
God
His sister
Whoever invented low-riders.
The leather vest crafters of the greater Los Angeles area.

THAT'S ABOUT IT

BTW I think 2 Pac is more of a rite of passage to listen to,his raw energy and unbridled passion gets you hooked,you discover other artists.You discover that 2-Pac,lyrically isn't that good.I rarely listen to much Pac anymore,but just because he's not the best doesn't mean he's not the most important.

TADOne said...

This was.....in-fuckin-credible!! Let me digest this for a few and I will come back with a deeper comment.

Tariq al Hayder said...

What you said about 2Pac pretty much encapsulates how I feel about him to a T. Exactly. Nicely put. Although you forgot one person he didn't have beef with: Jada Pinkett (not sure why).

And yeah, The Blueprint was a fucking classic. Why?

Hursty said...

wow..... wow. that was amazing. wow.

TADOne said...

There will never be another Wu, just like there will never be another GZA. It's sad really. I've tried to spin around in my head when exactly lyrics ceased to matter in the hip hop universe? I imagine it was right around the time record labels stopped caring about 'artistic form' and only promoted what sold in retail form. These days that is dumbed down lyrics, catch phrases, and catchy club anthems. I miss the true hip hop of my youth. But I digress.

Back on topic, GZA was a true word master. He may not have said the most intricate of rhymes, but his rhymes made you have intricate thoughts. Much like a philosopher, he made you think after you listened. Like the sea shell story mentioned, that is a perfect analogy and very clever.

The only West Coast rap that appealed to me was NWA, a young Cube, Ras Kass, The Liks, and Snoop and Dre. I liked Pac, but lyrically he was very limited. Regardless, these artists changed the game forever, much like Wu.

P.S.- Yes, Blueprint was a classic album. So was Reasonable Doubt. It would depend on my mood that day to choose one over the other.

Eboy said...

Fabulous!

TADOne said...

And here I thought Eboy would be disgusted because we weren't talking about Metallica.

Eboy said...

That's what happens when you are a white moron from Virginia Beach.

Tariq al Hayder said...

I'm glad u all like my brilliance. By the way, eboy, that "white moron from virginia beach" bluntness made me spit up some of the big cookie I got from Hardee's. Good thing I wasn't drinking coffee.

Eboy said...

Fortunatley, I know TAD doesn't fit that description, but somehow I think he enjoys my caustic retorts since he always throws out insults to me daily which he has to know by now will warrant a dim witted response from me. BTW, Hardees is nice.

TADOne said...

Technically, i'm FROM Detroit. And either place is better than New Jersey.

Eboy said...

I've been to Detroit, and I wouldn't let my shit walk around that disgusting waste of a city. For real.

BETCATS said...

Tariq. Superb medicore attempt at greatness. Just kiddin, it was decent. A man of my litterary genius appreciates your contributions. Retiring from SLAM must have been fun, have you joined AARP or collect social security yet?

TADOne said...

Not sure why I expected better from you or that comment, E.

Tariq al Hayder said...

BETCATS:

I've long since unretired.

Tariq al Hayder said...

By the way, I told my cousin about Eboy's "three shitty songs from three legendary bands" remark, so he smiled mischievously and said "You know WAY too many gay people, Tariq."

Eboy said...

Yes, guys that live by literary wisdom really know what it takes to be a man.

Tariq al Hayder said...

Eboy: It's called "coherence". Try it some time.

Eboy said...

"Real world" livin', when you give that a whirl for a while, get back to ME.

TADOne said...

When both of you are done cornball bashing, get back to me....

Tariq al Hayder said...

TAD:

I'm done. It's just that sometimes I don't know what the hell Eboy is talking about.

Example:

Me: Eboy, don't be an ass. We have company.

Eboy: Sardines.

Me: What are you talking about, Eboy?

Eboy: At least I'm not sardines.

Me: Are you calling me a fucking sardine, Eboy?

Eboy: Real world living. I like Bon Jovi.

Me: WHAT?

Eboy: I like sardines.

Me: OK. Moving on...

TADOne said...

LMAO @ Tariq! Ok, I spit up water at my desk. I'm going the hell home!

Eboy said...

Yes, coming from two people of your ilk, I can understand the comedy.

Tariq al Hayder said...

TAD:

See?

Eboy said...

Actually, I think mine could be better

Me: Tariq, are you intelligent?

Tariq: Well, let's see, I once was the Prince of Persia, but after a while I was bored of being the most intelligent person in the room.

Me: Prince of Persia, I thought that was a video game?

Tariq: No Eboy, you lout, in my part of the world, once a year a tournament is held for the person with the most creative stance on the progression of ecocardiograms. Whomever writes the best report of such is awarded a crown, a place in the sun and 4 boxes of Quaker Oats. Oh, and did I fail to mention that I can get an autographed photo of Dan Patrick sent directly too you for a nominal fee?????

Me: Tariq, you need to ride your camel a little further into the desert.

Tariq: Nonsense! My camel does 80 in a 40 all day long. I could be to the center of the earth if I outfitted her with bulldozer tits. YES, BULLDOZER TITS!!!!! What a great idea!!!! Yes, Eboy, I tell you, you give me such great ideas that I can only hope to one day travel to New Jersey to drink the same polluted tap water and breath the same toxic air to be just like you!!!!!!!

Me: Perhaps you need a girl, bro.

Tariq: Never!!!!! Woman are off limits to me!!!! I shall pillage and plunder the insides of my laptop to uncover the mysteries of their passionate fruits all while enhancing my increasingly growing brain with the ideas of a 2nd tier NBA star dancing in my head like two gyrating slut's from a 2 Live Crew video!!!!! Who's with me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Me: I was only kidding, but apparently your large brain has bl;ocked the sarcasm quadrant.

Tariq: Silly Eboy, you do know that sarcasm would only take up a miniscule portion of that acorn in your noggin, right? What a concept, Eboy trying to be a medical expert. I kill myself sometimes. Oh, I was actually thinking of little ray.

Eboy said...

Yes, as always, mine is better. Stunad's.

Tariq al Hayder said...

Eboy:

That was amazing. It made NO sense at all. I've never seen letters and words arranged in such a manner with an absolute absence of meaning. Kudos.

ALTHOUGH, you did stumble upon a very deep, undeniable cosmic truth: I DO need a girl. Bad. You don't even know the half of it. No punany for 7 years will make you imagine some weird shit. You may even temporarily think certain NBA players with sweet J's are the Anti-Christ. I'll tell you this, Eboy, my Colombian-chick-humping friend: When I DO get hitched, Lord-willing, my wife will be hospitalized.

Eboy said...

Well, I do still love you, so that should be easy to understand.

Tariq al Hayder said...

Eboy:

I also love you, albeit in a semi-sexual way.

TADOne said...

You guys should take this act on the road. Seriously.

Tariq al Hayder said...

TAD:

House of Blues in LA, November 14-21.

Hursty said...

get a room fellas....

Tariq al Hayder said...

hursty:

Eboy and I already have a room: 17C at the Days Inn in New Haven, Connecticut. What's it to you? We don't do threesomes. Sorry.

Tariq al Hayder said...

Just kidding.

Tariq al Hayder said...

We actually DO do threesomes.

TADOne said...

This got slightly off topic. I'm still waiting for AR's report on the Jigga concert.