Sunday, March 12, 2006

3-Gun Tactical

In 1994, Organized Konfusion released their sophomore effort, Stress: The Extinction Agenda. Two years after that, Nas came with It Was Written, followed later in 1996 by 2Pac's Makaveli. Each of these albums featured their respective rappers personifying either a bullet or a gun, the mechanics of the streets. While Young Noble of The Outlawz has noted that Pac was specifically influenced by Nas' work, I'm not aware of any specific revelation by Nas about O.K. (but because of their Queens connection, it might not be a stretch to suggest that there was a conscious relationship between the two). However, this isn't a "who bit who, who influenced who, who referenced who" saga. All three of these songs are notable in their own right.

Stray Bullet
Blessing a beat that's busy but not disjointed, the pulpit-authoritative voice of Pharoahe Monch first booms in. Tracking the troubling path that is a bullet's natural course of action, he, and later Prince Poetry as well, describe the scenes of the projectile's destruction. The bullet inevitably loses focus from its intended target and is later flanked by "family." From the house party to the operating room, captured so precisely, the stray's travel is a trip that only ends one way. The flows of both Pharoahe and Prince Po are rushed, intense, mirroring the very character of a flying bullet. Capitalizing upon the speed of their delivery and the scope of their story, worn-out emotional pleas are avoided; this exercise is ultimately more scientific, cold and calculating, perfect for the subject they're trying to explain.

I Gave You Power
DJ Premier's piano notes and strings strike in an ominous sense, sampled in quick repetition, as if to suggest that the cycle of violence is immediate and unrelenting. Whereas Stray Bullet might have zoomed in close on a measurable trajectory, Nas pulls out, portraying the way of the gun as it treks not just over a Queens blacktops but across the country ("Ohio to Little Rock to Canarsie"). Like some deadly Toy Story scenario, the gun is described not only in use, but in its context, in its world of weapons, as it rests, in company with grenades and techs. From its specific physical description ("my abdomen is the clip") to the digits of a scratched-off serial number, this life is depicted in startling clarity. Nas tells it as a firearm that's not only tool, but, taping into its mental state, it's a conscious being, haunted by its sole purpose, with no real controllable recourse to prevent what shames it so. "Damn."

Me and My Girlfriend
Previously the rappers' weapons of choice have all been presented in the first-person and characterized as masculine. 2Pac flips that, panning left, in a Mickey and Mallory move that plays the gun as a ride-or-die female companion. Also differing from Stray Bullet and I Gave You Power, both of which explicitly state the personification at hand, Pac lets the listener on primarily through creative wordplay ("bought you some shells when you turned twenty-two"). In a heavy voice, contrasting the acoustic guitar, he traces an infatuation grown from adolescence, one of "finger fucking" and "arguments and strays." Overall, his gun is shown as having more bravado and less regret than prior depictions (ironic given its feminine shape). However, the ghostly hollowed hook and sentiments of desperation hint that this lifestyle is born out of ugliness only to reproduce more.

Each of these tracks go beyond their novel concept, successfully executing in various fashions: Organized Konfusion's up-close science, Nas' world at large, and 2Pac's male-female relationship. While I cannot claim to be without bias, I Gave You Power stands the stronger song for me. With a purposeful arc to its storyline and effective emotional resonance, plus a great Primo beat, Nas' tale leaves the most lasting effect.
Beat up and battered, they pull me out
I watch as niggas scattered, making me kill
But what I feel, it never mattered
When I'm empty, I'm quiet
Finding myself fiending to be fired
Nas: I Gave You Power
BONUS: 2Pac: Me and My Girlfriend
BONUS: Organized Konfusion: Stray Bullet


Anonymous proof111 said...

good comparisons

i heard pac rap on the beginning of that stray bullet beat... i dont rememeber the name of the song...but the hook was a sample goin like "m-m-mobbin like a muthafucka"

crazy how each of them took the same concept and flipped it 3 different ways and u cant even say that anyone bit off anyone...thats hiphop right there


March 13, 2006 7:03 AM  
Anonymous ganghadin said...

man great post! i gave u power is probs the fav nas track for me. premo production was great and what a beat to go with the vocals. man you dont see 'rappers' these days spit like Nas does!!
keep the gr8 work up fletch

March 13, 2006 1:26 PM  
Blogger easye7 said...

I Gave U Power, the reason why I am a Nas fan.

March 14, 2006 9:14 AM  
Anonymous Colin said...

Weird, I think I Gave You Power is overrated. The concept is great, but when it comes to the execution there's nothing special. It seems like he came up with the concept and then thought he didn't have to do anything else. On the other hand 2Pac had a little more subtlety and creativity in lines such as the aforementioned 'twenty-two' line. Me and My Girlfriend stands as the best song here I think.

Fletch, I was on vacation and missed the 'A Few Good Niggas' link. I don't have that, but that beginning of the verse there sounds VERY familiar. I know I've heard it somewhere else. Can you think of anywhere else it showed up?

March 17, 2006 3:26 PM  

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