Saturday, April 15, 2006

Sugarman

Stillmatic's You're Da Man is significant for four reasons.

1.The first verse
While Ether will always get the most attention for its diss towards Jay-Z, and Destroy & Rebuild will always be seen as the principal piece in the Cormega beef, Nas' first verse on You're Da Man, though not as vicious as either, packs a strong punch just the same. From declaring that he doesn't "kill soloists, only kills squads", to taking on the Fuck Nas Coalition ("yesterday you begged for a deal, today you tough guys"), Nas then finishes with a succinct assault on Jay-Z. By painting the rapper homie once more as "a fan, a phony, a fake, a pussy, a Stan", he calls Jay on jacking his style, co-opting his friends, and even wanting to be with his girl. So though the dramatics of Ether are more memorable, You're Da Man was a quarry size dose of salt-into-wound itself.

2.The second verse
Staying on the Jay / Nas battle for another moment, in the Brooklynite's closing shot, Blueprint 2, he echoed a common complaint leveled against Nas, "'cause you don't understand him, it don't mean that he nice. It just means you don't understand all the bullshit that he write." If any verse could evidence that attack, it might be You're Da Man's second. With its surreal quality and highly poetic allusions, Nas' lyrics are image-laden and unique, "I saw a dead bird flying through a broken sky . . . Broads play with pentagrams in they vagina." But to simply pass this of as pseudo-philosophical garbledness does a disservice not only to Nas' lyricism but levels of lyricism within general rap music. The dead bird line is very Dali-like, admittedly an idea born out of some high, the relationship between Nas' own self-destruction and effort to escape the distress. Then a woman holding that 5-pointed figure of Satanism next to herself underscores Nas' portrayal of women as deceitful or even evil. These instances are merely figurative interpretations of the concepts of salvation and trust.

3.The unreleased stanza
If people had a problem with the construction of the second verse as appearing on Stillmatic, they didn't even hear it all. That verse begins there with "but wait a sec, give me time to explain." But what exactly is Nas asking you to let him clarify? Well, perhaps because its language was too bold and apt for misunderstanding, a stanza of six lines actually was meant to precede that point, but got taken off.

At church on my hand was a preacher's blood
Swallow dirt from a graveyard in need of love
I vomit blunt residue, I want revenue, dreaming
And pump lead at you devils trying to take my freedom
It drove me crazy the day I drank my own urine, my own seamen
With a .9 to my brain, but wait a sec, give me time to explain
As mentioned, apt for misunderstanding, overall, Nas seems to be illustrating a life of excess, the extremes gone to for self-satisfaction, and the poisons that come with this pursuit.

4.The hook
Large Professor's return to the world of the rapper Nas, after about a seven-year absence, stands as one of Stillmatic's highest accomplishments. His throwback beat for Rewind was the precursor to the sound Salaam Remi would experiment with on God's Son, but with You're Da Man, he hit his high point. The call of "you're the man" on the hook, and the ethereal quality of the string melody, plays in perfectly with the surreal quality of Nas' words. The hook also provides a catchiness and a great emotional moment, especially when performed live. However, sampling Sixto Rodriguez' Sugarman, a spacey folk number in its own right, it may surprise some that never on that original song does the phrase "you're the man" appear. Pay attention to Large Pro's chop, as "Sugarman . . . you're the answer" magically becomes "you're the man." It's a fitting creative touch to one of Nas' most imaginative tracks.

Nas: You're Da Man
Nas: You're Da Man (unreleased)
BONUS: Sixto Rodriguez: Sugarman
BONUS: You're Da Man sample exercise

8 Comments:

Blogger Fletch said...

A quick note about the "sample exercise." A while, while ago, on the old Nas boards, some poster there redid, as an example, the process that LP went through for the hook (which i just compiled into an mp3). Unfortunately, I don't remember the name of that person, so it's an anonymous credit, at least for now.

April 15, 2006 12:16 PM  
Blogger the prisoner's wife said...

this song & 2nd childhood are my two favorite songs on the album. i dig the old, soulful (and yet gritty) sound each of them produce. when i listen to both songs, i can't help but reflect on life & just think and think and think.

once again, you did a very good job breaking it down.

peace

April 15, 2006 12:48 PM  
Anonymous Colin said...

Fletch, do you have that 'Illmatic Collection' mixtape that consists of a bunch of the samples used in Nas' beats? Either way, this track was included and I loved it instantly.

Once again, good job on the explanation. Can't see how someone wouldn't understand the dead bird line though, relatively basic metaphor. I can see that pentagram line going over someone's head. I love this track, and was shocked when allmusic (in their 3/5 review of Stillmatic) thought that ""You're da Man" hits the heights of arrogance with a looped vocal sample repeating the title over and over."

April 15, 2006 3:21 PM  
Blogger Fletch said...

I don't have that particular mixtape, though I do have about 50 or songs that Nas' music has sampled. But yeah, Sixto made a really interesting song, and from what little and curious information I've found about him online, his career was / is just as interesting.

To see the fallout over the second verse and dead bird line, check out the link under "attack."

lol @ allmusic and "the heights of arrogance." (I actually recall a similar reading from another site whose name escapes me at this minute.) I think I've given up reviews of rap music from 99% of all media publications. Y'know, for Lent and my sanity and everything.

April 15, 2006 4:33 PM  
Anonymous Turenne said...

For some strange reason I didn't like the beat the first time I listened to it,but right now its my fave Nas track,he absolutely killed it with the second verse and that simple but almost harrowing LP beat is perfect for the imagery Nas creates.Up there with his verses on Eye for an Eye and Verbal Intercourse imo.

Its also incredible that anybody could think that those lyrics are difficult or complex.Says it all about the average rap fans intelligence.

April 16, 2006 2:03 PM  
Blogger neo said...

That to me my friends is what distinguishes producers from beatmakers...@ the creativity of the chop.

Wow..my respect for Large Pro just inched way higher than it was already..

April 18, 2006 2:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow... nice site. one of my favorite songs on the album.
"I saw a dead bird flying through a broken sky", that line was crazy.

April 23, 2006 7:28 PM  
Anonymous Stu -- Top Dude said...

I always thought "dead birds flying through a broken sky" was a reference to 9/11... dead birds = the planes, lifeless flying objects... broken sky = broken towers putting fire and smoke into the sky...

May 04, 2006 7:32 PM  

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