Sunday, April 09, 2006

We All Can Escape

I respect Steve 'Flash' Juon. From his the-Internet-didn't-use-to-be-as-open-as-it-is-today work with rec.music.hip-hop to his helpful-though-gave-have-a-horrible-write-up-to-IWW Rap Reviews, he's certainly earned his stripes. With all this in mind, what most people probably know him through, even if they aren't aware, is the world famous OHHLA.com. I have a love-hate relationship with that site however. I love it because although they don't have all the songs for Ridin' Dirty up, hell, they have some songs for Ridin' Dirty up, which, as an example, if you think about the amount of credibility people give Hip-Hop music in a general sense, and especially its lyrical content, is a feat in itself. And I hate it because its transcription inaccuracies couldn't even pass the test in Kid's Court. (I should, at this point, mention that I messed up lyrics on the second entry ever made here, so . . . but who really knows about constellations?)

Part of the reason for OHHLA's troubles is because it follows a user-submitted process, which is beyond understandable, but even in songs transcribed by Flash himself mistakes are made. Often times proper nouns are confused and replaced with words that may sound similar but make no contextual sense, slang and spelling are errant or overly "ebonicized", and even whole verses are off. In today's particular spotlight, we'll focus on the Just A Moment single mix and how the version presented on OHHLA, and piggybacked elsewhere, not only gets the lyrics wrong but skews the song's entire meaning and negates Nas' intended message.

Appearing originally on Street's Disciple, where Quan held down hook duties and two verses, when it came time for the third and final single off the double LP, Quan's second verse was replaced by a new one from Nas. While the Chic-sampled LES-produced beat, albeit mirroring Freeway's recent Hear The Song, still provided the same contemplative touch, the minions argued about Nas jacking what had originally started out a song by Quan and threw rocks at the new verse. For them, the track took a downgrade. I'm not going to argue which version is better, but I will defend the single release. The reasons I can surmise people were disappointed with Nas' new verse on the remix is that it was too short, commonly edited on radio and TV so that gaps on the song were prevalent, and, based off evidence from OHHLA, listeners just didn't hear it right.

OHHLA.COM version:
Photographs of lost memories,
On the block with shit and Hennessey,
Pictures of us in mock neck shirts,
Valentine nail 'n brown bags
Brothers like to brag bout their cousins
That are locked in the system,
We all for victims, we all called Christians
The Islamic faith, restore all our faith
Barb wire torn, all brick wall but we all can't escape

Actual lyrics:
Photographs of lost memories
On the blocks with blunts and Hennessey
Pictures of niggas in mock neck shirts
Ballantine Ale in brown bags
Brothers like to brag 'bout their cousins
That's locked in the system
We all fall victim, we all call Christian
Or Islamic faith to restore all our faith
Barb wire and tall brick wall, but we all can escape

After Quan's interlude memorializing fallen rappers, everyone from Pac to Left Eye, Nas makes the perfect transition with his "photographs of lost memories" line. And he doesn't stop by merely mentioning these old Kodak moments, but, with an observant eye, he gives the pictures dimension. Describing the corner cuisine, Nas puts blunts in their hands and drink in their circle and fits them with the classic b-boy mock neck look. Next comes the first noticeable OHHLA error: what's a "Valentine nail"? Street soldiers rocking red hearts on their fingers like so many Japanese women? They're holding "Ballantine Ale", that old 40 oz. special, green brew and brown bag. Then Nas connects these lost memories with those similarly lost, i.e. incarcerated. The notion that "brothers like to brag 'bout their cousins that's locked in the system" hits at a couple ideas: prison life being family life; the glamorization of metal bars; and "locked in the system" suggesting a permanent clench. By playing into this type of thinking, whether deliberate or not, "we all fall victim."

The next set of lines appear the least understood. The majority reaction against "we all call Christian or Islamic faith to restore all our faith" was that the word "faith" had been used too often. But, in this case, "faith" and "faith" have different connotations, and Nas makes a rather smart connection between them. He's illustrating that people who've become victims, to a biased court, to the block, to whatever, often need their faith restored. You need to believe that what you're doing isn't futile, that there's an underlying reason for you being here. For many, renewing faith in life is satisfied by finding faith in God. God is said to show you a path and remind you of your purpose. So, by subscribing to a religious faith, here a Christian or Islamic system of values, you regain your overall faith in life. They're different concepts playing into the same reaffirmation.

Right after this we find the biggest error from OHHLA. Aside from mishearing "barb wire and tall brick wall", that site has Nas telling us that "we all can't escape." This completely misconstrues the intended message of the verse. We may be victims, but we can transcend victimization, it argues. Nas believes we can escape. Obstacles are present, physical and mental, but restore your faith, and there is a way out.

Nas f/ Quan: Just A Moment (album version)
Nas f/ Quan: Just A Moment (single version)
BONUS: Nas f/ Quan: Just A Moment (video)
BONUS: Chic: Will You Cry?

4 Comments:

Anonymous Colin said...

Definitely glad to have the video on the hard drive now. OHHLA has some serious screw-ups. Most recent one I saw was from Lil' Wayne - Fireman.
OHHLA - And I don't even need a Jeep pass I'm pass that/
Real - And I don't even need a G pass, I'm past that/

No 'deep meaing' lost there. But c'mon! What is a 'Jeep pass'?

Don't really have much else to add about the verse. It's quite good.

April 09, 2006 7:18 PM  
Anonymous RegDudeOnHghrLvl said...

I went wild the first time I heard Nas' second verse, the pictures he is able to paint are really unparalleled (at least what I've heard in rap)

...that said I wish it was on "B-side" to a different single from Street's Disciple.

April 09, 2006 9:53 PM  
Blogger neo said...

I too have a love-hate r/ship with OHHLA.com I think what is needed is diff ppl to volunteer to actually transcribe the lyrics..though it is tough because of the way some rappers pronounce and enunciate their words via various accents.

April 10, 2006 7:44 AM  
Blogger stefanmedo said...

The worst one I ever saw was for Brenda's Got A Baby.

In the ending when Tupac reads headline "prostitute found slain," apparently some fool had managed to hear it as "prostitute; fair slang," crucually changing the meaning of the whole song. LOL right there.

Thankfully it was fixed eventually though.

October 21, 2006 11:05 AM  

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