Jewelz – Blackstar “Thieves in the Night”

bluest-eye

What do I need to know?

Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Blackstar. The track, as Kweli alludes to in the opening verse, is based on the ‘The Bluest Eye’ by Toni Morrison. The book, among various themes, focuses on how the black communities standards of beauty, values and morals are set by white American society.

What’s the story?

Mos and Kweli go in questioning the mainstream value system. Kweli lays the foundation questioning whether money is the root of all evil or is it embedded in the human psyche. The hook,

Not strong (Only aggressive)
Not free (We only licensed)
Not compassionate, only polite (Now who the nicest?)
Not good but well behave

is lifted straight from the final page of the book. Mos takes the hook and theme and delivers probably the best verse on the entire album.

This life is temporary but the soul is eternal
Separate the real from the lie, let me learn you
Not strong, only aggressive, cause the power ain’t directed
That’s why, we are subjected to the will of the oppressive
Not free, we only licensed, not live, we just exciting
Cause the captors own the masters to what we writing
Not compassionate, only polite, we well trained
Our sincerity’s rehearsed and staged, it’s just a game
Not good, but well behaved cause the camera survey
Most of the things that we think, do or say
We chasin after death just to call ourselves brave
But everyday, next man meet with the grave
I give a damn if any fan recall my legacy
I’m trying to live life in the sight of God’s memory like that y’all

Is it any good?

This is my favorite Blackstar song. 88 Keys does his thing with a melodic track fitting the mood and Mos, who has always been a dope emcee, seemed to really begin to take it to another level on the whole album and this track in particular before dropping the classic ‘Black on Both Sides’.

Type of knowledge dropped?

Book knowledge since its the audio summary of sorts of The Bluest Eye’ but also cultural by way of the content of the novel.
[message_box title=”Additional Details” color=”white”]Artist: Black Star
Album: Mos Def & Kweli are…
Year Released: 1998
Producer: 88 Keys
Label: Rawkus

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Jewelz – Brother Ali ” Mourning in America”

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What do I need to know?

The War on Terror in its current form began after the attacks of September 11th when terrorists committed attrocities on the U.S. It’s the military campaign that has taken soldiers to various parts of the globe to combat Al-Qaeda. It has also led to loss of life on both sides with no real end in sight.

What’s the story?

On Mourning in America Brother Ali aims to convince that a War on Terror and those perceived to be the terrorists is truly in the eye of the beholder. While Ali touches on the many issues with the military campaigns overseas, he mainly uses domestic examples of acts of terrorism and the ramifications of warzones that resemble any impoverished hood in America. This is important because it holds up a mirror to those who may be dealing with the exact same fears, challenges and issues of the “enemy.”

Who’s the true guerilla
When the bomb on your body killing innocent civilians
But a life is a life and a killer is a killer
You’re at a desk chillin’ push a button kill a million

See the anguish of the parents
When they’re carrying the body of the baby that they cherish
When innocent people perish
It’s a very thin line between a soldier and a terrorist

Is it any good?

The entire Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color album is a nice piece of sonic work by the Minnesota Rhymesayer. The title track along with Letter to my Countrymen are examples of Ali’s more overt political statements on the record. He can spit with the best of them but I am appreciating his increasing focus on statements and messages while avoiding being too preachy.

Type of knowledge dropped?

Political and cultural no doubt.
[message_box title=”Additional Details” color=”white”]Artist: Brother Ali
Album: Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color
Year Released: 2012
Producer: Jake One
Label: Rhymesayers

 

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Jewelz – Mos Def aka Yasiin Bey “New World Water”

NWW

What do I need to know?

Conspiracy theorists believe a group, The New World Order, Illuminati, etc. (pick your poison) is secretly plotting the take over and ruling of the world. The Mighty Mos Def now more commonly known as Yasiin Bey plays off that idea and points out what some would call proof of such a plot by pontificating on the commodification of H2O. Or more plainly, ‘Water used to be free but now it cost you a fee because its all about getting that cash money!!’

What’s the story?

Mos opens the discussion listing out our various earthly needs for the precious resource and then takes greedy corporations to task for their role in contaminating the water only to turn around and sell the filtered version for profit. It’s a cold, cold world.

Used to be free now it cost you a fee
Cause oil tankers spill they load as they roam cross the sea
Man, you gotta cook with it, bathe and clean with it (That’s right)
When it’s hot, summertime you fiend for it (Let em know)
You gotta put it in the iron you steamin with (That’s right)
It’s what they dress wounds and treat diseases with (Shout it out)
The rich and poor, black and white got need for it (That’s right)
And everybody in the world can agree with this (Let em know)
Consumption promotes health and easiness (That’s right)
Go too long without it on this earth and you leavin it (Shout it out)
Americans wastin it on some leisure shit (Say word?)
And other nations be desperately seekin it (Let em know)
Bacteria washing up on they beaches (Say word?)
Don’t drink the water, son they can’t wash they feet with it (Let em know)
Young babies in perpetual neediness (Say word?)
Epidemics hopppin up off the petri dish (Let em know)
Control centers try to play it all secretive (Say word?)
To avoid public panic and freakiness (Let em know)
There are places where TB is common as TV
Cause foreign-based companies go and get greedy
The type of cats who pollute the whole shore line
Have it purified, sell it for a dollar twenty-five

Is it any good?

Yasiin Bey (still getting used to that one) practically never disappoints on the mic. Happy to say that he comes through again here with two poignant verses filled with bars aimed at you 3rd eye over a Beatnuts track as refreshing as a cool glass of ahh forget it….

Type of knowledge dropped?

Mos is always good for some cultural knowledge. Unfortunately, everything he is speaking on is very common practice today and I can guarantee that regardless when you read this there likely has been some recent oil spill or contamination that everyone will get up in arms about and then quickly forget.

[message_box title=”Additional Details” color=”white”]Artist: Mos Def aka Yasiin Bey
Album: Black on Both Sides
Year Released: 1999
Producer: Beatnuts
Label: Rawkus

 

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Jewelz – Brother Ali “Sweet (Potatoe Pie)”

AliSweet

What do I need to know?

There’s about a gazillion tracks that literally teach you how to bake pies but not quite like this.

What’s the story?

Ali swears that he can not only put it down on the mic but also in the kitchen. No recipe just off the dome and the recipe is customized so it changes every time? Color me skeptical on that one but the Brother gives a preview of how he gets busy going through the recipe only to hold back the secret ingredients and exact measurements because well he’d have to kill ya.

Yeah I rhyme kind of nice, but my sweet potato pie slice will get me five mics
Nothing out a box or a can
It’s all natural, that which grows out the land
Toss ’em in a pan, mix the white with the brown sugar
Got the mixing bowl looking like my children
Hop in and I drown them in the butter sauce
a couple tossed up eggs to make it fluffy soft
Cinnamon, nutmeg, almond, vanilla
If I tell y’all the rest, well then I got to kill ya
Even if I give you a list of the ingredients
Step by step instructions on how to season it
Just how to set your oven when preheating it
Shit just ain’t gonna taste the same unless Ali did it
I ain’t just putting pie on your table
I’m trying to bring a tear for your eye for your baby

And if he doesn’t kill you the pie probably will as Ali points out the ill effects of too much munching on the sugar and butter that makes up the bulk of said pie in the second verse. Way to be a buzz kill Brother Ali!

Is it any good?

Rather than a desert the track was an appetizer for the Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color album that followed. Brother Ali flips Common’s “Sweet” by taking out the beef and adding veggies and vanilla extract instead. It’s creative and original so props on that and as I stated above while he gets all braggadocio about his cooking skills he still leaves ya with a message to eat right.

Type of knowledge dropped?

Health knowledge for the diabetes and healthy portions advice. It’s not deep or profound but like my man Blueprint said its nice to hear “emcees that rap about the consequence instead of glorifying a lifestyle that lacks any type of common sense.”

[message_box title=”Additional Details” color=”white”]Artist: Brother Ali
Album: Freestyle
Year Released: 2012
Producer: NO I.D.
Label: Rhymesayers

 

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Jewelz – Boogie Down Productions “Beef”

krs-beef

What do I need to know?

Mr. Knowledge Reigns Supreme has so many Jewelz that we could make the entire section about his catalog alone. Throughout his career KRS has taken us on a journey that has seen his stances on everything from politics, religion and yes food evolve as he has grown. “Beef” comes off of the 1990 Edutainment album that covers a number of socio-political topics from the Blastmaster.

What’s the story?

On “My Philosophy,” KRS let us know he’s down with a vegetarian diet passing on “goat or ham or chicken or turkey or hamburger.” On “Beef” you start to understand why as he details the specifics on how meat gets to the supermarket and ultimately onto your plate. Not appetizing to say the least. In the midst of completely disgusting you with details, KRS calls out the FDA as legal drug dealers for slanging meat as a truly healthy and needed part of your diet. If the best way to get people to give up meat is to go to a slaughterhouse then this is the audio version of that experience.

Let us begin with the cow
The way it gets to your plate and how
The cow doesn’t grow fast enough for man
So through his greed he makes a faster plan
He has drugs to make the cow grow quicker
Through the stress the cow gets sicker
Twenty-one different drugs are pumped
Into the cow in one big lump
So just before it dies, it cries
In the slaughterhouse full of germs and flies
Off with the head, they pack it, drain it, and cart it
And there it is, in your local supermarket
Red and bloody, a corpse, neatly packed
And you wonder about heart attacks?

Is it any good?

One verse is all it takes and KRS goes in on the government, suggests reading material for you to improve your diet, educates on the unnatural way animals are grown to increase size etc. And this was way before cloning meat and pink slime! I could only imagine the sequel. Lyrics are still extremely relevant, however, the beat doesn’t have the same lasting appeal to me. Regardless, KRS is one of the best at edutainment and here knowledge was dropped!

Type of knowledge dropped?

Health Knowledge and even some political as well when discussing the role the government plays in the current American diet.

[message_box title=”Additional Details” color=”white”]Artist: Boogie Down Productions
Album: Edutainment
Year Released: 1990
Producer: KRS-One
Label: Jive/RCA Records

 

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Jewelz – A Tribe Called Quest “Ham & Eggs”

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What do I need to know?

Most of the Tribe members are of Muslim faith and the Qur’ân prohibits the consumption of pork.

What’s the story?

Tribe members espouse on the elimination of pork and eggs from their diet so they can keep the LDLs down and the HDLs up as the hook drives home. The crew clearly was still early in their healthy vegetarian adoption as noted by Phife still eating steak, candy yams and beef jerky while Q-tip is practically eating chicken all day except for eggs. Still it does a decent job of giving you a brief glimpse into the challenges of new vegetarians be it temptations

Gum drops and gummy bears tease my eyes
A sight for sore ones and some bore pies
And other goodies that are filled with goop
With fried apple roots
Delectable delights, control my appetites

or families that didn’t understand the change

Why, just the other day, I went to Grandma’s house
Smelled like she conjured up a mouse
Eggs was fryin’, ham was smellin’
In ten minutes, she started yellin’ (Come and get it!)
And the gettin’s were good
I said, “I shouldn’t eat it”, she said, “I think you should”
But I can’t, I played my vegetarian
No cats and dogs, I’m not a veterinarian
Strictly collard greens and the occasional steak
Goes on my plate

Is it any good?

Left field just like the rest of the People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm album when the Quest first entered the hip hop lexicon. However, its actually a fun song about getting your diet right and not the norm especially when it first dropped. It’s not self righteous and the extended break just mostly let’s you enjoy the beat.

Type of knowledge dropped?

Nutirtional knowledge mostly for stating the obvious cholesterol impact of the normally high fat and unhealthy American breakfast.

[message_box title=”Additional Details” color=”white”]Artist: A Tribe Called Quest
Album: People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm
Year Released: 1990
Producer: A Tribe Called Quest
Label: Jive

 

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Jewelz: dead prez – “Be Healthy”

Dead-Prez---be-healthy

What do I need to know?

Usually dead prez is throwing up the proverbial middle finger to the system but you can’t be revolutionary and gangsta if you aren’t taking care of the mind, body and soul. For this track they take a quick break from their normally political raps to tell you ‘true wealth is good health.’

What’s the story?

Stic.man and M-1 let you know what they grub on and espouse the benefits of a vegan diet. Both have varied between vegetarian, vegan (no eggs or dairy products) and raw foods diets for nearly twenty years.No junk food or sweets just lentil soup, fruits and vegetables and whole wheat. I’m most impressed with how they still managed to keep marijuana as an essential part of the plan (from the earth baby). You gotta love hip hip.

I don’t eat no meat, no dairy, no sweets
Only ripe vegetables, fresh fruit and whole wheat
I’m from the old school, my household smell like soul food, bro
Curried falafel, barbecued tofu
No fish though, no candy bars, no cigarettes
Only ganja and fresh-squeezed juice from oranges
Exercising daily to stay healthy
And I rarely drink water out the tap, cause it’s filthy

Is it any good?

The beats nice and its a cool, albeit short, song that gets to the point. It also ends randomly with Prodigy of Mobb Deep (who suffers from sickle cell and changed his diet and drinking ways for his health) telling you in pure Queensbridge fashion that you’ve been living foul for too long and you need to get your act together son or hear the sound of the four pound! Ok… I made that last part up but tell me a threat at the end of Prodigy’s outro wasn’t the only thing holding this back from being a classic guest appearance.

Type of knowledge dropped?

Health knowledge. Seriously, who is knocking fresh fruit, vegetables and exercising?

[message_box title=”Additional Details” color=”white”]Artist: dead prez
Album: Let’s Get Free
Year Released: 2000
Producer: Hedrush, dead prez
Label: Loud Records

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Jewelz: Ras Kass “Nature of the Threat”

raskass

What do I need to know?

The “Nature of the Threat” is considered by many to be Ras Kass’ magnum opus off of his debut album Soul On Ice. In it Ras Kass basically spits verses encyclopedia style documenting the evolution of man and the origins of racism. Ras Kass collected data from various sources but has been challenged many times on its accuracy in the fifteen years since its release. Regardless of the accuracy of the content its controversial and sure to offend someone.

What’s the story?

Ras Kass decided to write the song to scratch the itch of his interests in the origins and evolution of different nationalities and races. He starts 20,000 years in the past and makes his way to ’96 when the track was first released mixing in information from a number of resources including college textbooks and black nationalist writings.

As the Caucus mountain man reverted to that of a primate
Savage Neanderthals, until the late Paleolithic age
That’s when the Black Grimaldi man came
With the symbol of the dragon, fire and art
Check cave paintings in France and Spain to the Venus of Willendorf
Around 2000 B.C. Southern Russians migrate in small units
Those who travel West populated Europe
Those who went East settled in Iran, known as Aryans
1500 B.C. some crossed the Khyber Pass into India and
Created Hinduism, the first caste system, the origins of racism
A white dot on the forehead meant elite
The black dot – defeat; untrustable, untouchables
They wrote the holy Vedas in Sanskrit
That’s the language that created Greek, German, Latin and English

Is it any good?

Some people swear by this track while others find it boring. I’m somewhere in between.  To me it’s one of those tracks you have to be in the mood to listen to. With that said its a cool concept and lyrically Ras Kass is up to par but the beat is kind of monotonous for a song that’s almost eight minutes in length. Poor beat selection has always been a criticism of Ras Kass’ work but given his focus on the content its likely he wanted something that would not overpower the message. Still musically it could be better. All in all this is one of those songs you’ll likely play every now and again (or all the time depending on your love for Mr. Austin) or only pull out when you want to prove to your friends that MCs can actually rap about other things besides sex, money and drugs.

Type of knowledge dropped?

Certainly book knowledge but whether you trust the information in the books Ras Kass references is another story. There is enough analysis, debate and conjecture on the internet so I won’t go into all of that. You can listen to the track and decide for yourself. Whether you love it or hate it the main point is he was able to leave a mark and succeeded in creating a dialogue.

[message_box title=”Additional Details” color=”white”]Artist: Ras Kass
Album: Soul on Ice
Year Released: 1996
Producer: Vooodu
Label: Priority

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Jewelz: Brand Nubian “Wake Up (Reprise in the Sunshine)”

wakeup

What do I need to know?

Followers of the Nation of Islam and the Nation of Gods and Earths (Five Percenters) have long been apart of hip hop culture and are the origin for much of hip hop’s slang from “Cipher,” “God” and “Peace” to riffs on cities and states, New Jerusalem (New Jersey) and Medina (Brooklyn. The lessons and teachings have influenced generations within the lyrics of everyone from X-Clan, Poor Righteous Teachers, Rakim, KRS and Big Daddy Kane, Wu Tang and Tribe to current emcees like Lupe Fiasco, Jay Electronica, and Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def). Brand Nubian is another in a long line of artists that put it down for the 5% Nation with songs like “Wake Up” that were infused with lessons from the Nation’s Book of Knowledge. However, folks at MTV were none to happy with the original video, which included a black man in white face, was quickly banned for a time from MTV as listeners were outraged by the imagery and the group’s content.

What’s the story?

Five Percenters believe that 85% (the deaf, dumb and blind) of the world is unaware of God and do not have knowledge of themselves, 10 % (the elites) of the population is aware but keep the 85% in the dark leaving only the 5% (the poor righteous teachers) to bring the truth. Brand Nubian’s goal is to motivate, build and elevate the deaf, dumb and blind through verse. They do this hitting you with various aspects from the Book of knowledge including the Supreme Mathematics,

They put our Wisdom before us (murderer!)
That makes it Wisdom Knowledge (murderer!)
But we need Knowledge Wisdom To bring forth the Understanding (murderer!)
Culture Freedom (murderer!) Power Refinement (murderer!)
Equality God Build Destroy Borns our Cipher (mudererer!)

aspects of the The Supreme Alphabet,

Why Equal Self, a trader made an interpretation
Saying that we’d receive more gold for our labor in his nation
(Did we receive more gold?)
God, Now Cipher

and questions and answers from different lessons

This asiatic black man is a dog spelled backwards
The maker, the owner, the cream of the planet Earth
Father of civilization, God of the universe
Manifesting thoughts with my infinite styles
Making sure this travels, twenty-three million miles
The other six I set the crucifix

packed into practically every line of the song. Just imagine how much is in the rest of the four plus minutes.

Is it any good?

This is a hip hop classic. Grand Puba lays it down proper leaving qoutables all over the place (“So I dip dip diva civilize an 85er”). This is definitely one of those songs where you will pick up little nuggets the more you listen to it. There are a couple different versions but the Reprise in the Sunshine mix is the best. You’d think a song with so much info in it might drag but this hit when rocking African medallions instead of gold chains and party records with a message were the norm. Religious views aside, it’s really an uplifting song meant to encourage a race to unite, learn their history and educate themselves and and their children. It also samples both Ray, Goodman & Brown’s “Another Day” and Roy Ayers’ “Everybody Loves Sunshine” so its pretty damn funky.

Type of knowledge dropped?

Obviously religious to the point that this track might as well be 5% 101.

[message_box title=”Additional Details” color=”white”]Artist: Brand Nubian
Album: One For All
Year Released: 1990
Producer: Grand Puba & Brand Nubian
Label: Elektra

 

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Jewelz: Reflection Eternal “For Women”

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talib-kweli
What do I need to know?

“For Women” is the hidden bonus track on Reflection Eternal’s debut album Train of Thought. As Talib Kweli states at the beginning of the record the song is a take off of Nina Simone’s similarly titled “Four Women.” Nina Simone was a spirited singer, pianist and activist whose songs like “Mississippi Goddamn” made her music the soundtrack for the civil rights movement. When the original was released back in 1966 it was banned by many radio stations for perceived racist content. Kweli and many others like Mos Def, Kanye and Common regularly name drop her in lyrics or as an influence to their music (ed. note: Click to read a tribute I wrote on Nina Simone following her death in 2003).

What’s the story?

The original “Four Women” depicts four archetypes of African American women with each verse describing a different profile. Ms. Simone’s lyrics, interspersed throughout Reflection Eternal’s rendition, were pretty short in comparison but delivered with an intensity and emotion that reached its apex on the final line. Kweli’s verses flips the original by using the descriptions as the foundation for his narrative. He fleshes out the depictions by adding more context and placing them in imagined situations and similarly raises the intensity in his final few bars.

She swears the next baby she’ll have will breathe a free breath
And get milk from a free breast
And love beeing alive
Otherwise they’ll have to give up being themselves to survive
Being maids, cleaning ladies, maybe teachers or college graduates, nurses, housewives, prostitutes, and drug addicts
Some will grow to be old women, some will die before they born
They’ll be mothers, and lovers who inspire and make songs
(But me, my skin is brown and my manner is tough,)
(Like the love I give my babies when the rainbow’s enuff,)
(I’ll kill the first muthafucka that mess with me, I never bluff)
(I ain’t got time to lie, my life has been much too rough,)
(Still running with barefeet, I ain’t got nothin’ but my soul,)
(Freedom is the ultimate goal
Life and death is small on the whole, in many ways)
(I’m awfully bitter these days
‘cuz the only parents God gave me, they were slaves,)
(And it crippled me, I got the destiny of a casualty,)
(But I live through my babies and I change my reality)
(Maybe one day I’ll ride back to Georgia on a train,)
(Folks ’round there call me Peaches, I guess that’s my name.)

Is it any good?

Absolutely. Some purists will hate all remakes but in this case I think even they would appreciate Reflection Eternal’s interpolation for its creativity. It’s a great song on its own merit and highlights Kweli’s storytelling ability. Not to be outdone, Hi-Tek provides the perfect score, using different tempos, adlibs and emotional shifts to accentuate the mood. But what is more impressive is that this one of those ‘stars aligning’ occasions where the remake successfully pays homage, yet the artist is able to truly make it their own. This is one of my personal favorites from Reflection Eternal and one that I believe will continue to stand the test of time.

Type of knowledge dropped?

Even though the stories are imagined there is a clear focus on historical knowledge. These might as well have been real people as each verse gives you insight into real trials and tribulations within the plight of African American women throughout history from slavery to today.

[message_box title=”Additional Details” color=”white”]Artist: Reflection Eternal
Album: Train of Thought
Year Released: 2000
Producer: Hi-Tek
Label: Rawkus

 

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