Back in June, as a cool way to wish me a “Happy Birthday”, my band mate Professa put together a lyric analysis of one of my verses. Given that today is Prof’s birthday, I’m returning the favor with some thoughts on his verse from ‘What You Need‘, a track off our 2012 release, Blue Star Boulevard.
Throughout the song, when we say “we got what you want” and “what you need”, the intended meaning is both metaphoric and literal. Each of our verses offer our individual interpretations of that theme. Spaceman starts the track with “spectacular, oracular, stupendous / you hear the flow and you got it get in it”. On verse 2 I add, “witness the mind of every winner of all time, and every sinner’s cry to repent”. Space offers the listener a dynamic, prophetic delivery, an oracular flow if you will, while I piggy back with a winner’s mind packaged with a sinner’s penance, not unlike the “gift and the curse” motif other emcees have explored. Obviously both verses expound upon those ideas, but taking no credit away from either Space or myself, neither do so as brilliantly as Professa’s.
When you create songs in a group setting, especially with people whose ability you admire, it drives you to put your best foot forward every time – you always want to have the best verse on a track. Inevitably, when the song’s done that’s one of the things you listen for; who rocked it the best? On ‘What You Need’, Prof did. His voice, delivery, and cadence are trademark; a couplet master with a poet’s approach to Hip Hop using a deep, bass heavy, & raspy voice that I often joke sounds like the “Macho Man” Randy Savage with emcee skills. He employed all these characteristics masterfully on this song, delivering a vivid picture of what you, the listener needs, and utilized brilliant word play in doing so. With that in mind, here’s verse 3 of ‘What You Need’, by Professa, along with my thoughts on certain bars.
[Note: My parenthetical notes notwithstanding, the text of Professa’s verse is presented as he himself submitted it back when we were pooling lyrics together to copyright the album. Any uses of poetic license (such as capitalizing certain words) are his own.]
The nod of a head and the crack of a spine
You know our backbones beat with the bang of the bass line
You know we can’t stop when we ripping these rhymes
Because it’s only hip hop that keeps us alive
(Prof starts the verse by letting us know that Hip Hop, with its head nodding, spine cracking, hypnotic effect, keeps us going. “Ripping these rhymes” and bobbing our entire back to the bass line gives us energy. It drives us. It’s what we need.)
You know it’s only big grapes that fall from the vine
So quit w(h)ining, I’m aligned for something divine
(Here he asserts that when you deal with Prof, you can expect only the largest grapes to fall from these JP Lime vines. Should you have any reservations on that, he implores you to stop bitching, i.e. “quit whining”, but also to quit your “wining”, i.e. the act of making wine, because you know, he’s got the biggest grapes, and thus a stranglehold on the wine market. Checkmate.)
Architect a stairway, build my way to the sky
Like I. M. Pei, I am Pi
Mysterious division, difficult to define
(Prof continues his case for the Lime Life by contending that along with having the biggest grapes, he happens to be an architect, building something that’ll reach as high as any skyscraper designed by successful architect I.M. Pei, such as The John Hancock Tower in Boston, MA. But that’s not even the punchline. The I.M. Pei reference sets up the “I am Pi” line. See what he did there? And never one to not close the loop on a good metaphor, Ill Professori offers “mysterious division, difficult to define / Three point one four, <yeah!>, one five nine!” I love the vigorous “yeah” adlib in the middle of the Pi. But I digress…)
Spirituals and mathematics in every rhyme
I’m Optimus Syllabic, a poet in his Prime
(My favorite couplet on the verse: Prof ties together the “build my way to the sky” and “Pi” themes with “spirituals and mathematics in every rhyme”, and then hits us with fantastic word play using a Transformers reference that’s bound to get a rise out of any 80s baby. “I’m Optimus Syllabic, <yeah!>a poet in his Prime.” Just brilliant. Optimus Prime was the main character in Transformers, and any classics junkie’ll point out that “optimus” in Latin is the superlative form of the root word “bonus”, meaning “good.” In other words “optimus” can be used as a synonym for “prime” (chief, foremost, etc…). So when Prof calls himself “Optimus Syllabic” (syllabic meaning “of, or relating to syllables”) and adds “a poet in his Prime”, he’s likening himself, the leader of syllables, or chief poet if you will, with the Optimus Prime character, chief of the Autobots . Well played Professa, well played.)
Open up a couple doors in the tunnels of your mind
Floating up a couple levels when I hit my shit in stride
Memorize this double couplet, rewind a couple times
While I flow a couple bars, yeah blow a couple lines
<Cause we got what you want!>
(The King of the Couplet, as I sometimes call him, goes all in to close out the verse. First he tells the listener that his poetry will burst open “a couple doors in the tunnels” of your conscience; the ‘free your mind’ effect if you will. You’ll be uplifted, literally, as you’ll no doubt be “floating up a couple levels” when he hits his emcee stride. You’re in a rhyme-induced trance as you “memorize this double couplet” (i.e. 2 couplets, at 2 bars apiece = 4 bars, namely the 4 bars in question). And you’re able to memorize it because you “rewind a couple times”, further cementing the hypnotic effect. Prof drives home the “couplet” theme with “I flow a couple bars, yeah blow a couple lines”, ironic because I personally thought he nailed the entire verse. In my opinion, he didn’t blow any of his lines. But maybe that’s not exactly what he meant by “blow a couple lines.” With the King of the Couplet, who’s a master of double-entendre as well, there’s often more than meets the eye. And that my friends, is exactly what you need.)
Happy Birthday, homeslice. Enjoy your day.