Are you Benny or Teddy?

Lyric Analysis – ‘Cursed Angel’

Scholar's Slick Rick shot1

From “Cursed Angel”

…Cause hitting trees is only fun metaphorically
How I ain’t bleed still remains to be a mystery
Cause it’s a chore to be the saint that I am
When so demonic
I‘m rolling bibles papers with Chronic
Cause Ivan
Will forever be a man of misery
I’m a student and fan of history
Plus in tune with a pedigree
The product of which I was formed
How can I not go against the norm
When I was born into poverty
In areas of affluence
And educated by elites
On how to have more influence
And yet and still I’m just a simple man
Just a thug with a scholarly mental
That’s so essential and
I wanna ask you,
Is all so relevant?
Or is it simply that I’m just really bent?
Cause I resent where I come from
America’s minority poor
But represent what I am to my core
A Cursed Angel…

Today we celebrate the born day of my friend and partner-in-Lime, Scholar (aka Ivan De Jesus). As someone from whom I’ve learned much about both our craft and our genre, I’ve decided to do a Lyric Analysis of one of my favorite Scholar verses, the one from our song “Cursed Angel”.

When Scholar brought the concept for this track to me, my brain went in a different and complementary direction. In the song’s second verse, I describe the experiences of some of our greatest lost musicians, each “cursed angels” in their own right (Hendrix, Tupac, Kobain, Janis Joplin, etc.). For his verse, Scholar delved deep into self-reflection, explicating the various traits of his own personality and situation. For the purpose of this article I’ve forwarded to about halfway through the verse, when Scholar moves from providing a back-story to a more analytical mindset.

Around line 10 in his verse (“what came next?”), Scholar moves from talking about his childhood to early and late adolescence and the “mishaps” that have led him to his place of introspection. Picking up in the section where he talks about drunk driving, Scholar segues from an image of a car crash into his smoking habits.
Hitting trees is only fun metaphorically…” says the emcee, before relating images of sinner and saint, using pages of the Bible to roll a joint (Bible paper is light enough to be inhaled and thus works as an emergency substitute when no zigzags are on hand and when morals do not stand in one’s way). Scholar’s verses are often packed with hip-hop references, either to albums, songs or artists, displaying his deep knowledge and love for the genre and this verse is no different, as seen with the Chronic line. Given the time frame he was probably rolling bible papers with chronic while listening to ‘The Chronic’ (allowing for a metaphoric double entendre). Earlier in the verse he references Pac’s song “Troublesome” and he subtly mentions his own track “I Am” a few lines later, a take-off on the Eminem track.

An aspect that stands out in this verse is Scholar’s ability for intricate and unusual rhyme patterns that give the track scattered punches. The beat for the song has a quiet, simple tone, led by the drums and creeping piano line, and it’s in the open space of that simplicity that Scholar provides a sense of bounce with his rhyming prowess. He works a type of internal ABBA rhyme pattern in

Cause it’s a chore to be the saint that I am
So demonic
I’m rolling Bible papers with Chronic
Cause Ivan

He continues the “an” rhyme one more time with the “Understand” in the following line before changing to a more straight-forward AA rhyme with the “norm” and “formed” lines. He follows this with a change in meter over the next two lines, populated by a staccato use of assonance on “affluence”, “educated”, “elites” and “influence”.

Scholar is a complicated mix of characters traits, he explains as he digs into the polarity of his thug-scholar moniker. A similar and related contrast appears in his upbringing, a poor kid from Boston placed amongst affluent elites (most notably at his private high school). He is a “man of misery” he says honestly, but also a seeker of truth, a fan of history. In these polarities he displays a high degree of self-awareness, even if he’s not sure if these traits are “relevant” to his current status or whether he’s “just really bent”. The verse ends on a final contrast between resentment towards his financial status and honesty in reflecting his true, conflicted nature. I suppose it’s that conflicted nature that defines what a “Cursed Angel” actually is: someone who is able to see the power in aiming to achieve but who also feels weighed down by external and, more strongly, internal pressures. It’s seen in each of the musicians I rap about in the second verse and it is key to understanding who Scholar is as an artist.

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