Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Guns and Verse

Trope of the gun rhyming in the first person gained a great amount of currency in the 90s. The most famous example is 'I Gave You Power' by Nas, 1996:



Before this, Organized Konfusion had done a less effective trope of the rhymer as a bullet in 1994's 'Stray Bullet:'



Tupac's 1996 'Me and My Girlfriend' is often erroneously assumed to be about him and a bandit lover of his. But it seems that the numbering in the song only makes sense if he's talking about a gun, 'picked you up when you was nine,' 'bought you some shells when you turned twenty two,' and 'forty five but she still alive.' He would've had to have known her for 36 years by his own account, though he only lived 25. Additionally the sexuality between him and his girlfriend becomes much more interesting and evocatively bizarre if she is understood as his gun:



But the trope wasn't created in the 90's. George Herbert's 'Artillery,' c.1630:

As I one evening sat before my cell,
Methought a star did shoot into my lap.
I rose and shook my clothes, as knowing well
That from small fires comes oft no small mishap;
When suddenly I heard one say,
Do as thou usest, disobey,
Expel good motions from thy breast,
Which have the face of fire, but end in rest.


I, who had heard of music in the spheres,
But not of speech in stars, began to muse;
But turning to my God, whose ministers
The stars and all things are: If I refuse,
Dread Lord, said I, so oft my good,
Then I refuse not ev’n with blood
To wash away my stubborn thought;
For I will do or suffer what I ought.

But I have also stars and shooters too,
Born where thy servants both artilleries use.
My tears and prayers night and day do woo
And work up to thee; yet thou dost refuse.
Not but I am (I must say still)
Much more obliged to do thy will
Than thou to grant mine; but because
Thy promise now hath ev’n set thee thy laws.

Then we are shooters both, and thou dost deign
To enter combat with us, and contest
With thine own clay. But I would parley fain:
Shun not my arrows, and behold my breast.
Yet if thou shunnest, I am thine:
I must be so, if I am mine.
There is no articling with thee:
I am but finite, yet thine infinitely.

Canibus has a response to LL Cool J in which he samples Nas' 'I Gave You Power' but it isn't as effective and it's my opinion that Canibus tends to go on longer than necessary to convey his point. It doesn't hold the trope tightly enough and is too boring to include here.

There are at least two troubadour examples of a similar trope, but the general sense of weaponry in verbal sparring is found throughout in that tradition. If those trobars are recognized for creating romantic love as we know it today, their additional contribution to the beautification of violence and instruments of violence should not go without recognition. Love and war are perhaps like blood, which, though blue inside us and red when released, is essentially one fluid. Bertrans de Born, c.1200:

A Perigord pres del muralh

At Perigord near to the wall,
Aye, within a mace throw of it,
I will come armed upon Baiart, and if I find there
That fat-bellied Poitevin,
He shal see how my steel cuts.

For upon that field I will make a bran-mash of his brains,
mixed with the maille of his armor.

Elsewhere, an Easter song from Bertrans quickly degenerates into a war chant. As early as the 'clamor' of birds, Bertrans' true inclinations are itching to be scratched:

Well pleaseth me the sweet time of Easter
That maketh the leaf and the flower come out
And it pleaseth me when I hear the clamor
of the birds, their song through the wood;
And it pleaseth me when I see through the meadows
The tentts and pavilions set up, and great joy have I
When I see o'er the campagna knights armed and horses arrayed

And it pleaseth me when the scouts set in flight
the folk with their goods
And it pleaseth me when I see coming together after them
a host of armed men
And it pleaseth me to the heart when I see strong castles besieged
And barriers broken and riven,
and I see the host on the shore all about shut in with ditches
And closed in with lisses of strong piles
etc., etc.

In another song, Bertrans argues for war, insisting 'there's too much peace about.' The compulsion to war has no cause save the unbearable stasis of peace. Bertrans' songs derive their energy from violence and war. His love songs are boring until, like his Easter song, they degenerate to war chants.

There are parameters in the warrior troubador's method that easily and not so superficially align with the efforts of newer rhymsters. I include here, to conclude, some of the most energetic:

Raekwon, Ghostface, U God, Masta Killah, and Cappadonna's 1996 'Winter Warz.' Cappadonna 'a-cometh' and, in my opinion, taketh the spoils of the raid:

2 comments:

Jose Luis Moctezuma said...

very glad, very pleased, that you gave mention to Cappa's verse on Winter Warz - quite sincerely, the very best verses he's ever laid in his career -

the Skinny said...

i always found tupac's "me and my bitch" track to be strangely creepy. now, i understand why; the sexuality of a gun, how could a ten year old understand?