The emotional depth of a rap song is very often different than the emotional depth of most other lyrical music. Most other musics are much more obvious and up-front about the pain and emotional turmoil the songwriter is experiencing, drawing on direct imagery and description to communicate that pain. But we should keep in mind that these musics come from cultures that don’t require its members to be as emotionally guarded as many of the communities that rappers grow up in, and so we have to be a bit more insightful to catch the deeper issues at work in many rap songs.
I once read an essay by a Buddhist monk who didn’t believe in lies; not that he avoided trusting the word of people who weren’t telling the truth, but that lies themselves do not really exist. He believed that clear communication is really a question of how one interprets the language of someone’s message. Words are always symbolic, and people don’t always say the same things with the same words. His example involved asking two different people their age, one of them thirty years old, the other much older. The first person responds that they’re thirty, which in their case means specifically that they’ve taken thirty trips around the sun on this planet so far. The second person might give the same superficial response, that they too are thirty, but what is actually being communicated is that they fear death, or perhaps that they fear the perception of being seen as “old”. Both of these people speak the same words in response to the question, but communicate very different information if the listener is informed and insightful enough to interpret the messages correctly.
Gucci Mane – Me
Ever since I first watched this Gucci Mane video two days ago, it has strangely haunted me. Almost everything about it is completely what you’d expect from a street rapper in 2013, but a closer listen to the lyrics and some background on Gucci’s recent life changes transform this into a much darker and more complex picture. I think it is one of the best illustrations of this concept I’m trying to explain that I’ve ever seen. I believe Gucci is like the second person in the example laid out by the Buddhist monk: what he’s saying superficially and what’s really being communicated are not as simply related as one might think. People who don’t take rap and rappers very seriously will probably hear this song and hear nothing but aimless arrogance and braggadocio. The blatant self-centeredness of the lyrics is unavoidable, even the title, “Me”, could not speak more directly to this interpretation. But if instead of writing this off as pointless boasting we try to treat Gucci as the human being he is, with just as many emotions, worries, fears, and desires as the rest of us, a very different picture begins to develop.
The first thing that came to my mind when I heard the opening lines of this song was his recent falling out with long-time friend and collaborator Waka Flocka. The two spoke with utmost respect and love for each other (listen here starting at 6:14), collaborated on numerous songs and albums together, boosted each others’ careers, and influenced each others’ styles for years. The two were almost inseparable. Now we see headlines like “Gucci Mane and Waka Flocka Will Never Do Music Again” on every hip hop news outlet and we have to wonder how this is affecting the emotional lives of the people involved. I don’t care where you come from or how hard you are, feeling betrayed by someone you once held in the highest esteem hurts, and that pain doesn’t go away easily. This song feels to me like a tragic attempt to seem unfazed by a situation that in reality is probably extremely difficult to come to terms with. Gucci wants to think that he doesn’t need Flocka, or anybody else for that matter, but this song ends up coming off more like overcompensating than nonchalance. If all he needed was himself, would he really need to go on and on for a full five minutes about it, or could he maybe just mention it, make a joke about it, and then talk about something else? Even his voice sounds strange on this recording, and the overwhelming number of models (who really look like they’re only there to get paid) in the video really only make his situation look even lonelier.
I believe that messages like this are being put out every single day in seemingly shallow, tasteless rap songs and are more often than not falling on deaf ears. Not all rappers can be like Z-Ro, some can only cry for help in subtler ways.