Hip-hop is a poetic art form. The stories hip-hop artists’ paint are uniquely creative, rugged and often times autobiographical. What has propelled hip-hop to its current all time high level of popularity over a short 30 years is the genre’s ability to directly and intimately relate to people. The best rappers are vulnerable, soul bearing and stylish in the way they express their feelings. My favorite rap songs have gotten me through some trying days subtly offering me wisdom. So instead of cloying Hallmark cards (The Mahogany Collection is wild), generic canvas art courtesy of Target’s dorm collection, or posters made for Christian book stores, I made a dozen inspirational rap posters for you to enjoy. Many of these lyrics I quote on a daily basis driving my friends mad. Life throws challenges our way and sometimes we need fun little pick me ups reminding us that we are still in fact the dopest person ever and that losses don’t last forever. Much love, keep your head up.
1) “Fo’ fo’s I'm tippin'/ wood grain I'm gripping
catch me lane switching with the paint dripping/ turn your neck and your dame missing” -Mike Jones, “Still Tippin’”
Translation: I’m cruising in my 1984 Cadillac equipped with the most luxurious amenities; 30 spoke wire rims and the finest wood grain steering wheel. If you are lucky, you will see me and my car parlaying in and out of lanes with a paint job so fresh that it’s still wet and may even drip a bit. Oh, and I’m so charming that if you turn your head for the slightest second, fixing your gaze elsewhere, your partner will be gone in an instant as they have decided to come with me instead.
Even if you don’t have a car this line give you the confidence to attack your day with vigor and a bit of Houston cool. It’s not what you do, but how you do it. So go out there and stunt in whatever capacity available to you and let people know you are that person.
2) “Flaws ain’t flaws when it’s you that makes the call” -Pusha T, “So Appalled”
Translation: When you are in charge, performing the hard labor and making the tough decisions, your shortcomings aren’t weaknesses.
Be the Beyoncé of your life. When Beyoncé had a slip at the Super Bowl, she recovered so nimbly that it actually made you admire her even more.
You are the boss of your life, micromanaging your daily duties and taking full responsibility of what you do. Flaws aren’t deficiencies but rather small obstacles you simply maneuver through.
3) “I trip to make the fall shorter” -Chance The Rapper, “Acid Rain”
Translation: I give myself permission to make mistakes that will ground and prepare me for life’s inevitable lows and valleys.
As Yeats says in his poem “The Second Coming”, “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold”. It’s not a matter of if you fall, but when you fall. In fact, the longer you delay the inevitable forces of gravity, the harder the fall will be. Strive to do your best, let go, and know that it’s okay to stumble along the way. This is where you experience the most growth and learn prime lessons.
4) “Neva let me slip, ‘cause if I slip then I’m slippin” - Dr. Dre, “Nuthing But a “G” Thang”
Translation: Please don’t let me slip, because if I slip in this one particular area of my life, then I’m slipping in all other areas.
Accountability to oneself and others is a key to success. Dr. Dre is asking his comrade, probably Snoop Dog, to not let him slip up because logical fallacy states that if we allow error A to happen then error Z will eventually happen, so avoid error A. It’s a good daily reminder to put quality into everything we do in order to avoid continuous carelessness.
5) “Girl recognize game, before game recognize you - Chingy, “One Call Away”
Translation: Girl, don’t get played. People with ill intentions looking to scheme and plot will have their sights set on you from a mile away, so spot them first; head on a swivel at all times.
Art of War by Sun Tzu says, “If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle”. I’m certain this is what Chingy was talking about.
6) “I’ll be there in 5 minutes/5 hours later, ‘I’ll be there in 5 minutes’” - Kanye West, “Late”
Translation: I said what I said. I will be there once I get there.
We are constantly acquiescing to the needs of everyone besides ourselves. It is not possible or healthy to try and fulfill everybody’s desires at their demanding pace. There is nothing wrong with slowing down, taking our time, and arriving when we feel good and ready. Ownership of our time, body and energy is imperative to our total well-being.
7) “So, now, I’m back spittin’ that heat, could pass a polygraph” - Jay Electronica, “Exhibit C”
Translation: The words coming from my mouth are such truth that I would pass any lie detector test.
In hip-hop, it’s all about credibility and keeping it real. If Twitter finds out you’ve been lying about where you come from or what you’ve done, your career could be ruined. Jay Electronica, being the wordsmith that he is (we’re still waiting on that album), found one of the most creative ways to tell us how honest he keeps it. What’s even savvier is when you play the song the line works as a double entendre as it sounds like he is also saying “so now I’m back spittin’ that ‘he could pass a polygraph’”.
Like Jay Electronica, your word should be bond. Whether people like what you have to say or not, always tell the truth.
8) “I never let a statue tell me how nice I am” - Phife Dawg, “Award Tour”
Translation: Never will I allow an engineered award voted by people I do not know nor who know me define who I am, assign my worth, or label my talent or work ethnic. I will not give subjective benchmarks of public opinion the authority to declare if me or my art matters.
First and foremost, Rest in Peace Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor, part of the legendary hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest. We miss you.
Too many times we place our value in external affirmations. We lose sight of refining and enjoying our craft for the craft’s sake and forget that we are important no matter what other people say or do not say about us. If you know you are great, that’s all that matters. No dollar amount, sheet of paper, or award will ever encompass our fullness.
9) “My future so bright I’d probably go blind before I blink twice, I ain’t lying” - Kendrick Lamar, “The Heart Pt. 2”
Translation: My future is so incredibly bright that if you look at it, it can blind you.
Sometimes your own future will inspire you.
10) “Spaceships/don’t come equipped/with rear view mirrors/ they dip/as quick as they can” - Andre 3000, “Int’l Players Anthem (I Choose You)”
Translation: Entities with the potential to travel so far that they break atmospheres don’t come with rear view mirrors. With that type of trajectory, you’ll be moving so quickly that you won’t have the time to look back.
In the poem, “Our Deepest Fear”, Marianne Williamson writes that, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” We often hinder our own progress; lamenting our past, intimated by our future. We spend too much time looking back, rather than letting our journey take us to heights we didn’t imagine for ourselves. Williamson continues on saying “your playing small does not serve the world.” We are supposed to squeeze every ounce of purpose embedded in each of us. And Andre 3000’s spaceship analogy says it best. Nothing with such great power has time to look back when what is ahead is so vital.
11) “I’m not sayin’ I’m number one/Uhh I’m sorry I lied, I’m number one, two, three, four, and five!” - KRS-One, “Step Into a World”
Translation: I apologize if you thought I was being humble when I said I’m not number one. What I meant was that I am not exclusively number one, but that I am in fact number one, two, three, four, and five.
Instead of choice a, it was choice e, all of the above. Self promotion is good. You have to believe you are the best option in order for other people to believe it as well. Next time you ask for a raise, which should be every year, just quote this line when explaining to your boss why you deserve a salary increase.
12) “Stay far from timid/only make moves when your heart’s in it/and live the phrase ‘Sky’s The Limit’” - The Notorious B.I.G., “Sky’s The Limit”
Translation: Keep nervous, fearful, wavering energy far away from you. Instead, passionately pursue that which burns inside you. There is no ceiling on what you can accomplish.
People will tell you what you can and can’t do, that your dreams are crazy. You will face rejection, doubt will creep in, but if you stay focused and work in a way that blocks out the noise and distraction, your path is boundless.