“Marshall, I’m sorry I knew it went left /
I ain’t into fuckin’ my family, like incest /
If you remember, ice used to be my life’s interest /
Tell Hailie my wife just had a princess /
Since I made up wit’ Em, there’s nothing’ else that I can move on from /
So who wants some?” – Royce Da 5’9″, Slaughterhouse’s “Move On”
Few songs in the last three years have touched me as much as Slaughterhouse’s “Move On.” I’m way more partial to The Kickdrums’ video version than what made last month’s EP, but the real magic of the song is its concept. On the surface, the record appears to be driven by the questions the four talented members of the group were consistently asked by so-called “Rap journalists.” And yes, I’m sure a few of the questions I’ve personally asked these guys over the years prompted their frustrations – but what I really love about this posse-cut-done-right is its brutal honesty. While E1 Entertainment shamefully never put the proper version on any album (did The Kinks sample hold things up?), I believe this song to be a moment in time in what’s made Hip Hop really interesting this week and this year – Eminem’s backing-then-signing of the group.
With the exception of Joe Budden, Slaughterhouse has always had a relationship with Eminem. He and Joell Ortiz were briefly label-mates at Aftermath in the mid ’00s, a topic briefly addressed in “Move On.” Eminem and Crooked I, both disciples of Sway & King Tech’s Wakeup Show, were front-runners in the late ’90s emcee renaissance. Additionally, this writer personally believes that part of the reason Death Row signed Crooked was to be a competitive answer to Dr. Dre’s success with Em as another artist revolutionizing vocal delivery. On “Move On,” Crooked I cleverly waves off the notions that Em’s mentor Dr. Dre is the only one capable of “saving the West.” The most colorful history in the relationship between Eminem and Slaughterhouse is Royce Da 5’9″ – a longtime collaborator, friend and brief Bad Meets Evil partner with Slim Shady in the ’90s.
Despite this connection to Eminem, I presumed that even in the earliest days of Slaughterhouse excitement that people like Eminem would never hear the rejoicing cries of the Internet enough to care.
I was wrong.
I think what piqued Eminem’s interest most was honesty, and I think “Move On” was a confessional. Posted above, Royce’s lyrics to his estranged comrade contained one of the rarest words you’ll ever find in Rap verse: “I’m sorry.” In his raps, Royce Da 5’9″ is known as a ball of arrogance, and rightfully so. Like Ras Kass or Big L, Royce has an aesthetic that frequently speaks to peers and the streets as “don’t even try.” Perhaps that attitude, although typical of an emcee, let its off-the-mic tendencies led to a falling out between Em and Royce – pure speculation of course. I don’t know, and maybe they don’t either. I was a correspondent for AllHipHop.com at the time years later, when Royce and D12’s Proof began a through-the-media attack on each other. Eminem’s name was dropped frequently in my interviews with both, and if you would have asked me in 2003 if there would ever be a repaired friendship, I almost certainly would have thought it impossible. Over six years later, with a lost friend and restored talking-terms between them, Royce was still apologizing. Without asking for something, one of the cockiest emcees in Hip Hop spoke to his friend in a way that relates to the damaged partnerships in all of our lives: “I’m sorry, I never wanted to do this to us.”
Maybe that was all Eminem needed to hear, or maybe it made him want to reply. Or maybe look at his life and remember a time when lyrics mattered most, and revamp his label with talent that excited the masses – indicative in this week’s “2.0 Boys” . I’m just really glad it happened.
In my youth, I was obsessed with songs like 2Pac’s “Hit ‘Em Up,” Ice Cube’s “No Vaseline” and Kurupt’s “Calling Out Names.” Disses were exciting, and it was a great opportunity for rappers to say something in a way that could change things – like a barrage of lyrical gunfire. Relationships were broken instantly, as you heard the words coming in stereo, and you could imagine their sting. A decade later, I don’t really care about diss songs. Don’t get me wrong, I fed into the Jay-Z versus Nas saga, I still listen to Masta Ace’s verbal three-piece at The High & Mighty and The Boogieman on “Acknowledge” and just this week I asked Wiz Khalifa a question about Tyga – feeding into the hype. Diss songs used to be hidden moments on albums, and now they’re just verbal games of “Rock, Paper, Scissors” in Rap’s lunchroom, and I’m too busy eating. What does impress me now is something lost in much of our music: humility and apology. I think it tends to have greater impact anyway, especially at a time when “Rap beefs” happen on Twitter – also a moment in this week’s timeline.
“I never said thank you, and I took it for granted /
You let me in your house and made me a part of your family,” – Game, “The Doctor’s Advocate”
An apology in Hip Hop can go a long way. Essentially, Game devoted a leading theme of his second album to his estranged mentor, Dr. Dre. Years later, Game sometimes says in interviews that the two never parted ways.
However, Game artfully dodged a frustrating, commonly-asked question of his own life in 2006, “is there Dr. Dre production on the album?” This song, the album’s title track answered on record what Jayceon Taylor avoided in interviews. Game needed Dre to hear how he really felt, in an intimate moment. Moreover, a reportedly drunk Game grabbed a mediator between the two, Busta Rhymes to devote a verse explaining to Dre what a good guy Game was. Another original concept that had lasting impact. Years later, Game is said to be working on an album in R.E.D. that will feature a lions-share of Dre’s attention.
As crazy as he can be, this is a quality that’s always made me Game’s advocate. As quick as the sharp-tongued rapper can damage, he’s always attempting to make right. Yes, a reunion with Dre will inevitably benefit his career, but even a few years ago, Game’s armistice with Joe Budden was an act that was more heart than wallet. I respect this quality, and as eager as I am to hear fresh music, I like knowing that Game’s career won’t be hounded by that same question or strained relationship.
And Dre knows from experience:
“Sometimes the business end of this shit can turn your friends against you /
But you was a real nigga, I could sense it in you /
I still remember the window of the car that you went through /
That’s fucked up, but I’ll never forget the shit we been through /
And I’ma do whatever it takes to convince you /
‘Cause you my nigga Doc, and Eazy I’m still wit you /
Fuck the beef, nigga, I miss you, and that’s just bein’ real wit you.” – Dr. Dre “What’s The Difference?”
On his sophomore solo album, 2001, Dr. Dre made peace with the past. It had been four years since his own partner, Eazy E had died of AIDS. The rift caused eight years previous had left the two Compton, California natives on terrible terms, as one dynasty was destroyed to build another. It’s easy to apologize to someone who’s not there, but having been largely silent since his departure from Death Row, 2001 addressed a lot of speculations of what was going on under Dre’s White Sox cap.
Dre boldly addressed the past, and saved himself the interview questions. Many people wondered how the man, who arguably damaged Eazy’s career greatly with his The Chronic lyrics and video campaigns could ever speak on his pre-1992 career again. A confident and poised Dre did just did. Perhaps the companion lines to The D.O.C. and N.W.A. led to a brief reunion with Ice Cube and MC Ren (even without DJ Yella’s participation was billed as N.W.A.) for “Hello” and “Chin Check.” One of the most respected figures in Rap stopped to acknowledge his mistakes, even at his pinnacle. Like Jay-Z, Dre is often described as cold and calculated, and very disconnected with his past. He refuted those descriptions throughout 2001, especially in those moment.
While people will always talk about the production and guest-work on 2001 before many of Dre’s own delivered lines, there’s a great deal of significance to what Andre Young had to say then. And moreover, if Dre commissioned ghostwriters for sentiments like that, it was all-the-more evidential that it was something he simply had to say, not just words that rhyme.
“Can’t believe I heard my name on the realest shit you ever wrote /
We had words ’cause the best supposed to clash at the top /
But kept it brotherly, when we seen each other and stopped /
In NYC, at MTV, people watched /
We was both deep, after you left, I got no sleep /
Think about how us real niggas would be /
If we united, a nation of thugs, who could fight it?” – Nas, “We Will Survive.”
Moving outside of the Aftermath family, Nas also tied up loose strings with the fallen on his third album, I Am. An overlooked gem, “We Will Survive” acknowledges the deaths of Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur three years later from one who witnessed it as one of their biggest associates and at times, rivals.
While Tupac Shakur fans are historically loyal to their leader’s dying beliefs and views on others, this was a moment of honesty from one of the people ‘Pac took umbrage with. In many ways, I feel that “We Will Survive” allowed Tupac’s followers to hear and feel Nas’ earnestness. Several years later, Nas would work with ‘Pac’s catalog on “Thugz Mansion” and even the most conservative fan of Thug Immortal seemed to accept Nas at that time. The emcee’s honesty and his convictions removed him from the situations and pain caused a few years earlier. It also helped that at the time, Nas and Jay-Z’s beef made earlier issues with Tupac almost seem trivial.
More than that, Nas’ comments about peace set an example. It’s ironic that Nas and Jay-Z went to war. They were two of the most respected emcees involved in the greater melee of 2Pac and Biggie. However, just as Nas would do with Jay-Z on stage six years later, a call for union makes the power of word even stronger.
“We used to kick it in the salad days /
When she look at me like she don’t know me when she see me nowadays /
I nod, she nod back, that’s how it stay.” – Talib Kweli, “Ms. Hill”
The last kind of example I’ll use is that intervention-like quality. After racking my brain throughout last week for examples, only one came clearly to mind. Talib Kweli wrote a song in 2005 called “Ms. Hill,” dedicated to Lauryn Hill, who brought Black Star on tour with The Fugees in the late 1990s. The tune is one of the more memorable moments from his retail mixtape, Right About Now. Unlike the other examples, Talib Kweli doesn’t appear to be apologizing in the song, as he’s done no wrong – but he is trying to make a change in a damaged relationship. Also in this case, I can say that the public may not have been aware of the state of the two emcees’ relationship, or know that there was one at all. I certainly didn’t, but Talib’s verses and Ben Kweller’s chirped-up singing certainly spoke to the things on many of Lauryn’s fans’ minds.
I’m curious to know if Lauryn Hill ever addressed Talib Kweli’s song. Hopefully, she heard it and maybe picked up the phone. Whenever I’ve interviewed him since, it’s one of those things I forget to ask until moments like these. What I can say is that while Ms. Hill doesn’t appear fully back to herself as we (the fans) knew her, she’s taking strides – even if she’s a few hours late. Talib’s lyrics created a conversation, and arguably a call to action. That’s been the case with Royce Da 5’9″ and Eminem, Game and Dr. Dre, and the unfinished business left in the wake of the deaths of Eazy E and 2Pac. Maybe the second verse of “Lost Ones” even convinced Beyonce how committed Jay-Z was. If speech is about change, I respect Rap where honesty has changed a few important things for the better.
Disses and rifts run rampant in Rap music in 2011. You see them tagged on songs, discussed daily on morning radio, and written about online (including this site) and magazines. From Daz and Kurupt, Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth and even EPMD, rappers break up to make up. It’s practically an industry within the industry.
I am less and less surprised at when Tuesday’s feud becomes Wednesday’s reunion. However, what still amazes me and excites me in Hip Hop are those moments of honesty that change the game, and do the unthinkable. Disses don’t do much anymore. We arguably lost Tupac and Biggie because of them, and nowadays the things that cause violence among rappers rarely have to do with lyrics (see Raekwon vs. Joe Budden). There’s little to be done in a lyrical threat, but an apology in verse appears to go a mighty long way.
In a week that really made excited about Shady Records for the first time in…ever, I have to wonder how speaking directly and admitting wrong brought about this change. It inspires us all to do this in our own lives, and in a heavily-saturated game, inspiration is not always easy to find.