I just read confirmatory evidence (thanks MSN) that Paul from The Wonder Years is in fact, not Marilyn Manson.

Phew.

If that had been the case, I would have some serious problems reconciling such a vacuous change in the universe. Sure, things are changing all the time, all over the place, on a changing basis. But c’mon, things don’t change that much. I guess I already knew that it was impossible, but I admit that hearing somebody else say it was a major relief.

The sleep-depriving process of trying to identify my all-time #1 verse led me to an absolute dead-end. I racked my brain again and again, arguing with myself (if that’s possible) trying to settle on the grand winner. Common sense would have said to nail-down a winner before starting a series about well, naming a winner. But, I decided to play-it-by-ear, in the spirit of the fluid, dynamic soul that drives Hip Hop music and indeed all good art in general.

But I’m not gonna lie: I’ve considered laming out on you. A couple of nights ago I woke-up with a “great” idea. Maybe I should offer some of the verses that could easily be my #1, but then conclude by saying that there is no #1 verse (even to me) because I love them all so much and Hip Hop collectively is so dope and yadda yadda yadda.

I’d mention verses like Dr. Dre’s third on “The Watcher:”

Things just ain’t the same for gangstas

Cops is anxious to put niggas in handcuffs

They wanna hang us, see us dead or enslave us

Keep us trapped in the same place we raised in

Then they wonder why we act so outrageous

Run around stressed out and pull out gauges

Cause every time you let the animal out cages

It’s dangerous, to people who look like strangers

But now we got a new era of gangsters

Hustlers and youngsters livin’ amongst us

Lookin’ at us, now callin’ us bustas

Can’t help but reminisce back when it was us

Nigga we started this gangsta shit!

And this the motherfuckin’ thanks I get?

It’s funny how time fly

I’m just havin’ fun, just watchin’ it fly by (the watcher).

In my mind, there is no better synopsis of the racially predicated psychological onus for aggression and violence than the good Doctor’s metaphor of animals in cages and its corresponding implications for the zoo-keeper. Especially since it comes from Hip Hop’s definitive gangsta turned mentor. Not to mention the poignant commentary on the changing landscape of a genre in which successive generations view their forbearers with contempt and ridicule (mind you this was close to 10 years ago).

I’d certainly mention verses like Black Thought’s verse on “Web” off of The Tipping Point (a perfect album according to DX) [click to read], simply for its astounding swag:

…And it weighs a ton

‘riq geez motherfuckers I’m a son of a gun

Black master of any trade under the sun

Talk sharp like a razor blade under the tongue

clear my path and come get your captain hung

Trying to breath like black’ll collapse your lungs

Young chump you could choke off the web I spun

I done cleared ’em out from the threat I brung

You done heard about what set I’m from

My nigga, word-a-mouth little rule-a-thumb

Y’all better bow down when the ruler come

I’m a real hood nigga not a hood-a-lum

The way Thought put it down be confusin’ some of y’all

cats can’t walk while chewin’ your gum ‘n all

What a keyboard got do with a drum ‘n all

School ’em on stage like I’m doin’ a seminar

Professional type, I’m adjusting my mic

Go to war kid I’ll give you any weapon you like

Give you something to run from, bust off your dum-dum

Stop kid, that hot shit you know where it come from

It’s Philly world-wide phenomenon

And reinforcin’ that shit is my 9-to-5

And when I finish making you recognize

I’m getin’ at a couple civilized women that’s tryin’ to ride…

I’d give a nod to Queen Latifah [click to read] for the second verse on her quintessential thesis on black feminism, better known as “U.N.I.T.Y.”:

I hit the bottom, there ain’t nowhere else to go but up

Bad days at work give you an attitude and you erupt

And take it out on me but that’s about enough

You put your hands on me again I’ll put your ass in handcuffs

I guess I fell so deep in love I grew dependency

I was too blind to see just how it was affecting me

All I knew was you, you was all the man I had

And I was scared to let you go, even though you treated me bad

But I don’t want my kids to see me getting beat down

By daddy smacking mommy all around

You say I’m nothing without ya, but I’m nothing with ya

A man don’t really love you if he hits ya

This is my notice to the door, I’m not taking it no more

I’m not your personal whore, that’s not what I’m here for

And nothing good gonna come to ya til you do right by me

Brother you wait and see (Who you calling a bitch?).

I’m not a woman, but if I was I’d play this song everyday before I brushed my fucking teeth. In a single verse Latifah (perm and all) declares physical and mental independence from her male counterpart. She does so while considering both how her own shortcomings allowed her to end-up in the abusive situation in the first place and the end-of-the-day implications for a community where black men separate themselves from their female counterparts.

Oh, and I’d definitely have to mention Method Man’s verse on “I’ll Be There For You (remix)” featuring Mary J Blige.

Shorty I’m there for you anytime you need me

For real girl, it’s me in your world, believe me

Nuttin’ make a man feel better than a woman

Queen with a crown that be down for whatever

There are few things that’s forever, my lady

We can make war or make babies

Back when I was nothin’

You made a brother feel like he was somethin’

That’s why I’m with you to this day boo, no frontin’

Even when the skies were gray

You would rub me on my back and say “Baby it’ll be okay”

Now that’s real to a brother like me baby

Never ever give my cootie away (and keep it tight, aight?)

And I’ma walk these dogs so we can live

In a fat ass crib with thousands of kids

Word life you don’t need a ring to be my wife

Just be there for me and I’ma make sure we

Be livin’ in the effin’ lap of luxury

I’m realizing that you didn’t have to funk wit me

But you did, now I’m going all out kid

And I got mad love to give, you my nigga.

Perhaps my own personal set of experiences with the opposite sex biases my opinion of this verse, but I’d say argue that no clearer articulation of black love exists anywhere. Period. With shades of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” and a characteristic Wu-versioning of life lived on the marginalized brink of survival this verse expresses the un-relenting versatility of love, and is rich with political, emotional, and spiritual significance. On the right day, this verse can make me cry.

I also considered acknowledging community by choosing one of the many verses readers emailed to me, dissected on their blogs, or submitted in the comments section. There were some fantastic verses offered- which is a tribute to the enormous catalog of brilliant poetry that Hip Hop has spawned over the years.

But even that would be a cop-out. I set out to give you (and defend) the “Best Verse Ever” according to me, and gosh-darn it that’s what I’m going to do. That said, shouts out to kself909, SLy, Chris Newberry, NaimlsS One, wutango, Sean Juan, Easy-E, Kid Wave, jspeed04 and everybody else who put their critical thinking on display with “Best” verses of their own in response to the first two columns.

So.

Despite the tons of amazing Lupe Fiasco [click to read], Notorious B.I.G., Andre 3000 [click to read], Big L, Raekwon [click to read], MC Lyte [click to read], Big Pun, Tupac Shkkur, and Yung Joc (kidding) verses out there, my all-time #1 Best Verse Ever is:

“If I Ruled the World” (second Verse) by Nas

The way to be, paradise life relaxin’, Black, Latino and Anglo-saxon

Armani Exchange, the Range

Cash, Lost Tribe of Shabazz, free at last

Brand new whips to crash then we laugh in the iller path

The Villa house is for the crew, how we do

Trees for breakfast, dime sexes and Benz stretches

So many years of depression make me vision

The better livin’, type of place to raise kids in

Open they eyes to the lies history’s told foul

But I’m as wise as the old owl, plus the Gold Child

Seeing things like I was controlling, click rollin’

Trickin’ six digits on kicks and still holdin’

Trips to Paris, I civilized every savage

Gimme one shot I turn trife life to lavish

Political prisoner set free, stress free

No work release purple M3’s and jet skis

Feel the wind breeze in West Indies

I make Coretta Scott-King mayor the cities and convert fiends to Willies

It sounds foul but every girl I meet would go downtown

I’d open every cell in Attica; send em to Africa.”

In an recent column, I lamented the fact that so much of our collective energy in Hop Hop goes to looking back on what was. I, for one, am of the opinion that although history is important, learning its lessons is only a means to an end. In other words, the past is helpful for us only in regards to the future. After all, we can’t change it.

That we have power over the future is related to the philosophical ideology often referred to as determinism. It also, incidentally, is the basis for Nas’ fantastic rendering of a future in which he has ultimate control (i.e. rule) over the world.

The way to be: paradise life relaxin, Black, Latino and Anglo-saxon

Armani exchange¬- the Range

Cash, Lost Tribe of Shabazz, free at last

Brand new whips to crash then we laugh in the iller path.”

It must be difficult for a culture that spends eight hours a day, five days a week, and 59-and-a-half years a lifetime working to even conceptualize relaxation. Said another way, I doubt that most of us even know what relaxing truly is. Nas, I think, would agree- since he not only starts this verse off on the subject of relaxing, but immediately links it to notions of paradise and “the way to be.” Consistent with religious concepts of heaven, Nas’ future necessarily involves the absence of work- as well as its byproducts, associations, and stipulations. Note however, that in Nas’ world the marriage between work and material possession has ended; gone is the labor; still present are the glorified trappings of labor-related success that most of us struggle to achieve. Note also the glaring assertion of multicultural harmony followed by a reference to freedom for the mythical Islamic Tribe of Shabazz. Some scholars say that this group has origins perhaps as old as the earth itself, others say that Shabazz refers to the American Negro.

The Villa house is for the crew, how we do

Trees for breakfast, dime sexes and Benz stretches

So many years of depression make me vision

The better livin’, type of place to raise kids in.

With Nas in ultimate charge life would be defined through community. Here we see an abrupt departure from the Ameri-ethos of individualism (the Villa house is for the crew) and overt references not only to female companionship but also to the natural offspring of such union. Central to this entire song, indeed much of Nas’ work in general, is the notion that profound unhappiness/confusion/despair is the motivation for such aspirations, and that true contentment or liberation is possible only through knowledge….

Open they eyes to the lies: history’s told foul

But I’m as wise as the old owl, plus the Gold Child

Seeing things like I was controlling, click rollin’

Trickin six digits on kicks and still holdin’.

Yet, for all of his ascension rhetoric, Nas is still weighted-down by the baggage of shallow materialism. On Nas’ terms, freedom means “living it up”; which makes sense if we consider the barren, impoversihed reality of growing up Black in the ghetto. If life is a desert than of course heaven is a garden.

Trips to Paris, I civilized every savage

Gimme one shot I turn trife life to lavish

Political prisoners set free, stress free

No work release purple M3’s and jet skis.

What an astonishing comment on the nature of humanity and the role of civilization! By naming Paris, France specifically (the European apex of modern day civilization and society) Nas is questioning the fundamental, if not universal, idea that civilization (as we know it) is a good thing. In Nas’ future, those elements that our culture celebrates as “civilized” are savage, and vice-versa. Here, for the first time, we are offered a truly new way of thinking about life. Not too long ago, one rapper had this to say about Nas: “Your shit is garbage; what, you trying to kick knowledge?” Based on this verse it is clear to me how Nas’ penchant for truly out-of-this world thinking would cause someone whose major thrust is to succeed in it to miss the point altogether.

Feel the wind breeze in West Indies

I’d make Coretta Scott-King mayor the cities and convert fiends to Willies.

Again, an atypical allusion to inter-racial harmony. Traditionally, Hip Hop is postured as being in direct conflict with the civil-rights flavored egalitarian utopianism of racial understanding. And for good reason. Martin Luther King’s 1968 assassination marks not only the end of that era but the emergence of another- the Black Arts Movement, out of which grew what we now know as Hip Hop. Writer/artists like Amiri Baraka, Kalamu ya Salaam, Sonia Sanchez and Nikki Giovanni began asserting black independence, power and beauty in ways that those interested in assimilation and “rights” simply could not get with. Join the arts movement with the political turbulence effected by the Black Panthers and you’ve got a soundtrack for the legions of marginalized youth in America to ride to. Literally.

Consider then, Nas’ rationale for mentioning Dr. King’s widow by name. I’d argue that his vision is one in which race no longer separates mankind; a world where the superordinate considerations of humanity dictate what is valued and what is not. Allow me to point out that this idea creeps in to Nas’ work from time to time: most notably on God’s Son [click to read] (“Heaven”) and most recently on Untitled [click to read] (“We’re Not Alone”).

It sounds foul but every girl I meet would go downtown

I’d open every cell in Attica; send em to Africa.

The ability to make what is accepted, taboo and that which is taboo, accepted is unquestionably the hallmark of this verse. Which, for me, is why it’s #1. Like the two verses that round out the top three, this verse is deeply layered with meaning and social significance. What sets it apart, however, is its nagging refusal to accept society’s rules, regulations and prescriptions for our lives. The verse’s finale applies that fundamental rejection to our ideas about sexuality. Despite “sounding foulNas’ mandate that every girl would be open to oral sex is actually an enlightened one. After all, there is nothing more natural than sex, therefore any negative or injurious connotations that we attach to it must come from cultural ideals about morality. Adherence to such is a form of incarceration, because it prevents us from living as humans are designed to live -much in the same way that jobs prevent us from truly enjoying life.

Which makes Nas’ allusion to the 1971 Attica Prison Riot that much more brilliant. Reports conflict, but what we know for certain is that on September 9th, 1971 prisoners took control of the Attica Correctional Facility, which they held for four days until the state came in with force, killing 39 people. Of the 2225 inmates, 54% of the inmates were African-American (many of whom were classified as “black militants” and transferred to Attica from other prisons) 9% were Puerto Rican, and all 383 correctional officers were white. The New York State Special Commission on Attica wrote, “With the exception of Indian massacres in the late 19th century, the State Police assault which ended the four-day prison uprising was the bloodiest one-day encounter between Americans since the Civil War.”1

According to many experts, then-governor Nelson Rockefeller escalated the tensions between the inmates (whose grievances included only being allowed one shower per week and one roll of toilet paper per month) and hostage negotiators by refusing to come to the scene to meet with inmates. Apparently, if it were up to Nas, he’d free those men not only from their jail cells, but also from the chains that come along with liberty and justice for all.

There you have it: the “Best Verse Ever” according to yours truly… one that is simply better than all the rest. Of course it could be that, like the Paul Phifer = Marilyn Manson thing, I’m just relieved to hear someone validate my own suspicions and convictions about what is wrong in this world of ours as correct.

1Schmalleger, F., & Smykla, J. (2007, 2005, 2002). Corrections in the 21st Century. New York: McGraw-Hill.